FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 2, 2020
USCIRF Troubled by Russia’s Ongoing Imprisonment of Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen
Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern about the health and wellbeing of Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah’s Witness prisoner of conscience still imprisoned in Russia. Christensen was granted parole on June 23, but USCIRF has learned that prosecutor Aleksei Shatunov subsequently appealed the decision. Christensen will remain in prison while a new hearing is scheduled, which could take weeks.
Christensen has been eligible for early release for a year, due to time served in pre-trial detention, and his health has noticeably deteriorated in custody. He has already contracted pneumonia once during his time in prison, and his pulmonary health remains a serious concern amid the continuing threat of COVID-19. Unless his parole is upheld, Christensen is scheduled to remain in prison until May 25, 2022.
“USCIRF urges the Russian government to show clemency. The ongoing imprisonment of Dennis Christensen is truly unconscionable. This man has already forfeited his freedom for exercising his peaceful religious beliefs; it would be an atrocity for him to forfeit his life. Russia must free Mr. Christensen immediately,” said USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin, who advocates for Dennis Christensen through the Commission’s Religious Prisoner of Conscience project.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses report that 10 of its members are currently 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. 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.