A court in Siberia, Russia, sentenced an adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to prison Monday, more than five years after the Christian denomination was banned from operating in the country.
Judge Nataliya Nikolayeva of the Oktyabrsky District Court in Krasnoyarsk found 56-year-old entrepreneur Yevgeniy Zinich guilty of organizing the activities of an “extremist” organization, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia organization said in a statement.
The judge sentenced Zinich, a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness whose father also received jail time in the past for transporting religious literature, to six years in a penal colony as well as one year of parole after he has served his prison term.
The judge also banned Zinich from leading public and religious organizations for two years, according to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The court’s decision has not been enforced and can still be appealed.
Zinich’s sentence comes around two weeks after the Investigative Committee of Russia said that four adherents of the Jehovah’s Witnesses from the eastern Siberian city of Chita were found guilty of organizing extremist activities between 2017 and 2020.
The agency, which is Russia’s main federal investigating authority, launched its criminal case against Zinich last year over similar allegations.
In early 2017, the Russian Justice Ministry suspended the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center (JWAC), the head office for 395 of the religion’s branches throughout the country, due to its alleged extremist activities.
A variety of violations of Russian legislation, including the federal law on resistance to extremist activities, were cited by the ministry at the time.
The Russian Supreme Court later released a ruling on April 20, 2017, that declared JWAC an extremist organization and banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses activities.
Members of the movement in Russia, which numbered an estimated 170,000 in total, have allegedly been subjected to raids and arrests since then.
A total of 631 members across 71 regions in Russia have been persecuted, according to data provided by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Around 95 are currently in prison, 127 have been sentenced to probation and another 23 placed under house arrest.
The U.S. has condemned Russia’s continued crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities.