Russian authorities in the southwestern city of Saratov have convicted and handed prison sentences to six Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious group that Moscow has outlawed and labeled as "extremist."
They were found guilty of taking part in the activities of an extremist organization and their sentences ranged from 2 to 3 1/2 years, the confession's New York-based headquarters said in a September 19 news release.
They are: Konstantin Bazhenov and Aleksei Budenchuk, Feliks Makhammadiyev, Roman Gridasov, Gennady German, and Aleksei Miretsky.
The six intend to appeal their verdicts.
Jehovah's Witness spokesman Jarrod Lopes said the six were being sent to jail "for their peaceful Christian worship."
In 2017, Russia banned the religious group and deemed it an "extremist organization," a designation the U.S. State Department describes as "wrongful."
Since the faith was outlawed, one Jehovah's Witness has been imprisoned in Russia.
Danish national Dennis Christensen was detained in May 2017 in Oryol, some 320 kilometers south of Moscow. A Russian court in February sentenced him to six years in a case condemned both in Russia and abroad.
On September 10, the United States banned two high-ranking regional officers in Russia's Investigative Committee from entering the country for allegedly torturing seven Jehovah's Witness believers.
Vladimir Yermolayev, head of the Investigative Committee in the city of Surgut, and Stepan Tkach, a senior investigator, allegedly subjected the Jehovah's Witnesses "to suffocation, electric shocks, and severe beatings during interrogation."
As of this month, 251 Jehovah's Witnesses face criminal charges, 41 are either in pretrial detention or prison, 23 are under house arrest and more than 100 have had their freedom restricted, the religious group has said.
The Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia for decades, for its members' views about military service, voting, and government authority in general.
Russia Jails Six More Jehovah's Witnesses