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Opinions from Outsiders

The Russian Ombudsman pointed to the root of the unjustified persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses

Moscow,   Oryol Region

On June 10, 2019, Tatiana Moskalkova, Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, presented her report for 2018 to the President of the Russian Federation. In it, for the first time, she drew attention to the unjustified criminal prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, and also pointed out the root of the problem.

Contradictions in the current legislation. Referring to the harsh sentence imposed on Dennis Christensen, Tatiana Moskalkova wrote: "These events make us think about the existence of a conflict between the constitutional right to practice one's religion individually or in community with others and the signs of extremist activity specified in Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation." (At the time of the High Commissioner's meeting with the President, there were 38 Jehovah's Witnesses in Russian prisons as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, which in 2017 recognized all religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses registered in the country as extremist, liquidated and banned their activities.)

What is the root of all the accusations of extremism leveled against Jehovah's Witnesses? Tatiana Moskalkova pointed to the very essence of the problem: "Vague criteria for classifying religious materials as extremist are unacceptable, when virtually any federal judge at his own discretion can prohibit any book, image, video or audio recording." (In fact, all accusations against Jehovah's Witnesses boil down to the Federal List of Extremist Materials, which included religious books of Jehovah's Witnesses. Subsequently, because of these books, 1) fines were imposed on religious organizations, 2) warnings were issued to organizations, and 3) organizations were liquidated and recognized as "extremist.")

Condemning the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation is unanimous with the President of the Russian Federation, the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, observers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Union External Action Service and many other influential organizations and institutions. Nevertheless, raids and arrests continue in 40 regions of Russia from Pskov to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

Case of Christensen in Oryol

Case History
Dennis Christensen is the first Jehovah’s Witness in modern Russia to be imprisoned only because of his faith. He was arrested in May 2017. The FSB accused the believer of organizing the activities of a banned organization on the basis of the testimony of a secret witness, theologian Oleg Kurdyumov from a local university, who kept covert audio and video recordings of conversations with Christensen about faith. There are no extremist statements or victims in the case. In 2019, the court sentenced Christensen to 6 years in prison. The believer was serving time in the Lgov colony. He repeatedly asked for the replacement of part of the unserved term with a fine. For the first time, the court granted the request, but the prosecutor’s office appealed this decision, and the prison administration threw the believer into a punishment cell on trumped-up charges. Christensen developed illnesses that prevented him from working in prison. On May 24, 2022, the believer was released after serving his sentence and was immediately deported to his homeland, Denmark.

Persons in case

Criminal case

Oryol Region
Suspected of:
according to the investigation, together with the others he conducted religious services, which is interpreted as “organising the activity of an extremist organisation” (with reference to the court’s decision on the liquidation of the local organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Court case number:
May 23, 2017
Current case stage:
the verdict entered into force
UFSB of Russia in the Oryol region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
[i18n] Рассмотрено судом первой инстанции:
Железнодорожный районный суд г. Орла
Алексей Николаевич Руднев
[i18n] Суд апелляционной инстанции:
Орловский областной суд
[i18n] Суд апелляционной инстанции:
Льговский райсуд Курской области
Case History