JULY 24, 2017
On July 20, 2017, the Sovietskiy District Court of Oryol extended the pretrial detention of Dennis Christensen to November 23, 2017. Mr. Christensen, a Danish citizen and one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was arrested on May 25 when Federal Security Service agents, along with masked and armed police officers, raided a peaceful religious meeting that he was attending in Oryol.
His attorneys presented a motion for his release on bail and had made arrangements to cover the cost. Yet, the court refused to grant the motion in spite of the fact that he has no criminal record or history of violent behavior.
Mr. Christensen’s extended detention comes on the heels of the July 17 Appellate Chamber decision of Russia’s Supreme Court, which affirmed its earlier ruling to liquidate all of the Witnesses’ legal entities and to ban their activity throughout the country. After more than a decade-long campaign to persecute the Witnesses and cast them as “extremists,” Russian authorities have now succeeded in fabricating a legal veneer to criminalize their religious activities.
Commenting on the overall situation facing the Witnesses in Russia, Kate M. Byrnes, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. of the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, stated: “We are alarmed by the July 17 Supreme Court verdict to uphold the ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities and the dissolution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center and its 395 local religious organizations for supposed ‘extremist activity.’ It is abhorrent that the over 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia may now face criminal prosecution for simply practicing their religion. The increasing application of legislation concerning ‘extremism’ to target wrongfully members of peaceful religious minority groups in Russia is troubling.”