- Russia sent another Jehovah’s Witness to prison for “organizing extremist activity,” a spokesman for the group said.
- The move came despite Russian President Vladimir Putin calling claims that Jehovah’s Witnesses are classified as terrorists “complete nonsense.”
- “The Soviet Union does not exist anymore, but we face discrimination again,” the Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman said.
A Russian court sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Sergey Klimov to six years in prison Tuesday for “organizing extremist activity,” a spokesman from Jehovah’s Witnesses said.
Klimov, 49, served as head of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who reside in Tomsk, Siberia, and he is now the eighth Jehovah’s Witness to be sentenced since the Russian Supreme Court passed a 2017 law declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization, Reuters reported. A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said after the Supreme Court ruled against Jehovah’s Witnesses that members of the organization “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses were caught off guard by the “unexpected” verdict against Klimov, communications representative and spokesman Jarrod Lopes told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in December 2018 that it is “complete nonsense” that Jehovah’s Witnesses are classified as members of a terrorist organization, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too. I don’t quite understand why they are persecuted,” Putin said. “So this should be looked into. This must be done.”
Despite Putin’s words, Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to endure persecution in Russia. (RELATED: Putin Advisers Push To End Prosecution Of Jehovah’s Witnesses In Russia)
As of Nov. 5, there are 284 Jehovah’s Witnesses under investigation in Russia, Lopes told the DCNF: 46 of these members are in detention, 23 are under house arrest, 21 are under a ban on their activities, 105 are under recognizance, and 11 are convicted.
Danish builder and Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen was sentenced to six years in prison in February for the same crime — about two months after Putin said persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses was “complete nonsense.” Christensen’s lawyer said at the time that he feared the verdict would serve as a precedent for further persecution of religious minorities by the Russian government.
Klimov’s sentencing mirrors Christensen’s February sentence, Jehovah’s Witness European and Russian spokesman Yaroslav Sivulskiy told the DCNF.
“It’s quite a severe sentence for a person who just read the Bible and expressed his religious views,” Sivulskiy said. “It’s too much.”
The spokesman added that people convicted of murder in Russia occasionally only receive four or five years in prison — sentences shorter than what Klimov and Christensen received.
But he said he does not know why the government persists in its persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I don’t know, I don’t know why,” Sivulskiy said, explaining that his family was forced to flee Russia following the government’s confiscation of the country’s Jehovah’s Witnesses center. “We had to leave our place, we had to leave our city. We lost our home.”
This is not the first religious discrimination that Sivulskiy’s family has faced, he told the DCNF. He said Joseph Stalin sentenced his parents to Siberia in 1953.
“My family was discriminated against in the Soviet Union when my family was sentenced to Siberia for 15 years,” the Jehovah’s Witness spokesman said. “My father spent seven years in a labor camp in Maldovia, the famous Maldovia labor camps. My mom spent four years in prison.”
“The Soviet Union does not exist anymore, but we face discrimination again,” Sivulskiy added.
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