(RNS) — A Jehovah’s Witness in Russia was convicted and sentenced to prison for practicing his religious beliefs Monday (Oct. 11). Vladimir Skachidub, 59, was sentenced to four years and two months in prison by the Pavlovsky District Court of Krasnodar Territory.
“I am a Jehovah’s Witness, and I am being prosecuted solely for my peaceful religious activities. … I face imprisonment only for the fact that I simply exercised my right to profess religion,” said Skachidub during a hearing, according to a statement from the Jehovah’s Witnesses world headquarters.
Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said in a statement that Skachidub was imprisoned on baseless charges. Skachidub, who is disabled, was formally charged as a criminal, and a case was opened against him by the Russian Federal Security Service in June 2020, after he was found to be preaching his faith. The next month he was added to the federal extremist list.
“Imprisoning a peaceful Christian family man like him is a mockery of the rule of law,” said Lopes, in his statement.
There has been a crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia’s Krasnodar Territory over the past year. In April 2020, security forces raided nine homes, including Skachidub’s, in the villages of Pavlovskaya and Kholmskaya. In total, five Jehovah’s Witnesses from this territory have been convicted and imprisoned for practicing their faith, with the most severe sentence being seven and a half years.
In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist group, and its members have since faced increased policing and surveillance from government organizations. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ world headquarters report that on Oct. 4, armed Russian OMON officers, the riot police of Russia’s National Guard, assaulted and detained two Jehovah’s Witnesses during a series of home raids in the Russian city Irkutsk. On Wednesday (Oct. 6), six men who were detained in the same series of raids had been sent to a pretrial detention center for two months.
“These repellent cases are a stain on Russia and a signal of the further moral degradation of its ruling regime,” said Sir Andrew Wood, former U.K. ambassador to Russia, in a statement provided to RNS. “No convincing reason has ever been posted for the accusation that Jehovah’s Witnesses are members of an Extremist Organization.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses hope Russian authorities will abide by national and international human rights obligations and stop the persecution of its members, said Lopes.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses want nothing more than to peacefully worship in Russia and Crimea as they do in over 200 other lands,” he said.
This story has been updated.