The Jehovah’s Witnesses say a court in Russia’s Far East has handed a suspended six-year prison sentence to one of its members amid what activists call an escalating campaign of persecution of the religious group.
Judge Natalia Derevyagina of Nadezhdinsky District Court in the region of Primorye on January 21 found Grigory Bubnov guilty of “organizing the activities of a banned group” and handed down the sentence on the same day.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Bubnov to seven years in prison.
Russia banned the religious group in April 2017 and deemed it an “extremist organization,” a designation the U.S. State Department has characterized as “wrong.”
Since the faith was outlawed, nine Jehovah’s Witness followers have been imprisoned in Russia, including Danish national Dennis Christensen, who was sentenced to six years in prison in February last year in the western city of Oryol in a case condemned both in Russia and abroad.
In September, the United States banned two high-ranking regional officers of Russia’s Investigative Committee from entering the country for allegedly torturing seven Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized 29 Jehovah’s Witnesses charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.
On January 9, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement that Russian law enforcement authorities have “dramatically escalated the nationwide persecution” of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the past year.
The statement said that Russian authorities have carried out at least 780 house raids since 2017 in dozens of Russian cities — more than half of them last year.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been eyed with suspicion in Russia for decades for its members’ views about military service, voting, and government authority in general.