Amnesty International has called on Russian authorities to immediately free a Danish member of the Jehovah's Witnesses who was arrested in May 2017, a month after the Supreme Court ruled that the religious group should be closed down and no longer allowed to operate in the country.
"The Russian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Dennis Christensen, a Danish national and Jehovah’s Witness, who has been facing trial simply for the exercise of his human rights including his right to freedom of religion," Amnesty International said in a February 5 statement.
A ruling on Christensen's case by the Zheleznodorozhny District Court in the western city of Oryol is expected on February 6.
Christensen, 46, became the first Jehovah’s Witness to be detained in Russia following the ban, while several other members have been arrested since.
The defense argued for acquittal while prosecutors asked the court to convict Christensen of organizing the activities of an extremist group and sentence him to 6 1/2 years in prison. The maximum sentence for that crime is 10 years.
Final arguments in his trial were completed on January 30 in Oryol, where he has been jailed since shortly after his arrest in May 2017.
“Dennis Christensen has been arrested and prosecuted by the authorities simply for practicing his religion as a Jehovah’s Witness. His case is emblematic of the grave human rights violations including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and religion in the country," said Marie Struthers, director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
"The Russian authorities must halt the persecution of the estimated 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who are simply peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion,” she said.
“The Russian authorities should respect, protect, promote, and fulfill the right to freedom of belief as enshrined in the country’s constitution and human rights treaties to which Russia is a state party. The intimidation and harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses must stop.”