FEBRUARY 19, 2019
As was announced on February 6, 2019, the Zheleznodorozhniy District Court of Oryol sentenced Dennis Christensen to six years in prison for engaging in peaceful worship. The verdict is in the process of being appealed to a higher court.
The news of Christensen’s six-year sentence immediately provoked an international response. Bodies within the Council of Europe, the European Union, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other organizations have decried Russia’s unjust and unwarranted prosecution of Dennis Christensen.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, issued a statement that said, in part: “The harsh sentence imposed on Christensen creates a dangerous precedent, and effectively criminalizes the right to freedom of religion or belief for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.” She urged the Russian government “to revise the Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activity with a view to clarifying the vague and open-ended definition of ‘extremist activity,’ and ensuring that the definition requires an element of violence or hatred.” Ms. Bachelet concluded by calling on the authorities “to drop charges against and to release all those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of religion or belief, the freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
Two days after the sentencing of Brother Christensen, four well-known Russian human rights experts organized a press conference in Moscow. The venue was filled to capacity, and over 6,000 people followed the hour-long program that was streamed online. All on the panel defended Jehovah’s Witnesses as a peaceful people who pose no threat to society.
Also participating in the press conference were Brother Christensen’s wife, Irina; his lawyer, Mr. Anton Bogdanov; and a representative from the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Yaroslav Sivulskiy. They made statements regarding the unjust verdict and responded to questions from the press.
Despite being in prison for almost two years, Brother Christensen continues to maintain his joy and his resolve to trust in Jehovah. Just days before the final verdict, while delivering his final statement to the court, Brother Christensen noted: “The truth sooner or later becomes obvious, and it will be the case in this matter.” After reading Revelation 21:3-5, he concluded with full conviction: “These words . . . describe the time when God will take care of justice and true freedom for all people. Freedom and justice are closely related to each other. God will make sure that all of this will be fulfilled.”
Brother Christensen must await the appeal ruling while in Detention Facility No. 1 in the Oryol Region—where he has been imprisoned for the past 20 months.
The video Russian Trial Called ‘A Litmus Test For Religious Freedom’ was produced by the international media outlet RFE/RL just days before the verdict was announced.