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Two Jehovah's Witnesses Get Lengthy Prison Terms In Siberia

Russia officially banned the Jehovah's Witnesses in 2017, controversially deeming it an "extremist organization,"
Russia officially banned the Jehovah's Witnesses in 2017, controversially deeming it an "extremist organization,"

KEMEROVO, Russia -- A court in Russia's Siberian city of Kemerovo has sentenced two Jehovah's Witnesses to four years in prison each.

Sergei Britvin and Vadim Levchuk were found guilty on September 2 of being members of an extremist organization and sentenced the same day.

The two were arrested in July 2018 after a "secret witness" testified against them. Britvin is legally handicapped.

In December last year, a court in Kemerovo transferred Britvin and Levchuk to house arrest.

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

For decades, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, rejection of military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays.

Since the faith was outlawed in Russia, several Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in the country and in the Russia-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea Crimea peninsula.

In September, Washington banned two high-ranking regional officers from Russia's Investigative Committee from entering the United States over alleged torture of seven detainees who are Jehovah's Witnesses.

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

On January 9, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Russian law enforcement authorities had "dramatically escalated the nationwide persecution" of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the previous year.

HRW said Russian authorities have carried out at least 780 raids of houses owned by Jehovah's Witnesses in dozens of Russian cities since 2017. More than half of those raids were conducted in 2019.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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