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Wednesday 23 January 2019

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Literature in Russian by the Jehovah's Witnesses

A Russian prosecutor has asked a court to sentence a Danish man to 6 1/2 years in prison for his affiliation with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the U.S.-based denomination deemed by Russia to be extremist.

Russian news reports said the prosecutor in the southern city of Oryol made the demand during a court hearing on January 23 in the case against Dennis Christensen.

The 46-year-old Christensen, who was detained in May 2017, is believed to be the first person to go on trial in Russia for his affiliation with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Headquartered in New York state, the Jehovah's Witnesses organization has long been viewed with suspicion for its positions on military service, voting, and government authority in general. The group says it has around 170,000 adherents in Russia.

In 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled in favor of prosecutors who argued that the group’s teachings qualified as extremist, ordering the seizure of its property and effectively banning worshippers from the country.

More than 100 criminal cases have been opened against followers in Russia and some of their publications have been listed as banned extremist literature.

Some of the criminal case brought before the Supreme Court by prosecutors hinged on Russian-language Bible translations by the organization.

Freedom of religion is formally guaranteed in Russia but legislation sets out Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country's four traditional religions, and smaller denominations frequently face discrimination.

In an interview with Reuters, conducted from the glass cage where he watched the proceedings in the Oryol court, Christiansen denied the charges and said the case against him had echoes of the Stalin-era

"I'm afraid that history is now repeating itself," Christiansen said. "I'm afraid that it's actually like Stalin has come back."

With reporting by Reuters and Kommersant
Rez Khandan with his wife, Nasrin Sotoudeh, in Tehran in 2013

Iranian activist Reza Khandan, the husband of a jailed prominent human rights lawyer, has been sentenced to six years in prison, his lawyer and local media say.

Khandan has been sentenced to five years in jail for conspiring against national security and one year for propaganda against the system, the lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, said on January 23.

He has also been “banned for two years from leaving the country, any activity in social media or newspapers, and membership in political groups," Moghimi told the AFP news agency.

The sentence was handed down by the Tehran Revolutionary Court, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.

Khandan has said that the charges against him were political.

Moghimi said he will appeal the verdict.

Khandan had been a vocal campaigner for the release of his wife, Nasrin Sotoudeh, until he was arrested in September after complaining on Facebook about human rights violations in Iran, including the imprisonment of rights defenders and the prosecution of women who have campaigned against the requirement to wear the Islamic hijab. He was released on bail last month.

Sotoudeh, 55, was arrested in June 2018 and ordered to serve a five-year sentence imposed on her in absentia in September 2016 for allegedly carrying out "activities against national security in collaboration with domestic and foreign antirevolutionary elements," according to Human Rights Watch.

International rights groups and the U.S. government have denounced the arrest of the lawyer, who in 2018 represented several women detained for publicly protesting the compulsory hijab.

Sotoudeh -- the co-winner of the European Parliament's 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought -- has denied all charges against her.

An outspoken critic of the Iranian establishment, Sotoudeh previously spent several years in prison on security charges, including acting against Iran's national security. She has defended journalists, rights activists, and juveniles.

With reporting by AFP and dpa

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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