Russia: Travesty of justice: Danish Jehovah’s Witness set for release may stay in custody

Reports emerged today that Dennis Christensen, a prisoner of conscience and Jehovah's Witness from Denmark, has been put into punitive confinement in a Russian penal colony for an alleged minor violation of prison rules. Responding to the news which leaves the prospects of Christensen’s release looking grim, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher, Natalia Prilutskaya, said:

“The Russian authorities clearly have an axe to grind with Dennis Christensen, who is imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of religion. Days after the court opened the way for his early release, state prosecutors are doing all they can to keep him behind bars. This sends a chilling message to dozens of other Jehovah’s Witnesses being persecuted throughout Russia.   

“Dennis Christensen’s case is emblematic. He was the first Jehovah’s Witness to be criminally prosecuted and jailed, and the first to walk free. But it’s increasingly clear that the Russian state will not ease its grip under any circumstances and that tolerance and religious pluralism remain inconceivable notions for the Russian authorities.

Dennis Christensen’s case is emblematic. He was the first Jehovah’s Witness to be criminally prosecuted and jailed, and the first to walk free
Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International's Russia Researcher

“Dennis Christensen and all Jehovah’s Witnesses persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of religion are prisoners of conscience and should be immediately and unconditionally released. Russia must abide by its international human rights obligations and stop persecution of people simply for practicing their religion.”

Background

Dennis Christensen, a Danish national living in Russia, was arrested in 2017 and prosecuted for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of religion. In February 2019, Dennis Christensen was sentenced to six years in a penal colony for “organizing the activities of an extremist organization.”

On 24 June 2020, the Lgov District Court of Kursk Oblast in central Russia decided that Dennis Christensen's remaining sentence should be commuted to a fine of 400,000 rubles (US$5,700).

However, on 25 June the state prosecution unexpectedly appealed the court decision even though at the hearing the prosecution service representative had eventually supported the defence arguments. The day after Dennis Christensen was put in punitive confinement in Penal Colony No. 3 in Lgov allegedly for violating the penal colony’s rules, including not wearing a special prisoner’s jacket and being in the canteen at a wrong time. This could create grounds for the prosecution to demand that the court’s decision to release Dennis Christensen is quashed.