KEMEROVO, Russia -- Prosecutors in the Siberian city of Kemerovo have asked a court to sentence two Jehovah's Witnesses to five years in prison each as Russia continues its crackdown on the religious group.
The group said the prosecutor had requested the Zavodskoi district court to hand down the jail terms to 60-year-old Sergei Yavushkin and 46-year-old Aleksandr Bondarchuk. The defendants are expected to give their final statements in the trial on April 16, after which Judge Vera Ulyanyuk will announce her decision. The case against Yavushkin and Bondarchuk was launched in July 2019. They were charged with organizing the activities of "a banned, extremist group" and placed under house arrest at the time, because of which they lost their jobs. It was said at the trial, which started almost exactly a year ago, that charges against the defendants were based on materials provided by a person who had actively taken part in the prayers and Bible studies of the religious group and secretly recorded the sessions with the intention of turning over the materials to investigators.
Since the faith was outlawed in Russia, many Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in the country and in Russia-annexed Crimea.
The United States has condemned Moscow's ongoing crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities. 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, rejecting military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays. According to the group, dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses have either been convicted of extremism or are being held in pretrial detention. The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses who've been charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.