A court in Russian-annexed Crimea has sentenced a Jehovah's Witness to six years in prison for being a member of an extremist group.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, a Ukrainian organization, called the sentencing of Artyom Gerasimov on June 4 "a shocking escalation of repression in occupied Crimea."
Russia officially banned the Jehovah's Witnesses in April 2017 and deemed it an "extremist organization," despite widespread condemnation from Western countries and human rights groups.
The Supreme Court in Crimea ruled in an appeal on June 4 that Gerasimov should serve six years in a penal colony.
The sentence came after Gerasimov appealed a Yalta city court fining him 400,000 rubles ($5,785) in March, the Jehovah's Witnesses said in a statement.
The prosecutor's office then demanded 6 1/2 years of imprisonment.
"Today's ruling by the Crimean Supreme Court brings religious persecution to a new level of cruelty," Jehovah's Witnesses spokesman Jarrod Lopes said.
According to the group, Gerasimov is the second Jehovah's Witness to be sentenced in Crimea, and the 30th Jehovah's Witness convicted in Russia and Crimea since 2017. Ten have been imprisoned.
On March 5, a Crimean court found Sergei Filatov guilty of being a member of the religious group and sentenced him to six years in prison.
For decades the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Russian 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.
Authorities in annexed Crimea also persecute members of the Muslim organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was declared a terrorist group in Russia.
Dozens of people have been convicted for involvement in the group's activities. Neither Hizb ut-Tahrir nor the Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in Ukraine.
Crimea has been controlled by Moscow since March 2014, when Russia forcibly annexed the peninsula, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries, after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted amid a wave of public protests.