A Russian court Wednesday sentenced two members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to seven and eight years in prison, the US-based religious movement said, accusing Moscow of setting a “new record for cruelty.”
Moscow outlawed the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017, labelling it an extremist organisation, and nearly 60 people are currently either serving prison terms or in detention.
A court in the Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk on Wednesday sentenced Dmitry Golik and Alexei Berchuk to seven and eight years in a penal colony respectively for organising the work of an extremist community, the movement said.
“The judge Tatyana Studilko set a new record for cruelty,” it said in a statement.
Berchuk’s sentence was the longest handed down to a Jehovah’s Witness in Russia so far, the group added.
In February, a court in the southern Krasnodar region sentenced a 63-year-old member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Alexander Ivshin, to seven and a half years in prison.
The same month a 69-year-old female member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith, Valentina Baranovskaya, was sentenced to two years in prison — a first in the country’s crackdown on the faith.
The religious movement said Russian law enforcement officials had wiretapped Golik’s apartment in 2018.
Although President Vladimir Putin said in 2018 that Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be considered terrorists, Moscow has continued bringing legal action against members.
The Russian Orthodox Church has spoken out against the movement, with one official describing it as a “destructive sect”.
Founded in the United States in the late 19th century, the religious movement has been repeatedly accused of refusing to respect state symbols such as flags.