A Jehovah’s Witness in the western Russian republic of Mari El has been found guilty of extremism and given a suspended 6 1/2 year prison sentence.
Ekaterina Pegasheva, who was convicted by the Gornomariskiy district court on June 1, denied the charge and vowed to appeal the ruling.
“The only victims in this criminal case are me, my mother, [and] my elderly sick bedridden grandmother. We have suffered significant damage — property, physical, emotional, mental, as well as damage to our reputation,” Pegasheva told the court before the verdict was issued.
“I am a law-abiding citizen of the Russian Federation. I did not call for violence. My conscience is clear before God, before the state, and before the people.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses is a Christian denomination with an estimated 175,000 followers in Russia. In 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court declared the group an extremist organization.
Since then, Russian law enforcement has raided the homes of more than 1,300 worshippers and over 400 have been either charged or convicted of extremism in a brutal crackdown that has swept up followers aged 19 to 90.
The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses estimates that between 5,000 to 10,000 of its members have fled Russia since the ban came into force.
The case against Pegasheva was opened in September 2019. According to the authorities, Pegasheva continued to preach her brand of Christianity despite the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In October 2019, police searched her home in Yoshkar-Ola, seizing books, videos, electronic devices, personal letters, and other documents. Her mother’s home in Pirogovo, in the Kirov region, was also searched.
Pegasheva was held for more than four months in pretrial detention before spending more than a year under house arrest.