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Four Jehovah's Witnesses sentenced to seven years each in Russia

The following is an update in relation to the Russian ban on Jehovah's Witnesses as it appeared on Reuters on the 30th January

Jan 30 (Reuters) - A Russian court has sentenced four Jehovah's Witnesses to seven years each in prison after finding them guilty of coordinating extremist activities, according to a spokesman for the religious group.

Russia's Supreme Court designated Jehovah's Witnesses as "extremist" in 2017, liquidating and banning the group's nearly 400 chapters across the country. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2022 that the ban was illegal.

Since then raids, interrogations and jailings of adherents have occurred with some regularity in Russia, which counted roughly 175,000 active believers at the time of the ban, according to the group's Russian website.

"Russia continues to shamelessly misemploy its anti-extremist legislation to ban, imprison, and at times beat and torture Jehovah's Witnesses," the spokesman, Jarrod Lopes, told Reuters by email.

Russian officials have previously denied

allegations of mistreatment or torture of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Some 790 members of the group have been criminally charged or are under investigation for their faith, with 147 sentenced last year, Lopes said.

"Russia's legal system has become a cathedral of what it hates - extremism," he said.

Religious life in Russia is dominated by the Orthodox Church, which is championed by President Vladimir Putin. Some Orthodox scholars view Jehovah's Witnesses as a "totalitarian sect."

Last week, a six-month trial against four men in the southwestern Russian city of Samara concluded with guilty verdicts and seven-year sentences for each.

The men, Aram Danielyan, Denis Kuzyanin, Sergei Polosenko and Nikolai Vasilyev, were charged based on hidden recordings of worship services and personal conversations about their faith, as well as electronic evidence which Lopes said was planted in a computer belonging to a defendant by an "FSB technical specialist" during a search.

Separately, a woman in the nearby city of Tolyatti was given two years' forced labour for the same crime on Jan. 25, the same day as the four men were sentenced, according to the group's Russian website.

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