Story By: Gheorghi Caraseni, Sub Editor: Joseph Golder, Agency: Newsflash
This 61-year-old Jehovah’s Witness has been sentenced to six and half years in prison in Russia in the country’s harshest sentence since the group was labelled an ‘extremist’ organisation.
Gennady Shpakovsky, 61, was handed the sentence yesterday (Tuesday) at the Pskov City Court in the northwestern Russian region of Pskov Oblast.
The Russian authorities had wiretapped Shpakovsky’s flat during the investigation and broke into the home as he was hosting a religious meeting, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses group.
Jarrod Lopes, a spokesperson for the New York-based Jehovah’s Witnesses group, said the sentencing was the “longest and harshest” since Russia declared the group an “extremist” organisation in 2017.
Shpakovsky reportedly told the court he rejected the charges and compared the case to that of those repressed by the Soviet state who were later rehabilitated by the authorities.
He said “the same thing” was being done to him and other members of the group.
Spokesperson Lopes said Russia was subjecting “peaceful citizens like Gennady to the unsanitary and potentially deadly confines of prison” even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the Russian authorities were ignoring their own constitution which guarantees international human rights and the freedom of religion.
Jehovah’s Witnesses says that 30 members of the group are serving time in pretrial detention or prisons in Russia, where prominent Orthodox scholars have claimed they are a dangerous foreign group who threaten to erode traditional values and institutions.
Danish citizen Dennis Christensen was handed a six-year sentence in February 2019 for being a member of the group.
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