RUSSIA’S high court has sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness organiser to six years in prison for defying a government ban on the sect after it was outlawed in 2017 when it was labelled an extremist organisation.
As part of a crackdown on extreme religious groups, Russia has outlawed several Christian and Muslim sects and anyone caught defying the ban is liable to be arrested and prosecuted. Earlier today, a Russian court sentenced Sergei Klimov, for defying the ban in what is the harshest penalty meted out to a local person by a Russian court against a member of the religious movement so far.
Olga Shevtsova, a spokeswoman for a district court in the western Siberian city of Tomsk, said Mr Klimov, 49, was convicted of being an organiser of an extremist group. In February, a Russian court sentenced a Danish Jehovah’s Witness to a six year in jail after being convicting of extremism.
In September, a court in the western city of Saratov jailed six Jehovah’s Witnesses for terms ranging from two years to three-and-a-half years. Mr Klimov, who has been in detention since June last year, will face restrictions after his release including a year-long ban on travel outside Tomsk, a move reminiscent of Soviet-era treatment of political prisoners.
Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said members of the religious movement were astounded by the cruelty of the punishment. He drew parallels with the Soviet Union, saying his father, also a Jehovah’s Witness, was jailed for seven years under the Soviets
Mr Sivulsky said: “A person is being punished for reading the Bible as if he killed someone. It’s incredible.”
Artur Leontyev, Mr Klimov’s lawyer said the defence would appeal, decrying the harshness of the sentence. Moscow unleashed the crackdown even though President Vladimir Putin has said Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be seen as terrorists.
Founded in the US in the late 19th century, the Jehovah’s Movement has often faced problems over members proselytisation or refusing to respect state symbols such as flags. There are some 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, a predominantly Orthodox Christian country.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said: “They are simply locking up people for believing in God. I’ve been saying for a long time that the Kremlin is full of devil-worshippers.”