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Tuesday 5 November 2019

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Human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov

Prominent Russian human rights defender Lev Ponomaryov has announced a plan to create a new human rights organization based on his For Human Rights movement that was shut down by the authorities on November 1.

Ponomaryov’s announcement was placed on his closed group's website on November 5.

"Instead of the movement, we are creating an association without mandatory registration,” Ponomaryov's statement says, adding that some of the closed For Human Rights group will join the new association along with several unspecified human rights and environmentalist organizations.

According to Ponomaryov, several founding congresses to create the new association will be held on November 30.

Ponomaryov reiterated his intention to appeal the Supreme Court's decision shuttering the For Human Rights movement.

The court has explained its move to close Ponomaryov's group by saying the group's charter contradicts the country's Civic Code.

It also cited the reluctance of the group to register as a foreign agent under a 2012 law that has been criticized in the West for stigmatizing organizations with the designation.

In February, the Justice Ministry branded Ponomaryov's group as a foreign agent through the controversial 2012 law that obliges organizations which receive financial support from sources outside of Russia to register as foreign agents.

For Human Rights was one of Russia's oldest and leading human rights organizations. It was established in 1997.

The 78-year-old Ponomaryov is one of Russia's most-prominent human rights activists.

Sergei Klimov appears in court in Tomsk. (undated)

TOMSK, Russia -- Russian authorities in the Siberian city of Tomsk have convicted and handed a prison sentence to a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious group that Moscow has outlawed and labeled as "extremist."

On November 5, Sergei Klimov was found guilty by a court of first instance in Tomsk of being a leader of an extremist group and sentenced to six years in prison.

Klimov said at the trial that he was a Jehovah's Witness, but denied that he was a leader of the group. His lawyer said the court's ruling will be appealed.

In April 2017, Russia banned the religious group and deemed it an "extremist organization," a designation the U.S. State Department says is "wrong."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists in Moscow that the court rendered its verdict based solely of the law and that he would not comment further.

When asked about possible changes to the controversial law, Peskov said there had been "no new developments," though "nothing can be ruled out" in the future.

Since the faith was outlawed, several Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia, including Danish national Dennis Christensen, who was sentenced to six years in prison in February 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 in Russia's Investigative Committee from entering the country for allegedly torturing seven Jehovah's Witnesses.

The religious group said in September that 251 of its members faced criminal charges. Of those, 41 were either in pretrial detention or prison, 23 were under house arrest, and more than 100 had their freedom restricted.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized 29 Jehovah's Witnesses charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia for decades for its members' views about military service, voting, and government authority in general.

With reporting by TASS

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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