JUNE 26, 2017
NEW YORK—On June 2, 2017, officials in the Russian city of Oryol gave special recognition to the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, expressing gratitude for their participation in the city’s annual cleanup efforts on April 22, 2017. There were 70 Witnesses who volunteered to spend the day removing trash from the streets of Oryol and from the Orlik River that winds through the city. As a token of their appreciation, city officials presented the Witnesses with a small gift and a handwritten note stating, in part: “In gratitude for a good deed for the community and for the environment.”
However, one month after the cleanup, and one week before being formally thanked by city officials, one of the Witness volunteers, Dennis Christensen (pictured in above inset), was arrested for so-called extremist activity while attending a peaceful religious meeting on May 25. Russian authorities have been using the claim of extremist activity to target Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country.
“It is no surprise to those who know Jehovah’s Witnesses that Dennis, and the other Witnesses of the congregation, would voluntarily participate in the cleanup of their city. They have been performing this service for many years, continuing even after their legal entity was liquidated in 2016,” states David A. Semonian, a spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters. “Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oryol and in other cities around the world are known for being model citizens. That is why it is ironic that Dennis, a diligent, law-abiding Christian, would be treated like a criminal shortly after making a positive contribution to his community that was recognized as honorable by officials in Oryol. We believe that Dennis should be released immediately and be allowed to continue his peaceful worship and positive community service in association with his fellow worshippers.”
The arrest of Mr. Christensen took place almost a year after the local legal entity used by the Witnesses in Oryol was liquidated on June 14, 2016. The charges leveled against Mr. Christensen also came on the heels of the April 20, 2017, decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, near St. Petersburg. Mr. Christensen is still being held in pretrial detention by authorities in Oryol.
David A. Semonian, Office of Public Information, +1-845-524-3000