Long prison term for Russian Jehovah's Witnesses


Eastern Europe


Jehovah's Witnesses are seen as extremists in Russia. Picture is from an earlier court case in 2019. Photo AFP, Mladen Antonov

Last week, a Russian court gave the longest sentences for Jehovah Witnesses since the group was called "extremist" in 2017. Three men have to serve eight years in prison because of their "extremist actions". A female member got 3,5 years.

The verdict was given by judges in the southern Russia's Astrakhan region, The Moscow Times reports.

The movement of the Witnesses has been branded as an "extremist organisation" by the Russian Supreme Court in 2017, accusing it of "propaganda of exclusivity" and saying its activities exhibit signs of violating public safety. Since then, people who evangelise for this group have been arrested and sent to court. The eight-year verdict is the strongest given to male members of this group; the 3,5 years to strongest for a lady. Sentences like this are usually only for violent criminals.

People of the Jehovah's are known in many countries for the door-to-door preaching in housing areas.

Prisoners of conscience

The Russia expert of Amnesty International, Natalia Prilutskaya, says in the Norwegian daily Vart Land: "They are prisoners of conscience, prosecuted exclusively for their peaceful exercise of religious and freedom of expression." They must be released immediately and without conditions", she says.

"They are prosecuted just to peacefully practice their faith, read the Bible and talk to friends about what they believe in. At the same time, we are warm-hearted when we see their positive attitude and strong faith, despite the horrific they are exposed to", writes the Scandinavian spokesperson of the Jehovah's, Fabian Fond, to Vart Land.

Norwegian fellow believers are sending letters to the prisoners to encourage them, says Fond.

According to Amnesty, the situation of the Jehovah's in Russia is serious. "They are constantly facing threats and harassment. And more and more criminal cases are being opened against the peaceful threats under fictitious accusations of "extremism"," Prilutskaya says in Vårt Land.



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