At least seven Jehovah's Witnesses have been handed prison terms in Russia amid a continuing crackdown on the religious group, which was banned in the country in 2017.
Representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses informed RFE/RL that a court in Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk sentenced Andrei Stupnikov to six years in prison on June 3 after finding him guilty of the organization of activities of an extremist organization.
Stupnikov was arrested three years ago. He was initially kept in a detention center and later transferred to house arrest.
Stupnikov rejected the charge, insisting that the case against him was launched because of his religious views.
According to the religious group, a court in Russia's western city of Kursk on June 3 sentenced four other members -- Andrei Andreyev, Andrei Ryshkov, Armen Bagratyan, and Alevtina Bagratyan -- to prison terms of between two years and 4 1/2 years. One more follower of the faith, Aleksandr Vospitanyuk, received a suspended sentence. All five were found guilty of organizing or taking part in the activities of an extremist group.
A day earlier, a court in the Siberian city of Minusinsk fined Dmitry Maslov 450,000 rubles ($6,100) for taking part in the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, while a court in the Far Eastern city of Zeya handed a suspended two-year prison term to 78-year-old Vasily Reznichenko on the same charge.
Jehovah’s Witnesses is a Christian denomination with an estimated 175,000 followers in Russia. The 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 in the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
According to the group, dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses have either been 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.
The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses estimates that between 5,000 to 10,000 of its members have fled Russia since the ban came into force.