A court in Russia's southwestern city of Astrakhan has sentenced four Jehovah’s witnesses to lengthy prison terms amid an ongoing crackdown of the religious group's followers across the country.
The Investigative Committee said on October 26 that three men were sentenced to eight years in prison each, and a woman to 3 1/2 years in prison on extremism charges.
Rustam Diarov, Yevgeny Ivanov, and Sergei Klikunov were found guilty of creating an extremist community, while Olga Ivanova was convicted of taking part in an extremist group’s activities.
The four went on trial in June.
Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the chairman of the Sova human rights organization, condemned the latest court decision against Jehovah’s Witnesses, calling it further "proof of increasing cruelty in the ongoing campaign" against the members of the religious group.
Since labeling the denomination as extremist in 2017, authorities have raided believers’ homes across Russia, charging and arresting dozens of people.
Headquartered in the United States, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed for decades with suspicion in Russia, where the Orthodox Church is the dominant religion.
The group is known for its rejection of military service, refusal to celebrate national and religious holidays or birthdays, and detailed Bible study among other things.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, 257 criminal cases have been launched against the members of the group, 559 men and women have been charged with extremism, and 70 believers are currently incarcerated.