Danish Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen has been released from prison in Russia after serving a term he was handed on extremism charges that he and his supporters have denied.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website said on May 24 that Christensen was released from a prison in the Oryol region after serving out his punishment.
Christensen was detained in May 2017 in the city of Oryol, some 320 kilometers south of Moscow, weeks after the Russian Supreme Court ruled to ban the religious group in the country, declaring it “an extremist organization.”
In February 2019, Christensen was found guilty of organizing the activities of an extremist group and sentenced to six years in prison. His two years in pretrial detention counted as three years toward his sentence, putting his release date at May 24, 2022.
Several requests Christensen made for early release were denied, including one in 2020 that a court actually approved, only to then reverse itself and refuse to free him, saying it had decided he was a “malicious violator.”
The news of Christensen’s release comes a day after a court in the city of Prokopevsk sentenced 53-year-old Andrei Vlasov to seven years in prison after finding him guilty of the same charges Christensen was found guilty of.
Prosecutors had sought an 8 1/2-year prison term for Vlasov, who is also a Jehovah’s Witness. His defense team said it will appeal the court ruling.
The probe against Vlasov was launched in July 2020 and he was placed under house arrest despite being legally disabled.
Since the faith was outlawed, many Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia.
According to the group, dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses have either been convicted of extremism or have been held in pretrial detention.
The United States has condemned Russia’s ongoing crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities it says are peaceful.
For decades, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.
The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, the rejection of military service, and its refusal to mark national and religious holidays or birthdays.
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