Danish Jehovah's Witness loses in court again


by Denis Volin

Orel News, 28 September 2017


The Orel provincial court once again rejected the appeal of lawyers against the detention of Danish citizen Dennis Christensen, who is charged with conducting the activity of an extremist organization in Orel (282.2 Criminal Code of RF).


The adherent of Jehovah's Witnesses, who are banned in Russia, has already been in a SIZO [pretrial detention cell] for four months, and in this time he has been recognized as a political prisoner and the embassy of Denmark has sent to the court a letter of guarantee in his defense. Nevertheless the court did not find grounds for releasing the Dane from custody. The court session was observed by an Orel News correspondent.


The session in the provincial court on 28 September gathered as usual several dozen supporters of Dennis Christensen. He himself arrived "on air" by means of a conference call link. Before the start of the trial, the Dane's wife, Irina Christensen, and also Jehovist devotees closed in on the monitor located on the wall of the courtroom. They tried to give the defendant encouragement, who even without this had a positive attitude. As always, Christensen--dressed in a suit, over which this time there was a warm jacket—answered the questions of his supporters in Danish and his wife translated. At some point the Dane began singing some melodic song and tapping on the table, which evoked smiles and laughter from those gathered around. However he was quickly rebuked.


We recall that this session was now the second one based on the appeal of the lawyers against the decision of the Soviet district court of 20 July, by which the term of his detention was extended to four months. The first one was held last week. At it the Dane's defense attorney managed to state the arguments of his appeals and to present the letter of guarantee from the embassy of Denmark in Russia, in which the diplomats assured the authorities that in the event of the selection of a less severe measure of prevention for him, Christensen would not leave the country and would not impede the course of the investigation. We recall that, on the basis of the investigation, Christensen is accused by the F.S.B. that on the base of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who are forbidden in Orel, he revived the activity of this organization as he continued to assemble people for conducting worship services. The security forces had declared that during searches in the meeting hall extremist literature was seized. The Dane was arrested on 26 May, immediately after the searches.


Christensen's attorneys spoke out during the arguments at the session on 28 September. In their statement they appealed to the European Convention on Human Rights and normative acts of the European Court of Human Rights.


"This is not a question of holding a man in custody; it is a question of the restriction of the rights of a man to liberty. Only the right to life is more precious than this right," attorney Anton Bogdanov said in the debate. "It is impermissible for investigative agencies to simplify the procedure of restricting this right merely because a man has a passport of a citizen of another state."


Bogdanov called the court's attention to the fact that the "world community" and "citizens of our country" will draw conclusions about rights and freedoms in Russia based on the example of this case. He asked the court to replace the measure of prevention for Christensen with house arrest or placing him on bail of four million rubles.


The Dane himself also joined in the arguments.


"I am an honest and peaceful person who tries to live according to the golden rule: do unto others as you wish that they will do unto you. Therefore I respect the opinion of others, even if they do not agree with me. I consider that each person has the right to his own opinion. Proceeding from this I do not want to, and will not, influence witnesses," Dennis Christensen began the presentation of his position and his words were, as always, translated from Danish by the translator. "I always have respected representatives of authority and I will respect them in the future, and therefore I do not intend to hinder the investigation. I have never done anything criminal. This contradicts everything that I believe and love, and on which I have built my life. In the gospel of Matthew it is said: Love the Lord as you love yourself and love your neighbor as yourself. I have always acted in this way: I have loved God and neighbor."


"What a remarkable person," the voice of a pensioner, who was sitting next to me, rang out in the room. She nodded her head in sympathy, leaning on a metal cane. Meanwhile Christensen continued:


"I have lived for many years in this splendid city with my wife, Irina. Every spring and every fall I have participated in volunteer work days [subotniki]. Here in Orel is my life and my work. I am an independent businessman (carpenter—ed. note). Since 2009 I have done much to build a good business and to develop relations with clients. They know me as a peace-loving and honest person on whom one can depend. In addition, I have many friends in Orel who are very dear to me. The F.S.B. has tarnished my honor and good name by means of false and contradictory accusations. But these are false accusations and I intend to prove that."


Christensen assured the court that he does not intend to flee from Russia, since he wants to live in Orel and raise his family with his Russian wife. "I will do everything possible in this judicial arena so that in this case truth will triumph," the Dane declared. He also described how in the SIZO his health has deteriorated sharply. There is a suspicion of a hernia. The Dane has a bad back and legs, but there are no qualified doctors in the detention cell.


"It is very cold and damp in the cell. All day I walk about the room in a winter overcoat and hat and at night I wear all available clothing. I became sick and developed a cold. But when I appeal to the medics that they would give me medicine for a sore throat, I find out that they do not have medicines and cannot help me," Dennis Christensen explained. He also added that he showers in the SIZO twice a week and in the remainder time he washes out of a bottle with cold water.


"Profoundly esteemed mister judge, I ask you to rescind the decision about my being held in custody and to select for me another form of restriction of liberty. Let me be with my wife," Christenson asked.

The next to speak was the prosecutor, or as the translator called Elena Polukhina, the "statsadvokat." However the statement was not as emotional as the preceding one. Polukhina noted that she considers the decision of the Soviet district court to be legal and logical and she asks for it to be left in force. The prosecutor said that there are no grounds for changing the measure of prevention to a less harsh one. As regards the conditions of detention in the SIZO, Polukhina noted that "you have the right to send an appeal to the prosecutor's office," which will take action in its turn. As needed, it seems.


After the judge went off into a conference room, Christensen's supporters again gathered at the monitor in order to talk with him.


"How many times are you fed, Dennis?"


The Dane indicated that he was fed three times a day.


"Sechka" [buckwheat gruel] was the only word that Christensen uttered in Russian, which greatly confused the greater part of those present. Others began to explain to them that this is a fermented dish of prison fare, a distinct kind of kasha.


At this point the judge returned to the courtroom. He quickly announced that the decision of the district court remained in force and thus the Dane will remain in the SIZO at least until the end of November, continuing to eat sechka and to wear an overcoat and hat and also to wash in cold water out of a bottle. (tr. by PDS, posted 30 September 2017)


Background article:
Foreign Jehovah's Witness kept in custody in Orel
September 21, 2017

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