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Russia Continues Campaign Against Jehovah's Witnesses, Fines Three For Activities

Andrei Shchepin and his wife, Ksenia
Andrei Shchepin and his wife, Ksenia

KIROV, Russia -- A court in the Urals city of Kirov has fined three Jehovah's Witnesses on charges of organizing and financing the religious group that Russia labeled as extremist and banned in 2017.

The Lenin district court on July 19 ordered Andrei Shchepin, Aleksandr Shamov, and Yevgeny Udintsev to pay fines of between 200,000 rubles and 500,000 rubles ($2,700-$6,750).

Although the defendants pleaded not guilty, their relatives and supporters met the pronouncement of the verdicts and sentences with applause as in many cases the religious group's members have been handed lengthy prison terms in Russia in recent years.

It was not immediately clear if they will appeal the court's decision.

5 Things To Know About The Jehovah's Witnesses In Russia
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The United States has condemned Russia's ongoing crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities.

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, many Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and the Russia-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea Crimea Peninsula.

According to the group, dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses were either convicted of extremism or are in pretrial detention.

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