FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 26, 2018
Vice Chair Arriaga Adopts Two Religious Prisoners of Conscience
Vice Chair Arriaga said, “These two cases are examples of the Russian government ‘securitizing’ religion—targeting religious communities it considers illegitimate on the pretext that they pose a national security threat”
WASHINGTON, DC – Kristina Arriaga, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), today announced that she is adopting two religious prisoners of conscience in Russia, Dennis Christensen and Ivan Matsitsky, as part of USCIRF’s Prisoners of Conscience Project. Mr. Christensen, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was arrested in Oryol, Russia, on May 25, 2017, following the raid of a prayer service in which he was participating. As of September 13, 2018, Mr. Christensen has appeared 38 times before Oryol’s District Court. He faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Mr. Matsitsky, the director of the Church of Scientology in St. Petersburg, was arrested on June 5, 2017, on various charges including involvement in “an extremist conspiracy.” He has been held in pretrial detention since his arrest.
“The cases of Dennis Christensen and Ivan Matsitsky are emblematic of the Russian government’s complete disregard for religious freedom,” stated Vice Chair Arriaga. “I am committed to doing all I can to raise awareness of Ivan’s and Dennis’ cases and secure their speedy release.”
The government of Russia considers groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists “nontraditional” religious minorities, frequently targeting them with fines, detentions, and criminal charges under the pretext of combating extremism. In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization.
Vice Chair Arriaga added, “These two cases are examples of the Russian government ‘securitizing’ religion—targeting religious communities it considers illegitimate on the pretext that they pose a national security threat. But these religious communities only seek to practice their beliefs peacefully and without fear. When they arrested Dennis, he was reading the Bible with fellow believers. The international community must uphold internationally recognized human rights and press for the release of Ivan, Dennis, and the many others imprisoned in Russia for their religious identity or activities.”
In 2018 USCIRF again recommended that Russia be designated as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). To learn more about religious freedom conditions in Russia, click here.
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 Javier Peña at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1-202-674-2598.