Climactic week for Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia

Climactic week for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

A Russian judge on Friday imposed an eight-year suspended prison sentence for a 24-year-old Jehovah’s Witness and a seven-year suspended sentence for his 27-year-old wife, capping a week that marked some relief amid continued persecution for the faith in Russia.

An international spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses expressed gratitude that “this young couple will not need to be separated by prison bars” after the judge’s decision in Kostroma, 200 miles northeast of Moscow. The conviction comes a day after another judge in Ulyanovsk, on the Volga River, convicted six members of the persecuted faith. Those sentences were also suspended.

“We are pleased that they were not imprisoned. Yet it remains a gross injustice for them to be convicted simply for their peaceful Christian worship,” said Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, in a statement.

On Wednesday, a judge in Kabardino-Balkarian Republic, located in the North Caucasus mountains, issued the first “not guilty” verdict for a Jehovah’s Witness defendant since Russia’s supreme court declared the Christian sect liable for crimes under the nation’s “extremist” laws in 2017.

Dozens of religious scholars released a statement a week ago calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt police action against the estimated 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. In January, Human Rights Watch estimated that more than 300 members of the community were facing charges or had been convicted for practicing their faith.

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