RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Autor)
A court in southern Russia has sentenced a 59-year-old disabled Jehovah's Witness to four years in prison for holding a Bible study with fellow believers.
The sentence against Vladimir Skachidub, handed down by a court in the Krasnodar region on October 11, was the latest Russian criminal prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, whose religion was declared "extremist" by the Supreme Court in 2017.
The sentence came 18 months after security agents raided nine homes in two villages in Krasnodar, including Skachidub's. He was arrested and formally charged in June 2020.
A statement released by the Jehovah's Witness organization said Skachidub told the court that he was being prosecuted because of his religion.
"I am a Jehovah's Witness, and I am being prosecuted solely for my peaceful religious activities.... I face imprisonment only for the fact that I simply exercised my right to profess religion," Skachidub was quoted as saying.
Since declaring the denomination to be extremist, Russian authorities have raided dozens of believers' homes across Russia, charging and arresting dozens of people.
Headquartered in the United States, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed for decades with suspicion in Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church is the dominant religion.
The group is known for rejection of military service, not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays, and close Bible study, among other things.
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