Russia sends Jehovah’s Witness to jail for practising ‘banned faith’

Sergei Klimov Jehovah Witness jailed in Russia

A Russian court in Tomsk, Siberia sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness on Tuesday to six years in prison for practising his faith, which is banned in the country, the organisation and local media reported.

Sergei Klimov was the second adherent of the faith to be jailed in Russia.

The Christian faith, which does not observe many traditional doctrines including Christmas and Easter because it considers them tinged with paganism, is banned in Russia on the assertion that it is extremist.

The Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced by the court for violating Russia’s law against participating in a banned organisation, the Russian branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said in a statement.

“The court’s decision was made on the basis of the existing legislation,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in comments carried by Russian news agency Interfax.

In February, a Russian court in the central Oryol region sentenced another follower of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith, a Danish man, to six years imprisonment for extremism.

Denmark’s top diplomat at the time, Anders Samuelsen, expressed concern at that sentencing, saying in a statement that Russia should “respect freedom of religion.”

Klimov said at the trial that he was a Jehovah’s Witness, but denied that he was a leader of the group. His lawyer said the court’s ruling will be appealed.

In April 2017, Russia banned the religious group and deemed it an “extremist organization,” a designation the U.S. State Department says is “wrong.”

Since the faith was outlawed, several Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia, apart from Danish Dennis Christensen.

In September, the United States banned two high-ranking regional officers in Russia’s Investigative Committee from entering the country for allegedly torturing seven Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The religious group said in September that 251 of its members faced criminal charges. Of those, 41 were either in pretrial detention or prison, 23 were under house arrest, and more than 100 had their freedom restricted.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized 29 Jehovah’s Witnesses charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia for decades for its members’ views about military service, voting, and government authority in general.

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