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A video posted on YouTube by the Investigative Committee showed its officers along with those of the FSB using a sledgehammer to break down the door of what appeared to be an apartment.

Police and security troops in Russia's northwestern city of Murmansk have raided the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious group that Moscow has outlawed and labeled as extremist.

The Investigative Committee said on December 30 that five locations in Murmansk had been searched by police and the officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in a move "to thwart activities of a banned extremist group."

According to the statement, books and electronic devices were confiscated, and individuals allegedly involved in the "illegal" activities of the "extremist group" were identified.

The statement did not say if anyone was arrested during or after the searches.

A video posted on YouTube by the Investigative Committee showed its officers along with those of the FSB using a sledgehammer to break down the door of what appeared to be an apartment.

The statement comes days after a court in Penza, 550 kilometers southeast of Moscow, sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness, Vladimir Alyushkin, to six years in prison.

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

Since the faith was outlawed, several followers of the 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 of Russia's Investigative Committee from entering the country for allegedly torturing seven Jehovah's Witnesses.

According to the religious group, as of December 9, there were 297 Jehovah’s Witnesses "dealing with criminal charges for their faith"; 43 in detention; and 22 under house arrest.

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 eyed with suspicion in Russia for decades for its members' views about military service, voting, and government authority in general.

Russia's Republic of Kalmykia has marked the 76th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Kalmyks to Siberia by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Prayers in Kalmykia's Buddhist temples were dedicated on December 28 to those who died between 1943 and 1956 as a result of the deportation.

Thousands attended a commemoration ceremony near the monument of Exodus And Return -- a memorial created in Kalmykia’s capital, Elista, by the late Russian-American sculptor Ernst Neizvestny.


Regional head Batu Khasikov, who attended the ceremony, said "our Kalmyk people's spirit has never been broken, despite our people's sufferings."

"After 13 years of wanderings, our elders managed to resurrect and raise our republic. Our duty is to preserve the legacy," Khasikov said.

Kalmyks are a Mongol-speaking and predominantly Buddhist ethnic group -- one of several that was deported en masse in the 1940s by Stalin's Soviet government, which accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany.

On December 28-29, 1943, almost 100,000 Kalmyks were sent in cattle cars headed for Siberia.

According to unofficial estimates, at least one-third of those who were forced onto the trains died during the journey.

Those who survived were allowed to return to Kalmykia, close to Russia’s North Caucasus region, in 1956.

Kalmykia has marked December 28 as a holiday, the Day Of Memory And Sorrow, since 2004.

With reporting by and Kalmykia On-Line

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