Russia Sentences Nine Men To Prison In Its Crackdown On Jehovah’s Witnesses

Nine Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia have been convicted for practicing their religion, becoming the latest victims of the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on the Christian faith, as reported by the church.

Nine men were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to seven years on Tuesday by Judge Andrey Slavinskiy of the Oktyabrsky District Court in Irkutsk, a city located in southern Russia near the Mongolian border. This information was shared by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a statement.

Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, expressed her outrage at the Russian courts’ decision to hand down severe prison sentences to Jehovah’s Witnesses. She described the sentences as senseless and monstrous, emphasizing that the individuals were merely exercising their right to worship.

“Immediate release of these individuals, as well as all prisoners detained for their religious and political convictions, is crucial for Russia.”

Russia has been imprisoning Jehovah’s Witnesses members on charges related to their religious practice ever since the Supreme Court of Russia declared the Christian denomination as extremist in April 2017.

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According to the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, authorities initially detained six men and sent them to a pre-trial detention center, while a seventh individual was placed under house arrest. In December 2021, two additional individuals were arrested, as reported by the center.

Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman, Jarrod Lopes, informed UPI via email that the charges primarily relied on covert recordings of their worship services. These recordings contained audio of men engaged in prayer, singing Christian songs, and reading passages from the Bible, including Psalm 34:14, which emphasizes the importance of seeking and pursuing peace.

Lopes expressed his disbelief at a legal system that would convict individuals of extremist activity simply for reading a Bible verse that promotes peace. He found it patently absurd and emphasized that the seriousness of the consequences made it far from a laughing matter.

The individuals accused in the case have been named as Yaroslav Kalin, aged 54, Sergey Kosteyev, aged 63, Nikolay Martynov, aged 65, Mikhail Moysh, aged 36, Aleksey Solnechniy, aged 47, Andrey Tolmachev, aged 49, Igor Popov, aged 36, Denis Sarazhakov, aged 35, and Sergei Vasiliyev, aged 72.

The SOVA Center reported that the decision to make the announcement came one day after two members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were sentenced to two years of probation.

In a recent development, Alexander Chagan has been handed an eight-year prison sentence for similar charges.

According to former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Sam Brownback, Russia’s treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses is criminal. He expressed his view on this matter through an online statement following Tuesday’s sentencing.

“Putting an end to the persecution of individuals for practicing their faith and engaging in peaceful worship should be a top priority. It is crucial that Russia takes immediate action to put an end to this injustice.”

The church claims that 415 of its members have experienced incarceration in Russia, with 128 currently serving prison sentences.

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