"A VERY CONVENIENT VICTIM": RIGHTS ADVOCATES SEE DANGEROUS ATTACK ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHRISTENSEN CASE
by Maksim Kliagin
Orlevskie Novosti, 28 January 2019
On 28 January, in the court of the Zheleznodorozhny district of Orel, the next session in the criminal case with respect to an adherent of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, which is forbidden in Russia, Dennis Christensen, was supposed to occur. However the session was postponed because the defendant's translator became ill. Nevertheless, within the walls of the Orel Auditorium a press conference was held, which was completely devoted to the criminal prosecution of Christensen, who has been in custody for the past year and a half.
The prosecution requested six and a half years in a penal colony of general regime for the citizen of Denmark. In the prosecutor's opinion, Christensen deserves such punishment because he is the leader of an extremist organization. In the opinion of the co-chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Valery Borshchev, the trial of Christensen is a "return to the old." To those times when people were convicted for anti-soviet activity, including for religious reasons. However in the soviet time, nobody was charged with extremism and terrorism. In addition, Borshchev noted that he does not believe that "everybody became so severely ill."
"It seems to me that this is connected with the increased attention on the part of the public. Evidently it was known in court that rights advocates and the press would arrive and therefore this is a deliberate tactic."
As Borshchev said, what is now happening in Orel is a "horrible precedent." A guilty verdict, in the opinion of the Moscow rights advocate, will rev up the flywheel where any religious activity can be interpreted as extremism.
Nevertheless, Borshchev noted, it is an "unlikely," but possible, option of a review of Christensen's criminal case. But for this, a high-level decision of a plenum of the Supreme Court is necessary, he is certain.
This assertion was disputed by a member of the council of the All-Russian public movement "For human rights," Dmitry Kraiukhin. In his opinion, if the flywheel is already revved up, then it will not stop.
"Here [in the Christensen case] there are not even purely procedural possibilities. The only possibility that I see is a reversal based on newly discovered circumstances, for example, the same decision in the European Court of Human Rights," Kraiukhin noted.
However, no one has yet issued a verdict on Christensen himself.
At the same time, Kraiukhin emphasized that one may wait a very long time for a decision of the European court; trials last up to 8 to 10 years.
"It seems to me one should not expect an acquittal. But there is a possible option where the most humane Russian court in the world issues a verdict according to which Christensen will be sentenced to a term one and a half times greater than what he has already served in the SIZO. After all, according to law, one day in a SIZO is equal to 1.5 days in a penal colony. That is, Christensen is found guilty, but he is released in the court room," Kraiukhin said.
The hope for such an outcome was expressed by Valery Borshchev also. In his opinion, the term requested by the prosecution is too long.
Summing up, both rights advocates shared the opinion that the Dane's case is an infringement of human rights.
"Jehovah's Witnesses are an independent, isolated organization. And any independence evokes displeasure on the part of security forces. At the same time, I want to emphasize that Christensen's trial should be viewed in connection with other cases: the 'Open Russia' case and the case of 'foreign agents.' These are all links in the same chain," Borshchev is sure.
In his turn, Dmitry Kraiukhin added that Jehovah's Witnesses are a very convenient target. "In our country, public consciousness is mythologized. There is an enormous quantity of myths of a negative nature surrounding Jehovah's Witnesses. Selecting them as a victim is 'very good.' Few people will intervene for them. If one cites a parallel it is the example of the Jews in nazi Germany," Kraiukhin noted.
As proof, the rights advocate cited the attitude toward Jehovah's Witnesses on the part of representatives of the Orthodox Church. Kraukhin maintains that the opinion of clergymen varies from "very bad people" to "absolutely awful personages." Ordinary people have nearly the same ideas about this religious organization. Therefore, the rights advocate emphasized, "nobody will feel sorry for them."
We recall, Dennis Christensen was arrested on 26 May 2017. Since then he has been detained in the SIZO [pretrial investigation cell]. Before his arrest, the F.S.B. and police conducted searches in the building where local followers of the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, which is banned in Russia, gathered. The siloviki reported that during the searches, extremist literature was confiscated. According to the indictment produced against Christensen, he, certainly knowing the court's decision that banned the local religious organization "Jehovah's Witnesses—Orel," nevertheless continued to lead it and to conduct meetings and services and distribute religious literature, including some that had been ruled to be extremist.
In July 2017, the rights advocacy organization Memorial recognized Christensen to be a political prisoner. Last week the state prosecution requested 6.5 years in a penal colony for the Dane. Now the trial is at the debates of the parties stage.
It was previously reported that the Zheleznodorozhny court of Orel granted the petition of the Investigative Committee against the Orelians V. Maksimov and D. Prikhodko. They were accused of participating in the forbidden organization "Jehovah's Witnesses—Orel." The men were arrested in absentia, since at the present time they are outside the borders of the Russian Federation. In Russia they are wanted on the federal level. A court in Orel also has already considered the case against yet another adherent of Jehovah's Witnesses, Sergei Skrynnikov. (tr. by PDS, posted 29 January 2019)
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