MOSCOW (AP) — Officials of the Jehovah’s Witnesses say four Russian members of the religious denomination have been sentenced to prison terms ranging up to seven years.
Russia banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017 and designated the religion an extremist organization. More than 110 adherents are now in prison in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman Jarrod Lopes said in a statement.
He said the latest convictions were handed down in a court in the city of Birobidzhan in Russia’s far East, four years after they were arrested in home raids.
“It’s unthinkable that peaceful Christian men … would be accused of extremist activity and given harsh, lengthy prison sentences usually reserved for violent criminals,” Lopes said.
The court sentenced Valery Krieger and Sergey Shulyarenko to seven years in prison on charges of founding and financing an extremist organization.
Adam Aliyev was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison on charges of founding an extremist organization. Dmitry Zagulin was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison on charges of financing an extremist organization.
The court considered that the defendants, although they knew that their organization was outside the law, held gatherings of a religious nature and collected money for its purposes.
The community of Jehovah’s witnesses in Biribijan was recognized as extremist on October 3, 2016. Criminal proceedings against the accused were brought in 2018. Human rights organizations point out that the prosecution of Jehovah’s witnesses in Russia has no objective basis.