Russian authorities have detained and placed under house arrest a Jehovah’s Witness in Siberia amid a continued crackdown on the religious group, which was labeled as extremist and banned in the country in 2017.
The Investigative Committee said in a statement on February 17 that a 53-year-old resident of the town of Belovo in the Kemerovo region was placed under house arrest on suspicion of organizing a Jehovah’s Witnesses "cell."
The man, whose identity was not disclosed, refused to cooperate with investigators citing Article 51 of the Russian Constitution, the statement said, adding that the suspect had been apprehended after the homes of several alleged members of the banned group were searched in the region.
Article 51 states that no one shall be obliged to give incriminating evidence.
The announcement came a week after a court in Russia's Krasnodar region sentenced a 63-year-old Jehovah's Witness, Aleksandr Ivshin, to 7 1/2 years in prison, the harshest sentence since authorities launched the campaign against the religious group.
The United States has condemned Russia's continued 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.
In September 2019, Washington banned two high-ranking regional officers from Russia's Investigative Committee from entering the United States over the alleged torture of seven detainees who are Jehovah's Witnesses.
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.