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More Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced in Russia on extremism charges

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Several Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced in Russia for being members of the religious group that Moscow has labeled as extremist and banned in the country.

A court in the Siberian city of Omsk, on November 30, sentenced 48-year-old Sergei Polyakov to three years in prison after finding him guilty of “organizing the activities of an extremist group.”

Polyakov’s wife, Anastasia Polyakova and two other Jehovah’s Witnesses, Dinara Dyusekeyeva and Gaukhar Bektemirova, were convicted of “taking part in the activities of an extremist group” and handed suspended two-year prison terms each.

Their lawyer, Dmitry Kolobov, told RFE/RL after the sentences were pronounced that all of the convicted will appeal the court’s rulings.

The four went on trial more than a year ago amid Russian authorities’ crackdown on the religious group that was officially labelled as extremist and banned in the country in 2017.

Last week, Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had arrested several Jehovah’s Witnesses and carried out raids of their homes across the country.

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, several Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and the Russia-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea Crimea peninsula.

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.