Russia jails two Jehovah’s Witnesses for four years on extremism charges, group says

A Russian court has sentenced two Jehovah’s Witnesses to four years in prison after finding them guilty of extremism, the religious group said on Wednesday.

Russia’s Supreme Court branded the Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” organisation in 2017 and ordered it to disband. Since then the authorities have detained dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses and convicted them on extremism charges.

Vadim Levchuk and Sergei Britvin, who were detained in 2018 in the Siberian town of Beryozovsky, nearly 3,000 kilometres (1,860 miles) east of Moscow, will appeal against their jail sentence, the group said.

Jarrod Lopes, a U.S.-based spokesman for the group, slammed their sentence as “patently absurd”.

The court did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been under pressure for years in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

Orthodox scholars have cast the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a dangerous foreign sect that erodes state institutions and traditional values, allegations they reject.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian denomination known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, and rejection of military service and blood transfusions. The group has about 170,000 followers in Russia, and eight million worldwide.