09/22/2010, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Jehovah’s Witness gets two years in prison for possession of “extremist literature”

His crime was possessing Witnesses’ publications, deemed dangerous to public order even when strictly religious in nature. Russia wants to ban the religious group, despite European Court of Human Rights’ ruling that it should be recognised.

Moscow (AsiaNews/F18) – Alexander Kalistratov, chairman of the Gorno-altaisk chapter of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was convicted for possession of “extremist” literature, and given a two-year prison sentence. The sentence is final, and Kalistratov’s only recourse is the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) where his lawyer filed on appeal arguing that his conviction was religiously motivated.

The original charges were laid after it was determined that he possessed copies of Jehovah’s Witnesses publications like Watchtower and Awake, whose opinions, according to the court, were “extremist” even if solely religious in nature. For this reason, local experts told the Forum 18 news agency that the court convicted him for his religious beliefs.

For Attorney Viktor Zhenkov, it is surprising that it took the court just three working days to rule on the matter even if the case includes 13 volumes of evidence.

Several appeals against the sentence were launched, but Altai Republic Prosecutor Vdobavok rejected them.

For a number of years, Russian authorities have been persecuting the Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, instead of accepting a decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which on 10 June 2010 ruled that Russia’s ban on the Witnesses was unlawful, the Russian government appealed on 9 September against the decision to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR. This will delay the enforcement of the ECHR sentence and worsen an already tense situation in Russia. Similarly, on 8 December 2009, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that the publications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were “extremist.”

Members of the religious groups are often victims of physical violence, assaults and arbitrary arrests and their places of worship have been attacked and set on fire.

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