Russia jails Jehovah's Witness in Crimea for over six years for extremism

March 30, 2021 7:10 AM EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A court in Russian-controlled Crimea sentenced a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses to six and a half years in prison after finding him guilty of organising extremist activities, it said.

The verdict, issued by the Gagarinsky District Court in Sevastopol on Monday, comes amid an ongoing crackdown on the group, which Russia branded extremist and banned from operating in the country in 2017.

The court did not disclose the defendant's name. Nor did it say what he had done to be charged. It said the verdict could be appealed within 10 days.

A Jehovah's Witness office in Brussels identified the man as Viktor Stashevskiy. It said in a statement the case "as many similar cases against Jehovah's Witnesses, contains a testimony of a secret witness."

Jehovah's Witnesses have been under pressure for years in Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

Orthodox scholars have cast it as a dangerous foreign sect that erodes state institutions and traditional values, allegations its members reject.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, drawing Western condemnation and tit-for-tat sanctions. Ukraine wants the region back.

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Gabrielle T├ętrault-Farber; editing by Larry King)

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