Forum18 (27.04.2018) – http://forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2373 – The trial of Danish Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Ole Christensen (born 18 December 1972) began at Oryol’s Railway District Court on 26 February. There have been five hearings so far, the latest on 25 April. Judge Aleksei Rudnev has scheduled further hearings on 14, 15, 16, 28, 29, and 30 May.
Prosecutors accuse Christensen of “continuing the activities” of the banned and liquidated Oryol Jehovah’s Witness community, and have charged him under Article 282.2, Part 1 (“Organisation of the activities of a banned extremist organisation”) (see F18News 20 February 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2355).
Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that the ban on their activities (nationwide from July 2017, in several towns beforehand as a result of local liquidations) does not amount to a prohibition of their faith, and that they retain the right under the Russian Constitution to pray together.
Christensen’s lawyer Viktor Zhenkov told the court on 23 April that the defence intends to seek clarification as to “what should be considered the consequences of liquidation of a legal entity, and what is the inviolable human right to freedom of religion”.
The case materials come to 2,500 pages, according to the jw-russia.org news website, which is administered from outside Russia. Court proceedings have been twice adjourned (on 26 February and 3 April) to allow Christensen more time to familiarise himself with the evidence against him (previously, Oryol’s Soviet District Court had limited him to two weeks).
Prosecutors complained at the 3 April hearing that asking for more time was “an intentional drawing out of proceedings”, jw-russia.org reported on 9 April. Judge Rudnev, however, agreed to the defence request and granted Christensen six more meetings with his translator. The judge refused, however, to allow the defence team to view the prosecution’s material evidence (video recordings, photographs, and items seized in searches).
As the trial proceeds, Christensen remains in custody at Investigation Prison No. 1 in Oryol. On 22 February, Judge Rudnev extended his detention period to 1 August 2018. Danish Embassy officials, who have been in contact with Christensen, report that he is in good health and has not been mistreated in the prison.
On 27 March, Christensen was added to the Rosfinmonitoring “List of Terrorists and Extremists”. This means that his bank accounts have been frozen and no transactions worth more than 10,000 Roubles per month are allowed.
When Judge Rudnev asked Christensen on 23 April if he understood the accusations against him, Christensen responded that he understood only partially, since the charge was “formulated so broadly”, the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18 on 24 April.
Lawyer Anton Bogdanov pointed out that the indictment “does not contain the essence of the charge, or a description of the places and times of the commission of the alleged criminal actions or of methods, consequences, or other significant circumstances, without which it is impossible to issue a judicial decision”.
On 24 April, the court began questioning witnesses. This will be followed by the questioning of Christensen himself, then the final arguments from prosecution and defence, the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses explained.
Police and FSB security service operatives arrested Christensen at a Bible study meeting on 25 May 2017. Video footage posted online by local news site Orlovskiye Novosti shows armed personnel in body armour and balaclavas, accompanied by others in civilian clothes, entering a Kingdom Hall. The congregation inside was prevented from leaving while officers searched the building. Interrogations and searches of people’s homes continued into the following morning, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported (see F18News 22 June 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2290).
The registered Jehovah’s Witness organisation in Oryol was ruled “extremist” and ordered liquidated in June 2016. Christensen’s prosecution is derived from this local ban, and not the nationwide prohibition on Jehovah’s Witness activities, which came into force in July 2017, after the case against him was initiated.
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