Released from Russia, Jehovah’s Witness returns to Denmark

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A Danish Jehovah’s Witness on Wednesday has returned to Denmark after spending five years in a Russian prison under Moscow’s crackdown on the religious group, the organization said.

Russia officially banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017, and designated the religious denomination “an extremist organization” in connection to its alleged “propaganda of exclusivity.” Dennis Christensen, a 49-year-old Dane, was arrested that year for leading a prayer meeting, and was handed a six-year prison sentence in 2019.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world couldn’t be happier for Dennis and his wife, Irina," Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the organization said in a statement. “However, Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to be arrested, imprisoned, and sometimes tortured simply for the peaceful practice of their Christian faith.”

"We hope soon Russian authorities will halt the discriminatory attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses and allow them to worship freely as they do in over 200 other lands.”

Christensen was held at a penal colony in the western Kursk region. The group had previously claimed that he was denied medical treatment and was harassed by prison authorities.

In June 2020, the Lgov district court paroled Christensen after he served half of his sentence, and replaced the remaining three years with a fine of 50,000 rubles ($5,250). However, that ruling was overturned by the Kursk Regional Court after local prosecutors appealed the parole, insisting that Christensen had violated prison rules.

Jan M. Olsen, The Associated Press