Russia jails four Jehovah’s Witnesses for six years

MOSCOW – A Russian court sentenced four members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the US-based Christian evangelical movement, to six years in prison for “extremism”, investigators said Tuesday.

The four adherents of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who hail from the city of Chita in eastern Siberia, were found guilty of organizing “extremist” activities between 2017 and 2020, the Investigative Committee said.

They organized meetings, collected donations and distributed religious literature, investigators said in a statement.

The court sentenced two of the defendants to six and a half years in prison, and another to six years in prison. The fourth person was given a six-year suspended sentence.

Russia brands the US evangelical Christian movement, which was set up in the late 19th century and preaches non-violence, as a totalitarian sect and in 2017 designated it an extremist organization and ordered its dissolution in the country.

Russian court has sentenced more Jehovah’s Witnesses to prison in Siberia on allegations of extremism, as part of a broader crackdown on the religious group, which has been outlawed in Russia since 2017.

On June 6, a court in Chita found Vladimir Yermolayev, Aleksandr Putintsev, and Igor Mamalimov guilty of organizing and participating in the operations of a “extremist organization,” and sentenced them to six and a half years in prison each.

In separate cases, the central district court of Chita sentenced another Jehovah’s Witness, Sergei Kirillyuk, to a suspended six-year prison term, while Yegor Baranov was sentenced to a suspended five-year prison term for being a member of and recruiting new members to “an extremist group” in Khabarovsk Krai’s far eastern region.

Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been prosecuted since the faith was outlawed, with many being condemned to prison in Russia.

Russia’s escalating persecution on Jehovah’s Witnesses and other peaceful religious minority has been condemned by the US, according to The Guardian.

In Russia, where President Vladimir Putin champions the dominant Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been viewed with mistrust for decades.

The Christian group is notable for door-to-door preaching, in-depth Bible study, a refusal to serve in the military, and a refusal to celebrate national and religious holidays or birthdays.

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