'Electric Shocks, Suffocation': Jehovah's Witnesses Say Russian Police Tortured Church Members

Jehovah’s Witnesses, a U.S.-based religious denomination that Russia has branded extremist and banned, says that police in Russia's Khanty-Mansi region have tortured several members of the congregation.

In a February 19 statement, the religious group said that at least seven of its adherents were "subjected to torture -- electric shocks, suffocation, and cruel beatings" by the Investigative Committee's officers in the city of Surgut, in northwestern Siberia, after they were detained on February 15 on extremism charges.

The statement says that those detained refused to answer police questions about other members of the congregation and after the only legal representative left the interrogation room, the officers "tied the victims’ hands behind their backs, beat them, poured water on their naked bodies, and subjected them to electric shocks."

"The torture lasted for several hours," the statement said.

According to the statement, 19 members of the congregation were charged with the alleged organization of extremist activities and at least three of them remain behind bars.

The released members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses turned to medical institutions to document bodily harm sustained during torture, the statement says, adding that the group will seek justice in court.

The Investigative Committee rejected the Jehovah's Witnesses' statement.

Homes Raided 

A committee spokesman in the Khanty-Mansi region, Oleg Menshikh, told the TASS news agency on February 20 that no law was violated during the interrogations.

"Nobody tortured them. There was no physical or psychological pressure on them," TASS quoted Menshikh as saying.

Police have started raiding the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses in that region and in the region of Mordovia on February 7, a day after a Russian court convicted Dennis Christensen, a Danish member of the religious group, on an extremism charge and sentenced him to six years in prison in the western city of Oryol.

Human rights organizations, the European Union, and United States officials have condemned Christensen’s conviction and called on Russia to respect freedom of religion.

Christensen was arrested in Oryol in May 2017, a month after Russia's Supreme Court labeled the religious group an extremist organization and banned it.

He was the first Jehovah’s Witness to be detained in Russia following the ban.

Since then, dozens of other members of the group in different Russian regions have been detained and face similar extremism charges.

With reporting by TASS