MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court has sentenced a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to 7.5 years in prison, a spokesman for the religious denomination said, while in Moscow state investigators opened a new criminal investigation into the group.
Russia’s Supreme Court branded the Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” organisation in 2017 and ordered it to disband. Since then authorities have detained hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses and convicted dozens on extremism charges.
In the southern region of Krasnodar, Alexander Ivshin, 63, was sentenced to 7.5 years in a penal colony, after being accused of organising activities on behalf of a banned group, spokesman Yaroslav Sivulsky of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses said in a statement.
Also on Wednesday, law enforcement officials detained a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses and conducted searches at 16 addresses in Moscow as part of a new criminal investigation into the group, state investigators said.
The Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, said the people had been detained for organising and taking part in the activities of a banned religious group.
It said they had met in a flat in northern Moscow and studied the teachings of the religion despite being aware of the ban on the group’s activities.
“The Russian authorities continue to hunt for believers of our religion,” Sivulsky said.
He said that at least 15 families of Jehovah’s Witnesses had awoken to a loud knock at the door on Wednesday morning and innocent, law-abiding people were later shown on television being led away in handcuffs.
“We hope the law and common sense will prevail and that the religious persecution of our religion’s followers will stop,” Sivulsky said.
In a statement on its website, the Investigative Committee did not say how many people had been detained in total.
Reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Giles Elgood