11/05/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Head of Altai Jehovah's Witnesses convicted of 'extremism'

New court sentence against the persecuted community in Russia. NGOs for human rights denounce religious extremism law, which resulted in authorities blacklisting at least 265 organizations.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - A court in Russia’s Altai region, has found the head of the local community of Jehovah's Witnesses guilty of "extremism", sentencing him to 100 hours of community service. The town of Gorno-Altaysk Court had initially acquitted Alexander Kalistratov (pictured) on April 14, a verdict later overturned by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Altai at the request of the prosecutor on appeal.

Investigators opened an investigation on Kalistratov, after the man published 48 articles of religious content of a "very extreme nature", which according to authorities aimed to discredit other religions. The prosecution had asked for 140 hours of community service for "inciting hatred and insults to human dignity", but will not appeal.

The case is just the latest in a long series that sees the Jehovah's Witnesses in the sights of the Russian authorities. Among the religious minorities in the former USSR, the community is one of the most persecuted. Present with about 200 thousand faithful scattered throughout the Federation, they are accused of sectarianism, "religious extremism", "incitement to social isolation" and behaviors that undermine the country's civic life”. Moscow, moreover, does not like some of the practices of the faithful, such as conscientious objection to military service, their rejecting the use of arms, renunciation of blood transfusions and the demand for total devotion of the followers in the community.

The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) and other organizations have criticized the 2002 law on religious extremism, warning of the risk of "persecution for many peaceful groups that do not threaten public order or national security." For HRWF there are 265 religious organizations on the so-called blacklist of extremist groups in Russia. (N.A.)

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