Two Jehovah's Witnesses Sentenced To Lengthy Prison Terms In Russia Amid Crackdown

Two members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been handed lengthy prison terms in Russia's Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk amid an ongoing crackdown on the religious group, which has been banned in Russia since 2017.

The Jehovah's Witnesses' website says 30-year-old Dmitry Golik was sentenced to seven years and 43-year-old Aleksei Berchuk to eight years in prison on June 30.

The two men were found guilty of "organizing the activities of an extremist group," a charge both believers rejected, saying they did not do anything wrong.

The United States has condemned Russia's ongoing crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities.

For decades, Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, rejection of military service, and refusal to mark celebrations of national and religious holidays or birthdays.

Since the faith was outlawed, many Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and in Ukraine's Black Sea Crimean Peninsula, which was seized by Russia in 2014.

According to the group, dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses have either been convicted of extremism or have been held in pretrial detention.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been charged with or convicted of extremism as political prisoners.