The six-year prison term of the Jehovah’s Witness is upheld

On May 7, 2019, World Religion News reported on Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen’s Appeal Hearing on Oryol Regional Court in Russia . He was arrested in May 2017 while attending a Jehovah’s witness worship service on Oryol. The appeal was for his six-year prison term. On May 23, Jehovah’s Witnesses got word from the Oryol Regional Court that the three-judge panel denied the appeal and upheld the six-year sentence. 80 people attended, mostly Jehovah’s Witnesses. Officials from Denmark and Australia were also present.

Paul Gillies, international spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses at their world headquarters in New York released a statement, expressing sorrow over “the tragic repeat” of Russia’s “darkest time In history,” while unequivocally stating that JW’s in Russia “will remain resolute in the face of persecution.”

Here is the full statement:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world have been closely following Dennis’ case. They have deep affection for Dennis and his wife, Irina, and greatly admire their calm endurance in the face of this extreme injustice. We are not surprised by the appellate judges’ decision not to reverse the original conviction. History is supposed to teach us lessons on how to improve and make life better for future generations. But what we’re seeing in Russia is a tragic repeat of its darkest times in history. Reminiscent of the Soviet-era, in Russia it is again a crime to be a peaceful Christian believer. Over the past three months since Dennis’ original conviction in February, there have been 115 home raids and three times as many criminal cases initiated against Jehovah’s Witnesses compared to the previous three months. Thus, there is international concern that today’s decision will further fuel this exponential increase, as law enforcement will likely be emboldened to raid more homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses, arrest them and prosecute them as so-called criminals. Applications related to Dennis’ case and the 2017 Supreme Court ruling have been filed with the European Court of Human Rights. In the meantime, and regardless of whether the Court eventually intervenes, we know our fellow believers in Russia will remain resolute in the face of persecution, as Jehovah’s Witnesses did in Soviet times.”

Denmark is participating as a third party in the case involving the application of Christensen v. Russia being reviewed by the ECHR. There are a total of 35 communicated cases filed with the ECHR against Russia and about a dozen more that have yet to be communicated by the ECHR to Russia.

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES

As a result of more raids/arrests over the past few days, 197 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia now face criminal charges (9 more than last week), including 28 men and women in pretrial detention and 24 under house arrest.

Over the past two years since Christensen’s arrest, many authoritative international and Russian human rights organizations have spoken out in support of him, whose case is considered by many to be a precedent for the growing list of JWs facing criminal charges in Russia.

  • Memorial Human Rights Centre and USCIRF have recognized Dennis as a prisoner of conscience.
  • The European Union has called on Russia to “Immediately and unconditionally” release Christensen.
  • The United Nations OHCHR has spoken out in a similar fashion, calling on the Russian authorities to release everyone who has been arrested for their peaceful religious convictions.
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