Wed, 26 Jun 2019

Russian authorities have detained several members of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Crimea, in the latest sign of a widening crackdown on the religious group.

The U.S.-based denomination said on March 20 officials on the occupied Black Sea peninsula staged raids on homes in Yalta and Alukpa and detained six members of the group for questioning. One was identified as 34-year-old Artyom Gerasimov, the group said.

A statement from the regional bureau of the Federal Security Service confirmed an unidentified man had been taken in custody.

'It was determined that a 34-year-old Yalta resident had organized the work of a local cell of Jehovah's Witnesses, including meetings, preaching, and disseminating the ideas of the aforementioned religious sect,' the service was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

The Ukrainian peninsula has been under Russian control since Moscow annexed it in 2014.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have been under intense pressure in Russia since the Supreme Court ruled they were an extremist organization in 2017. The group has reported a growing number of raids and detentions of its adherents across Russia.

Earlier this year, a Danish member of the group was convicted of extremism by a court in the southern city of Oryol and sentenced to six years in prison.

Earlier this week, an Oryol prosecutor asked a court for a three-year prison sentence against another adherent, Sergey Skrynnikov. A verdict is scheduled to be announced in that case on April 1.

The group said also that officials in the Far Eastern city of Magadan had staged a series of raids on four homes of Jehovah's Witnesses there on March 20, seizing cell phones, computers, flash cards, notebooks, and other materials.

Headquartered in the U.S. state of New York, the Jehovah's Witnesses organization has long been viewed with suspicion by some governments for its members' positions on military service, voting, and government authority in general.

The group says it has about 170,000 adherents in Russia.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service

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