After 20 months in pretrial custody, Christensen was sentenced to 6 years’ jail time.
A Danish Jehovah’s Witness, Dennis Christensen, was sentenced to six years in prison in Russia on February 6 for “promoting extremism.” According to JW-Russia.org, he was found guilty under Article 282.2 (1) of the criminal code for “organizing the activity of an extremist organization.” This is one of the most severe verdicts in Russia “against a Western citizen and the latest incident in Russia’s crackdown on personal freedoms.” according to The Washington Post.
As Dennis Christensen, who was first detained in May 2017 when his congregation was raided by the police in the city of Orel, south of Moscow, exited the courthouse where the guilty verdict was read, he said: “I hope today is the day Russia defends religious freedom.”
Christensen was arrested during a worship service in May 2017, where he “unlocked the entrance and delivered a sermon.” Christensen, however is not a staff member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, according to Human Rights Watch. He was in pretrial custody for 20 months.
Before the prosecution, Christensen thanked his loved ones for their support and said, I do not agree with you in this matter at all, neither in your accusations, nor in your unfounded conclusions."
“Everyone acquainted with Dennis Christensen knows that he has committed no crime. He received a six-year prison sentence merely for practicing his Christian faith. This verdict reveals just how fragile religious freedom has become in Russia. Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to appeal for justice while supporting their fellow worshippers,” said Paul Gillies, International Spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The organization will be appealing the verdict in ten days. “We deeply regret the conviction of Dennis Christensen—an innocent man who did not commit any real crime. It is sad that reading the bible, preaching, and living a moral way of life is again a criminal offense in Russia,” said Yaroslav Sivulskiy, representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Deeply concerned by the six-year sentence imposed on Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen. We agree with President Putin that persecuting peaceful believers is utter nonsense, and call on Russia to respect freedom of religion. #ReligiousFreedom
— Andrea Kalan (@USEmbRuPress) February 6, 2019
Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses properties are also being or at risk of being confiscated from the organization, according to a representative from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Out of 303 properties, 20 have already been seized from the group. Ninety-seven belong to former Russian local religious organizations (LROs). One U.S.-owned property worth about 2B RUB, the JW former Administrative Center, lost its appeal in Russia and application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and has already been confiscated by the Russian government. 205 belong to other foreign entities, including Finland, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Holland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, but are all expected to be confiscated via court ruling. The religious organization is seeking an award of EUR 79,215,679 from the ECHR, which also covers non-pecuniary damages for the loss of the property, the violation of their rights, as well as lawyers’ fees.
In 2018, Christensen’s chapter of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization was banned by a local court. A month prior to his arrest, the Russian Supreme Court banned the religious group as an extremist group. According to Human Rights Watch, as reported by NPR, “Russian authorities have targeted more than 100 Jehovah's Witnesses with charges of extremism since the Supreme Court ban — conducting hundreds of raids, interrogations and acts of harassment. There are 22 Jehovah's Witnesses in detention, waiting for trials on extremism charges, and another 25 under house arrest.”