Feb. 6 (UPI) — A Russian court sentenced a Danish Jehovah’s Witness to six years in prison Wednesday amid a crackdown on the religion that Moscow has labeled extremist.
The court convicted Dennis Christensen, 47, on charges of extremism some 20 months after law enforcement officials arrested him. He was arrested while giving a sermon in Orel.
Officials arrested him for his involvement in taking part in discussions about a religious publication and for organize people to help maintain their place of worship prior to the ban on the religion.
Christensen’s lawyer says he plans to appeal.
In early 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court classified Jehovah’s Witness as an extremist religion, banning activities and seizing property. Local prosecutors likened the religion to a cult, calling it a danger to Russian families.
At the time, the international head of the Jehovah’s Witnesses estimated there are about 175,000 practicing members in Russia in some 2,200 congregations.
Human Rights Watch condemned the sentencing and verdict Wednesday.
“The verdict against Denis Christensen is a disgrace,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s shocking that in post-Soviet Russia authorities are putting people through the ordeal of a criminal investigation and prison for nothing more than peacefully practicing their faith.”