MAY 10, 2018
On April 23, 2018, Dennis Christensen’s criminal trial resumed in the Zheleznodorozhniy District Court of Oryol. Mr. Christensen, a Danish citizen and one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was arrested while attending a religious meeting in May 2017 and has been in pretrial detention ever since.
The prosecutor, Mr. Fomin, charged Mr. Christensen with ‘organizing the activity of an extremist organization,’ namely, the Local Religious Organization (LRO) of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol, which was liquidated in June 2016 under unjust charges of extremism. Mr. Christensen’s attorneys objected to the charges because the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol is not a legal entity, but a group of peaceful worshippers who meet together to study the Bible. His attorneys emphasized that Russian authorities, by their own admission, did not ban the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that Russia’s constitution guarantees the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. * Thus, when Mr. Christensen participated in a religious service, he was simply practicing his faith.
Testimony began on April 24, 2018. The prosecutor first called an agent from the Federal Security Service to the stand. The agent testified that he had kept the Kingdom Hall in Oryol under video surveillance since 2017. However, he could not state what had happened inside, since the recordings only showed Mr. Christensen warmly greeting others as they entered the building. The prosecutor then called a local woman who had attended the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol. However, she could not comment on Mr. Christensen’s activities because she had only attended meetings before the LRO in Oryol was liquidated.
The following day, the prosecutor called a 78-year-old woman, who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the stand. After the prosecutor questioned her for two and a half hours in an attempt to find incriminating “evidence,” she merely testified that the Witnesses do not have directors or leaders and that during their meetings, they never use religious publications that are banned in Russia.
The hearing will resume on May 14, 2018, and is scheduled to continue for several days during the month. If convicted, Mr. Christensen could face a prison term of six to ten years. Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are alarmed at this possibility and are concerned for the welfare of both Mr. Christensen and his wife, Irina.
^ In upholding the decision to ban the LRO of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol, the Supreme Court stated: “The right of such members to profess their chosen religion will not be violated, since they are not deprived of the possibility of independently conducting worship services not associated with the distribution of religious literature of extremist content.”