Published: Wed, February 06, 2019

Jehovah’s Witness member jailed for extremism

Jehovah’s Witness member jailed for extremism

Dennis Christensen, a Danish Jehovah's Witness, is escorted from a court room in Orel, Russia, on Wednesday.

The report said a lawsuit has been filed with Russia's Supreme Court to declare the national headquarters of the country's Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organization but that there was no date for legal action.

"I hope that today is the day that Russian Federation defends freedom of religion", he told reporters before entering the packed courtroom Wednesday.

Al Jazeera's Rory Challands reports from Moscow.

A judge in the city of Oryol found Dennis Christensen, 46, guilty of "organising the activity of an extremist organisation".

He was the first Jehovah's Witness to be detained in Russian Federation following the ban.

The group has around 8 million active followers around the world and has faced court proceedings in several countries, mostly over its pacifism and rejection of blood transfusions. He is the first member of the Jehovah's Witness to be sentenced for extremism, Tanya Lokshina, the Moscow-based associate director for Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division, told The Washington Post.

U.S. Embassy spokesperson Andrea Kalan expressed concern.

But Russia's latest falling-out with the West, triggered by Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, spurred a more determined drive to push out "the enemy within". The couple later moved to Oryol because the climate is milder and housing cheaper.

A Jehovah's Witness member has been sentenced to six years in jail for extremism in Russian Federation, years after the religious group was outlawed in the country.

Anton Bogdanov, Christiansen's lawyer, said he planned to appeal Wednesday's verdict, which he termed illegal and feared would set a unsafe precedent.

Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, called the verdict "regrettable", describing Christensen as "an innocent man who did not commit any real crime".

Responding to Christensen's case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was clearly reason for his arrest but he was unaware specifics, according to Reuters.

Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah's Witness accused of extremism, leaves after a court session in handcuffs in the town of Oryol, Russia January 14, 2019.

Irina, Christiansen's wife, said she and her husband were calm despite what they saw as an injustice.

Jehovah's Witnesses are the target of an anti-extremism crackdown by the Russian state, which has banned much of its religious literature as extremist material.

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