Russia convicts 2 Jehovah’s Witnesses amid crackdown

February 4, 2020 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) — A court in Russia’s eastern Siberia on Tuesday convicted two Jehovah’s Witnesses of extremism because of their membership in the religious group, the latest in a wave of crackdown on the organization.

Stanislav Kim and Nikolay Polevodov were handed suspended sentences of two years, the group said in a statement. The pair, who were arrested in November 2018 during a meeting with other believers in a cafe, are currently standing in a separate trial for allegedly organizing the event.

Russia officially banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017 and declared the group an extremist organization. The Kremlin has actively used vaguely worded extremism laws to crack down on opposition activists and religious minorities.

Since then, hundreds of members have been subjected to raids, arrests and prosecution. Twenty-four members of the organization have been convicted, nine of whom have been sentenced to prison, and more than 300 people are currently under criminal investigation.

Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses world headquarters in the United States, said Tuesday that “despite repeated criticism from prominent international bodies and human rights advocates, Russia has shown no signs of slowing down.”

The crackdown on members of the group continues despite a promise by Russian President Vladimir Putin to look into “this complete nonsense.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too, so I don’t quite understand why persecute them,” Putin said at a meeting with the Presidential Council for Human Rights.