A Russian court has given a six-year prison sentence to a Danish Jehovah’s Witness, the first member to be convicted since the pacifist Christian sect was banned as extremist.
A judge in the city of Oryol found Dennis Christensen, 46, guilty of “organising the activity of an extremist organisation”. Investigators had accused Mr Christensen, whom riot police seized in a raid on a prayer meeting in 2017, of holding fund-raisers and attracting new followers with religious pamphlets.
Mr Christensen told the court last week that he was being persecuted “for being a religious believer who loves his neighbour as himself”.
“It is sad that reading the Bible, reaching, and living a moral way of life is again a criminal offence in Russia,” said Yaroslav Sivulsky or the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The nearly 622 days Mr Christensen has already spent in confinement will reportedly count for about half of the six-year sentence. The Jehovah’s Witnesses will appeal the ruling.
The conviction of Mr Christensen, who has lived in Russia since 2000 and has a family with a local woman, is part of a nationwide crackdown on the sect. While it is a far cry from the mass deportation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to Siberia in Soviet times, the growing number of believers here have faced raids, arrests and bans by local courts in the past decade.