Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen Appeal Hearing in Oryol Regional Court Today

Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses Jehovah’s Witnesses

Christensen was arrested in Russia in 2017 because of his religious affiliation

Dennis Christensen, who was arrested in May 2017 while attending a Jehovah’s Witness worship service in Oryol Russia, began a hearing to appeal his six-year prison term at the Oryol Regional (Appellate) Court today. The hearing will resume tomorrow and subsequent dates have also been scheduled for May 16 and 17.

A representative from Jehovah’s Witnesses expressed concern that if Christensen loses his appeal, it poses increased risk for Jehovah’s Witnesses in terms of attacks. According to the JW representative:

  • The same day as Dennis’ conviction, more than 10 homes were raided and 7 criminal cases were initiate
  • On February 15th, just nine days after Dennis’ conviction, 7 men in Surgut were tortured and about 20 criminal cases were initiated
  • There have been more than 3 times as many criminal cases initiated against JWs in the three months since Dennis’ conviction than the three months prior
  • Since Feb 6, over 115 home raids resulted in 74 criminal cases initiated
  • The previous three months there were 70 home raids with 24 criminal cases initiated

The video below chronicles Dennis Christensen’s arrest, detention and conviction:

Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses

UPDATE: COURTESY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

Day two of the appeal hearing for Dennis Christensen has adjourned until 10am (Oryol time) Thursday May 16th, and the decision by the end of that day is anticipated. Below are a few details about the first two days of hearings.

Day 2: The court denied all petitions, including the defense’s motion to verify the “evidence” that formed the basis for the unjust verdict. Thus, on the 16th, concluding comments will be given and, although the 17th is already on the schedule, Jehovah’s Witnesses anticipate a decision on the 16th.

Day 1: Many came to support Dennis, including diplomats from Australia, Denmark, and Sweden, as well as fellow believers. The hearing began in a small room that could only hold about 20-25 people, so several were not allowed in. The court granted a motion by Dennis’ attorneys to move the hearing into a larger, more comfortable room that can hold 80 people.

The World is Watching:

John Huntsman, US ambassador to Russia
In an interview, Ambassador Huntsman described the state of religious freedom in Russia as “very difficult and very troubling.” He continued: “We’re not only seeing religious organizations shut down, we’re seeing individual members punished for their religious beliefs, which goes against everything we in the United States and a whole lot of other countries in this world stand for.”

Amnesty International
“He is a prisoner of conscience imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of religion. He must be immediately and unconditionally released, and his conviction must be quashed.”

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Commenting on the sentencing of Dennis Christensen: “We are deeply concerned.” She continued: “The harsh sentence imposed on Christensen creates a dangerous precedent, and effectively criminalizes the right to freedom of religion or belief for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,”

European Union
“The European Union expects Mr. Christensen to be released immediately and unconditionally. Jehovah’s Witnesses, as with all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as by Russia’s international commitments and international human rights standards.”

Anders Samuelsen, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark tweeted Feb 6th
“Deeply concerned by sentencing of Dennis Christensen. Again call on #Russia to respect freedom of religion. Danish MFA will continue to follow closely and assist Dennis Christensen…”

Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of USCIRF
“Dennis Christensen’s conviction represents the continued deterioration of religious freedom in Putin’s Russia.” She continues: “Evidently, it’s not enough for the state to brand peaceful groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘extremist’; it must also imprison their members.”

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