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Criminal trial

October 2018. Review of the hearings in the case of a Danish believer in Oryol

Oryol Region

In October 2018, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Oryol held 11 court hearings in the case of Danish citizen Dennis Christensen, who faces up to 10 years in prison (under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) solely on the grounds that he professes the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. The case is being heard by Judge Alexei Rudnev.

On October 8, 10, 15-17, 22-24, 2018, the court examined religious books in digital format found on the computer seized from Dennis Christensen. In the courtroom, excerpts from these books and pamphlets were read, namely the encouragement to maintain peaceful relations with people, to strengthen family ties, especially if the life partner has a different religion.

The prosecution paid attention to the passages explaining who the elders of the Christian congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses are, what their pastoral care is, and what personal requirements they must meet. In particular, the instructions listed in the New Testament that each of them "should be impeccable, the husband of one wife, moderate in habits, sensible, collected, hospitable, able to teach, should not make drunken scandals, beat others, but be prudent, not belligerent, not love money, manage their household well ..." The lawyers could only notice that the appearance of a man who was completely different from the criminal was looming. The prosecutor also drew attention to a quote from the New Testament Acts of the Apostles: "We must obey God more than men." When Dennis Christensen was asked, "Do you know of any cases in which Jehovah's Witnesses refused to obey the laws of the state by opting for God's laws?" he replied that he knew of one such case—when German Jehovah's Witnesses went to concentration camps during World War II instead of the Eastern Front, refusing to kill Russian soldiers.

The lawyers also noted that none of the books or pamphlets found by the prosecution were recognized as "extremist".

On October 24, 2018, the court once again extended Christensen's detention for 3 months - until February 1, 2019. The next day, a complaint was filed against this decision.

On October 29, 2018, the court examined electronic files from tablets seized from other believers. The very fact that citizens used books in electronic form, the prosecution interprets as a measure of conspiracy. Lawyers consider this interpretation far-fetched.

Describing the seized files, the investigator unreasonably attributed them as belonging to the LRO of Jehovah's Witnesses Orel. When the lawyers drew attention to this, the judge asked the prosecutor if there was any information about the LRO in the files. The prosecutor was forced to answer that he did not. Christensen also clarified that he had nothing to do with these files.

Reviewing the next evidence of Christensen's guilt, invested in the case by investigators, the lawyers drew the court's attention to photographs where Christensen and his wife were filmed in a supermarket next to a man in a fairy-tale character costume. The lawyers asked what these and many other similar "evidence" prove. They do not prove anything and are invested in the case only for volume, which reflects the essence of this criminal case, based on nothing, the lawyers concluded.

On October 30, 2018, the court continued to examine the case materials. The prosecutor read out various bank statements dating back to 2016. While announcing them, the prosecutor repeated the phrase "it does not matter for this criminal case" several times, so the court asked: "If the materials are not relevant to this case, then why are we wasting time here?" The prosecutor refused to disclose the next protocol of 48 points.

Trying to prove Christensen's guilt, the prosecution also attached to the case file a certificate from the military commissariat about 9 conscripts who refused to serve in the army, citing their religious beliefs. The lawyers drew attention to the fact that the wording used by the prosecution "refused to serve in the army" is incorrect, since the state provides citizens with alternative service. When choosing an alternative, a citizen strictly follows the law. The lawyer then read out where each of the 9 young men had been sent for alternative service. Some served at the Russian Post, others in the gerontological center, caring for the elderly. The lawyer suggested thinking about the feelings of the elderly who were cared for by these people, and how they were grateful to them. Young believers, without a doubt, gave their civic duty to the state.

On October 31, 2018, the initiative in reviewing the case materials passed to the defense. The lawyers drew the court's attention to the fact that after the case was initiated against Christensen, the investigation did not arrest him for some time. This means that the investigator himself did not believe that Christensen could go into hiding. Consequently, his detention is unreasonable.

In addition, the lawyers identified defects in the examinations available in the case.

Further hearings in this case are scheduled in the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Orel (Maxim Gorky St., 45-a) on November 6, 7, 12, 14, 2018.

Case of Christensen in Oryol

Case history
Dennis Christensen is the first Jehovah’s Witness in modern Russia to be imprisoned only because of his faith. He was arrested in May 2017. The FSB accused the believer of organizing the activities of a banned organization on the basis of the testimony of a secret witness, theologian Oleg Kurdyumov from a local university, who kept covert audio and video recordings of conversations with Christensen about faith. There are no extremist statements or victims in the case. In 2019, the court sentenced Christensen to 6 years in prison. The believer was serving time in the Lgov colony. He repeatedly asked for the replacement of part of the unserved term with a fine. For the first time, the court granted the request, but the prosecutor’s office appealed this decision, and the prison administration threw the believer into a punishment cell on trumped-up charges. Christensen developed illnesses that prevented him from working in prison. On May 24, 2022, the believer was released after serving his sentence and was immediately deported to his homeland, Denmark.
Timeline

Persons in case

Criminal case

Region:
Oryol Region
Locality:
Oryol
Suspected of:
according to the investigation, together with the others he conducted religious services, which is interpreted as “organising the activity of an extremist organisation” (with reference to the court’s decision on the liquidation of the local organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Court case number:
11707540001500164
Initiated:
May 23, 2017
Current case stage:
The verdict entered into force
Investigating:
UFSB of Russia in the Oryol region
Articles of Criminal Code of Russian Federation:
282.2 (1)
Court case number:
1-37/1
[i18n] Рассмотрено судом первой инстанции:
Железнодорожный районный суд г. Орла
Judge:
Алексей Николаевич Руднев
[i18n] Суд апелляционной инстанции:
Орловский областной суд
[i18n] Суд апелляционной инстанции:
Льговский райсуд Курской области
Background