Three Jehovah's Witness Get Prison Terms In Russian-Annexed Crimea Amid Crackdown

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- A Moscow-imposed court in the Russian-annexed Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea has sentenced three Jehovah's Witnesses to prison terms amid an ongoing crackdown against the religious group.

The Crimean Solidarity human rights group said on October 6 that the Nakhimov district court in the city of Sevastopol sentenced Yevhen Zhukov, Volodymyr Maladyka, and Volodymyr Sakada to six years in prison each after finding them guilty of organizing activities for the group, which was labeled as extremist and banned in Russia in 2017 but is legal in Ukraine.

The court also ruled that, after serving their prison terms, the three men will be placed under parole-like controls for one year. They were also banned from publicly expressing their views and from publishing articles in media and on the Internet for seven years after finishing their prison sentences.

The case against Zhukov, Maladyka, Sakada, and a fourth believer, Ihor Shmidt, was launched in October 2020 after their homes were searched.

Shmidt was tried separately and sentenced to six year in prison in late October last year.

Since the faith was outlawed in Russia, many Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea.

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

For decades, the 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, rejecting military service, and not celebrating national and religious holidays or birthdays.

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

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