Prosecutor frustrates hope for freedom for Jehovah's Witness Dennis Christensen


by Olga Konovalova

Kurskie Izvestiia, 5 September 2020


Materials of the criminal case have been sent for a new review in Lgov district court with a different composition.


We recall that earlier the Zheleznodorozhny district court in the city of Orel found Dennis Christensen guilty of arranging the activity of the religious congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses (activity forbidden in Russia). The citizen of a European country was sentenced to six years incarceration in a penal colony.


After Christensen had spent three years in the correctional colony No. 3 of the city of Lgov, on 23 June 2020 the Lgov district court granted his petition and substituted for the remaining three years a milder penalty, a fine of 400,000 rubles.


At the time, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, Ivan Belenko, described his attitude toward the entire situation.  "Dennis Christensen has already been in prison three years. For what? A security camera recorded how in 2016-2017 Dennis Christensen unlocked the gate at the building for divine worship of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Orel, removed the snow from the path to the door, and greeted the arrivals, extending his hand to them," Belenko reported.


However, the Dane spent little time at liberty. On 4 September 2020, the Kursk oblast court reviewed the appellate materials of the prosecutor regarding compliance with the laws in correctional institutions.


"The appellate instance overturned the ruling of the district court of Kursk oblast and the material was sent for a new consideration in the same court with a different composition," the press service of the Kursk oblast court reported. (tr. by PDS, posted 5 September 2020)



Another court had earlier ordered his release

by Elena Zholobova

7 x 7 Journal, 5 September 2020


Judge Vladimir Olovnikov of the Kursk oblast court on 4 September overturned the decision of a court of lower instance regarding the substitution for Jehovah's Witness Dennis Christensen of a part of his unserved prison term with a fine of 400,000 rubles. The case of the Dane, who was convicted for "arranging the activity of an extremist organization," was sent for a new consideration in the Lgov district court, the press service of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses reports.


"Dennis is not in the least discouraged and he greeted this decision of the court with a smile. The condition of his health remains difficult since there is not adequate treatment for his neurological illnesses. Despite that, the believer is inclined to go to the end insisting upon his innocence," Christensen's lawyer Anton Bogdanov was quoted by the organization.


The Dane Dennis Christensen was the first of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia who was arrested for his religious confession. He was arrested in May 2017 in Orel at a meeting of believers. By that time he had already lived in Russia for more than ten years. In February 2019, the Zheleznodorozhny district court of Orel sentenced the believer to six years in a penal colony of general regime for arranging the activity of a religious association whose activity had been ruled by a court to be extremist and forbidden. Christensen himself did not admit guilt, maintaining that he merely was exercising his right to freedom of religious confession.


At the present time, Christensen actually has been behind bars a little more than three years and three months, of which two years were spent in an investigative cell. Taking into account that by law one day in the SIZO is equivalent to a day and a half in the colony of general regime, Christensen has served more that two thirds of the six-year prison term assigned by the court, and he received the right to a conditional early release.


On 23 June 2020, Judge Galina Petlitsa of the Lgov district court of Kursk oblast, after reviewing a petition from Christensen, ordered to replace for him the unserved portion of the sentence with a fine of 400,000 rubles. The believer was supposed to be set free after the court's decision took effect. But on 26 June, prosecutor Aleksei Shatunov demanded to overturn the court's order and to send the materials for a new consideration. In his petition he cited the testimony of the administration of IK-3 that allegedly characterized the prisoner as unsatisfactory.


Since the moment of the issuance of the decision regarding Christensen's release, in the penal colony he already has twice been sent to a penalty cell for various reasons, where he spent a total of 27 days.


"There is not a single person—either at liberty or in prison—whom Christensen has harmed in any way. But like some kind of murderer or rapist, he has already been deliberately kept behind bars for four years merely because he prayed to Jehovah, along with others, and talked about love for one's neighbor. This merely underscores the obvious repressive nature of the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia," Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, commented about the decision of the Kursk oblast court.


The community of Jehovah's Witnesses was ruled to be an extremist organization, banned, and liquidated in 2016. In 2017, the Russian Supreme Court ruled it to be an extremist organization and banned all legal entities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. In the opinion of the court, the actions of the community promoted hatred and hostility toward other religious confessions.


In June 2017, Dennis Christensen submitted an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, and the case is now under consideration. The believer has been recognized to be a prisoner of conscience by the Russian "Memorial" organization and by the American Commission on International Religious Freedom. The European Union called for the release of Christensen "immediately and unconditionally." Similar demands have been put forward by the United Nations, which called Russian authorities to release all persons who have been arrested for their peaceful religious convictions. (tr. by PDS, posted 5 September 2020)

Background articles:
Jehovah's Witness Dennis Christensen to be released from prison camp
June 23, 2020

Prosecutor tries to block Christensen's release
July 2, 2020

Christensen again put in punishment cell
July 25, 2020

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