Russia: Heavy sentences for nine Jehovah’s Witnesses for ‘extremist activity’

Since 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court has labeled the Jehovah’s Witness denomination “extremist,” disbanding and banning its nearly 400 branches across the country.

Nine Jehovah’s Witnesses were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in Russia today after being accused of engaging in “extremist activity” based on leaked records of their worship, according to a spokesman for the religious organization.

Russia’s Supreme Court labeled the Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian denomination “extremist” in 2017, disbanding and banning its nearly 400 branches across the country.

Interrogations and imprisonments

Russia numbered about 175,000 active believers at the time of the ban, according to the group’s Russian website. Since then, raids, interrogations and imprisonment of believers have occurred with some frequency.

A court in the Siberian city of Irkutsk handed down sentences of three to seven years to the nine men, aged between 35 and 72.

Eight of the men had been remanded in custody for more than two years before they were sentenced, spending most of that time in solitary confinement, spokesman Jarrod Lopez said.

Secret recordings

Lopez said the charges against the men were based on secret recordings of religious services. Last week another Russian court sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to eight years in prison after a “whistleblower” videotaped a prayer held via video conference.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia have previously claimed they were tortured by police who raided their homes, claims Russian officials have denied.

Religious life in Russia is dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church, which is supported by and devoted to President Vladimir Putin. Some orthodox scholars consider Jehovah’s Witnesses, known for door-to-door preaching and refusal of military service, to be a “totalitarian heresy.”

At least 794 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been prosecuted for their faith and 128 are currently serving prison terms, Lopez said.

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