Russia upholds jail sentence for Danish Jehovah’s Witness

A Russian court on Thursday upheld a six-year jail sentence for "extremism" for a Danish Jehovah's Witness in a case that has drawn international condemnation.

Russia upholds jail sentence for Danish Jehovah's Witness
Dennis Christensen in court in the town of Oryol earlier this year. Photo: Mladen Antonov / AFP / Ritzau Scanpix

In the first such conviction since Russia outlawed the religious movement in 2017, 46-year-old Dennis Christensen was originally sentenced to six years in prison in February.

Christensen — who moved to Russia as an adult and is married to a Russian — appealed, but a court in the southwestern city of Oryol upheld the sentence on Thursday.

It was not yet known when he would start his prison term.

The case has drawn widespread condemnation, notably from Denmark and the European Union, but also from other foreign governments.

A spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses in New York, Paul Gillies, accused Russia of returning to Soviet-style crackdowns on religious believers.

“Reminiscent of the Soviet-era, in Russia it is again a crime to be a peaceful Christian believer,” Gillies said.

Rights group Amnesty International called Christensen a “prisoner of conscience jailed for his faith.”

It said that, since Christensen's conviction, the homes of more than 115 Jehovah's Witnesses have been raided in Russia, with 74 criminal cases being brought.

“This brings the total number of Jehovah's Witnesses under investigation in the country to 188,” the rights group said in a statement.

“Today's decision sends a bleak message that reprisals will continue and much worse may still come,” it warned.

Christensen has said that he “never committed any criminal acts.”

Russian authorities have detained several Jehovah's Witnesses following the Dane's arrest, some of whom have publicly said they were tortured in custody.

Russia brands the US evangelical Christian movement, which was set up in the late 19th century and preaches non-violence, as a totalitarian sect and in 2017 designated it an extremist organisation and ordered its dissolution in the country.

Earlier this year, the UN criticised Russia's definition of extremism as too vague and urged Moscow to release those imprisoned for exercising their religious freedom.

READ ALSO: Danish Jehovah's Witness jailed for 6 years for 'extremism' in Russia

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Denmark decries airspace violations by Russian planes

Denmark's government on Friday decried two Russian aircraft violating Danish airspace and summoned   Moscow's ambassador over the incident.

Denmark decries airspace violations by Russian planes
Russian MiG fighter jets. NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP

The defence ministry in one NATO’s founding members said fighter jets had been scrambled to counter the incursion on Friday,  Ritzau news agency reported.

“Completely unacceptable that Russian planes violate Danish airspace, even twice in one day,” Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a post to Twitter.

Kofod added that the repeat violation made it look like a “deliberate action”.

“We are still examining the details, but I have already taken the initiative to summon the Russian ambassador for a talk at the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs,” the foreign minister said.

The violations had occurred over the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, south of Sweden.

“It is very rare that we see this type of violation of Danish airspace, so two in the same day must be deemed to be serious,” Defence Minister Trine Bramsen told Ritzau.

According to the agency, Russia has repeatedly flown over Danish airspace and in August 2020, a Russian B52 bomber also flew over Bornholm.