Freedom of Religion in Russia Became Fictitious


The International Memorial released the following statement

On February 6, 2019 Zheleznodorozhny District Court of the city of Oryol sentenced Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen, to six years in prison. He was convicted for «taking advantage of his authority as a spiritual leader» to ensure the work of Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization in Oryol.

About two years ago, on April 20, 2017 года, the Supreme Court of Russia banned Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia as an extremist organization. This shameful and anti-legal decision brought Russia into line with countries notorious for its most odious regimes. Jehovah's Witnesses were brutally persecuted in Nazi Germany. In all democratic countries, Jehovah's Witnesses operate freely. As a result of the decision of the Supreme Court, dozens of followers of this doctrine were arrested in Russia, and now the first custodial sentence has been delivered.

In our country, freedom of conscience proclaimed by the Constitution of Russia became as fictitious as it used to be in the USSR. A six year sentence that Christensen was handed for exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of worship is rather comparable to terms of punishment that Jehovah's Witnesses had received in Soviet time.

It is absurd when Jehovah's Witnesses who had been convicted by the Soviet regime (there are hundreds of ruined lives due to this and the Memorial is aware of them) are recognized as victims of political repressions in accordance with Russia’s Law on Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repressions (1991) and at the same time the current followers of Jehovah's Witnesses are sent to prison.

This verdict proves again handicaps of Russian «anti-extremist» legislation, which allows adding almost everyone to the list of extremists.

We demand to lift the unconstitutional ban on Jehovah's Witnesses.

We consider Dennis Christensen and the rest of detained followers of Jehovah's Witnesses prisoners of conscience and demand their immediate release.


February 8, 2019

The International Memorial Board