FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 23, 2020
USCIRF Applauds Russian Court’s Parole of Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen
Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the decision of a Russian District Court in Lgov to grant parole to Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah’s Witness prisoner of conscience imprisoned for his faith since May 2017.
“USCIRF applauds the Russian court’s decision to grant clemency,” said USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin, who advocates for Dennis Christensen through the Commission’s Religious Prisoner of Conscience project. “Paroling Dennis Christensen was the right thing to do, and we are glad that the Russian government finally took this important step. We are hopeful that this represents a change in policy, yet we remain concerned about Russia’s ongoing imprisonment of people for simply practicing their peaceful religious beliefs.”
The court ordered that the remainder of his sentence be replaced with a fine of 400,000 rubles (roughly $6,000) and he will be released upon payment. Christensen was already eligible for early release a year ago because of time served in pre-trial detention, but prison authorities rejected his previous requests. His health, and the threat of COVID-19, only added urgency to his request.
“Dennis Christensen’s health noticeably deteriorated while in custody, and USCIRF is hopeful that he will recover his strength at home,” Chair Manchin added.
Ten Jehovah’s Witnesses reportedly remain imprisoned in Russia, while 24 are in pretrial detention, and 24 are under house arrest.
In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. government designate Russia as a “country of particular concern” for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. The U.S. State Department currently includes Russia on its Special Watch List.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at firstname.lastname@example.org or Danielle Ashbahian at email@example.com.