FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 7, 2019
USCIRF Condemns Russian Conviction of Danish Prisoner of Conscience Dennis Christensen
Proof of Putin Escalating Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, says Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga
WASHINGTON, DC – Kristina Arriaga, Vice Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), today condemned the decision by a Russian court to convict and sentence Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah’s Witness, to six years imprisonment on charges of “organizing the activity of an extremist organization.
“Dennis Christensen’s conviction represents the continued deterioration of religious freedom in Putin’s Russia,” said Arriaga, who advocates on behalf of Mr. Christensen as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. “Evidently, it’s not enough for the state to brand peaceful groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘extremist’; it must also imprison their members. Russia must enter the 21st century and respect religious freedom as a fundamental human right.”
In June 2016, following a trend of repression of religious minority communities throughout Russia, a regional court in Oryol, where Mr. Christensen resides, branded the local Jehovah’s Witnesses branch an “extremist” group. On May 25, 2017, state security forces disrupted a Jehovah’s Witness prayer service, detaining some 70-80 people for several hours and arresting Mr. Christensen, alongside 15 Russian citizens. Mr. Christensen had appeared in court more than 50 times before being convicted on February 6. He has already spent more than 622 days in Detention Facility No. 1 in the Oryol Region.
In 2018, USCIRF again recommended that Russia be designated a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act. In November 2018, the U.S. State Department placed Russia on a Special Watch list for “engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.”
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 Media@USCIRF.gov or Kellie Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1-703-898-6554.