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More Jehovah's Witnesses Detained In Russia After Danish Adherent's Conviction

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Russian Trial Called 'A Litmus Test For Religious Freedom'
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Police in two Russian regions have detained more members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, a day after a Russian court sentenced a Danish adherent of the religious group to six years in prison.

The group was banned by Russia's Supreme Court in April 2017.

The local branch of the Interior Ministry in the Khanty-Mansiisk region in northwestern Siberia said in a statement on February 7 that the detained individuals were suspected of "preaching their superiority over other citizens who are not Jehovah's Witnesses."

According to the statement, the suspects held illegal gatherings, "propagating extremist ideas and recruiting new members to the banned religious group."

The statement gives neither the number of people detained nor the exact date of the arrests.

INFOGRAPHIC: Countries Where Jehovah's Witnesses' Activities Are Banned (click to view)

Meanwhile, the ministry's branch in the Mordovia region, located some 550 kilometers southeast of Moscow, said on February 7 that "a wide-scale operation" took place on February 7 "to stop the illegal activities" of the Jehovah's Witnesses, during which "organizers of the group were detained, and an investigation was opened."

The statement did not give the number of people detained.

Both statements came a day after a court in the western city of Oryol found Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen and a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, guilty of "organizing the activity of an extremist organization" in Russia and handed him a six-year prison sentence.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on February 7 that the Kremlin could not comment on the court ruling but said officials would be looking into the situation surrounding the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.

"This will be happening. This is a process. This is not an easy subject," he told reporters.

Human rights organizations, the European Union, and the United States condemned Christensen's conviction and called on Russia to respect freedom of religion.

Christensen was arrested in Oryol in May 2017, a month after the religious group was banned.

He was the first Jehovah's Witness to be detained in Russia following the ban. Since then, dozens of other members of the group have been detained and face similar charges of extremism.

With reporting by Interfax
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