Jehovah's Witness' appeal may last several days


Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, 7 May 2019


On 7 May 2019 the Orel district court began hearings on the appeal against the harsh sentence of Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah's Witness from Denmark. The continuation was scheduled for 8 May, at 11:00 a.m., and also for 16 and 17 May, at 10:00 a.m. A spacious room was selected.


The case is being heard by a panel of judges: Olga Zuenko, chair; Alexander Bukhtiyarov, and Andrei Rogachev.


The believer insists on his innocence. He was arrested by FSB troops in May of 2017. After 622 days in the SIZO [pretrial investigation cell], on 6 February 2019 he was found guilty under article 282.2 (1) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment to be served in a penal colony of general regime. The sentence was challenged and therefore it has not taken effect. The defense filed an appeal and an additional appellate complaint.


Dennis Christensen is still in SIZO No. 1 for Orel oblast. One can send to him letters of support. The story of his criminal prosecution and its consequences is narrated in an eleven-minute video "The Christensen case: Faith higher than prison walls." (tr. by PDS, posted 7 May 2019)




Orlovskie Novosti, 7 May 2019


On 7 May, consideration of the appeal of Dennis Christensen was begun in Orel oblast court. The court of the first instance found the Dane guilty of arranging the activity of the "Jehovah's Witnesses—Orel" organization, which is considered extremist and banned in Russia, and it sentenced him to six years imprisonment. The believer's defense attorneys appealed this decision. More than fifty fellow believers came to the court to support Christensen. Judge Olga Zuenko even had to declare a technical recess and to move the session into a more spacious room, since not all could be accommodated in the original location.


When the session finally got to the stage of consideration of the appeal on the merits, Christensen's lawyer Anton Bogdanov filed a petition to reveal the identity of a witness, who testified in the court of the first instance under a pseudonym, "Aleksei Ermolov." According to the defense attorney, Ermolov is none other than Oleg Kurdiumov, yet another one of the witnesses in the Christensen case. That is, one and the same person spoke as a witness twice. In addition, Bogdanov insisted that the court examine fragments of audio and video evidence, which, in his opinion, testify to the illegality of the decision that was rendered. In particular, he asked that a video of a worship service be carefully studied in addition to an audio tape of telephone conversations between Christensen and other believers. The Dane, who communicated with everyone through a translator, supported the defense lawyer's requests completely.


In his turn, the state prosecutor urged the court to decline the petition of the defense attorneys, inasmuch as in her view there were no grounds for granting it.


Presiding judge Zuenko turned down all petitions of the defense, saying that they were premature. The judge said that the requests may be resubmitted at the stage of the verification and examination of evidence.


The essence of the appeal, which took the judge a very long time to read because of the language barrier, amounted to a request to set aside the sentence and to acknowledge Christensen's right to rehabilitation, inasmuch as the court of the first instance considered the case with "a clear prosecutorial bias." The charge is a discrimination and a violation of the right to freedom of religious confession, the attorneys insisted.


The state prosecutor did not agree with the opinion of attorney Bogdanov. In her opinion, there are no arguments for setting aside the sentence; the punishment is legal and justified.


With this, the first day of the session ended. A new hearing is scheduled for 8 May. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 May 2019)

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