A Russian court has sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness, Dennis Christensen, to six years in prison after finding him guilty of extremism.
Christensen, 46, a Danish national, was arrested in May 2017 during a Bible reading in Oryol, about 400km south of Moscow. His detention came a month after Russia’s Supreme Court declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist group.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine, placing God above country, places them at loggerheads with some governments around the world.
State prosecutors had asked for a prison sentence of 6.5 years under charges that carry up to 10 years of imprisonment.
“We deeply regret the conviction of Dennis Christensen—an innocent man who did not commit any real crime,” Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, wrote in an emailed statement to The Moscow Times.
“It is sad that reading the bible, preaching, and living a moral way of life is again a criminal offense in Russia,” he added.
“If this verdict stands, our concern grows for the more than 100 other Jehovah’s Witnesses who are likewise facing criminal charges for their faith,” Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses at their world headquarters in New York, told The Moscow Times by email.
Lopes earlier said that hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses may have fled Russia since the court ruling that banned the group. He estimated that 175,000 adherents reside in Russia.