Говорят очевидцы

The Christensen case. A faith that is higher than prison walls

Oryol Region

Six years in prison was the verdict of the Oryol District Court in the case against a 46-year-old local resident, a Danish by nationality, who professes the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. The verdict caused a wide public outcry. The history of criminal prosecution for faith is in an 11-minute video report.

Irina Christensen puts together a program for her husband, Dennis Christensen. Almost two years have passed since he was detained and placed in a pre-trial detention center in the city of Orel. "I can give thirty kilograms a month," she says, "Well, I bring what he orders. He loves marzipan very much, I'll bring him candy with marzipan.

It all started on May 25, 2017, when armed masked men burst into the service. "Of course, we didn't know what to do, what to do, because everyone wanted to shoot, record it all, but it was forbidden. Dennis was arrested right at the worship service."

The very next day, a preventive measure in the form of detention was chosen against Dennis Christensen.

"Investigative measures were quite intensive," recalls lawyer Anton Bogdanov.- For example, as many as 13 forensic examinations were appointed by the investigator himself. Several handwriting examinations, religious, linguistic, and, oddly enough, psychological and psychiatric. In addition, there were, of course, interrogations. I think about a hundred people were interrogated. The main bet was to do everything quickly and as toughly as possible.

At the end of February 2018, 9 months after his arrest, court proceedings began. Dozens of believers came to the hearing in the building of the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of the city of Oryol to support Dennis Christensen and his wife. "Last year, of course, 3 times a week I see my husband in court," admits Irina Christensen.

"In court hearings, thanks to his actions, such a positive, and somewhere even cheerful atmosphere reigned," says Anton Bogdanov.

"He showed children's drawings that were sent to him from all over the world," says lawyer Irina Krasnikova.- He gladly received greetings that his friends conveyed to him. It was evident that he was very happy with those who came to him.

"A lot of the Bible was read, just excerpts, verses from the Bible, whole paragraphs from books we read," says Irina Christensen. We watched different videos, we studied the entire "Yearbook" for 2017, we studied all the "Workbooks" for 2017. Everything that the prosecutor's office provided, we read it all, how songs were sung at the meeting, and in general it was some kind of ridiculous action, to be honest.

Irina Krasnikova: "This situation seems somewhat paradoxical. It seems that a person is accused of extremism, but it turns out that no hostility comes from him, even to those who unfairly accuse him.

The trial, which lasted almost a year, left no doubt that Dennis Christensen did not commit any crime.

Anton Bogdanov: "The fact is that our position and, above all, Christensen's position was to prove his innocence. Well, it was obvious, in fact, that the person is innocent, but, nevertheless, since we are in court, we need to defend our position, we need to present evidence.

Irina Krasnikova: "In general, in order to deal with such cases, you need to understand what the essence of a person's religious beliefs is, and why he acts in one way or another. Why does he come to worship? Because he considers himself a member of some legal entity? Or because he believes that this is a way for him to exercise his right to freedom of religion?"

Anton Bogdanov: "When a crime where the punishment is 10 years of freedom in its maximum terms, they begin to establish who organized the cleaning, who bought the mop and rags for this cleaning, why Christensen was the first to open the gate and began to remove the snow, this is, of course, surprising."

February 6, 2019. Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Orel. "The court sentenced Christensen Dennis Ole to be found guilty of committing a crime under part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and to sentence him to 6 years in prison to be served in a penal colony."

Irina Christensen: "Well, of course, it was surprising that such a large number of people came to the announcement of the verdict. And I know that many came from different cities: Moscow, Belgorod, Kursk, Kaluga, Yelets. But that's just a few I've met... I want to say that my husband did not deserve such a sentence, because he is a wonderful person, and he spent his life helping people, and not doing harm to someone and encouraging someone to violence.

Anton Bogdanov: "The court has not been able to name a single specific socially dangerous, in the true sense of the word, action that would have been taken by the defendant."

Irina Krasnikova: "In my opinion, this verdict does not correspond to the inner conviction of the judge, because for any sane person, and even more so for a person who understood the essence of this case, it is obvious and understandable that there was no extremist organization here, that there were no extremists here. And, of course, it is very scary that such a punishment is given to a person simply for what he believes, it is very cruel.

Anton Bogdanov: "That is, all this looks more like a reprisal against a believer belonging to a minority religion."

The unprecedented sentence handed down to Dennis Christensen caused a wide public outcry. Russian and international organizations called on the Russian authorities to release the believer and drop all charges against him. Human rights activists, in turn, call the court's decision unfair and monstrous.

Human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina (Civic Assistance Committee): "The assessment is very simple – it's monstrous, it's just monstrous. The fact that people are condemned not for anything, not for what they have done, but for involvement, for beliefs, is, of course, absolutely monstrous.

Valery Borshchev (Moscow Helsinki Group): "It seems to me that the court found itself in a difficult situation, because it could not present any extremism. Well, there is none, no, absolutely.

Religious scholar Roman Lunkin (Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences): "This is, of course, a shame for relations between the state and religion in Russia, for religious policy. We believe that Russia is a country of faith, and even more religious than European countries. How does the persecution of believers take place in such a country? How?"

Human rights activist Lev Ponomarev (movement "For Human Rights"): "As I see it, people who sincerely believe should have the right to do this. And obviously, they cannot be prosecuted for this. This is one of the basic constitutional human rights."

Valery Borshchev: "And I believe that he won the trial. He won, he was much more convincing in court and looked better than the judge and the prosecutor. In my opinion, the judge himself also felt this. And, in general, every religion is strengthened as a result of persecution, as you know. Those who keep the faith, and there are undoubtedly many who will, they will be firm, and they will stand up for their faith even more."

Human rights activists, lawyers and participants in the trial also spoke about this at a press conference held in Moscow two days after the verdict was announced.

Valery Borshchev: "Dennis made a very interesting decision at the trial - he turned the last word into a sermon. And what happens? It turns out that all 50 people present at the trial, including the prosecutor, the judge, me and the media, were participants in a religious meeting."

Yaroslav Sivulsky (European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses): "I can only say that Jehovah's Witnesses did not deserve such treatment. Nothing they do deserves to be jailed or charged with extremism."

Irina Christensen: "My husband, of course, is a strong man, and he will endure everything. And his faith in God is strong, and our God will support him and will always help him, just as he has been supporting me for almost two years... The press conference in Moscow is just an amazing event that happened recently, and I could never imagine myself among these people, respected by everyone. After the press conference, each of them said something nice to me: words of support, encouragement, told a little bit of their life stories about the fact that they also underwent a lot, understand me and my feelings. It was very nice."

Irina says that she and her husband have been greatly supported by the thousands of letters, postcards and drawings they receive from all over the world: "He had such a plan that every child's drawing should hang on his wall. From transparent plastic files, he sewed them with threads and made such a well, like a stand or something, so that there were several drawings, immediately hung. And when a child's drawing comes, he inserts it and at least one day this drawing should hang with him. And when the evening check comes, they, he says, every time they look at these new children's drawings. And he says, "I want to tell these kids later that your drawing was in jail and it was hanging on the wall." Well, the number of letters that he receives, this, of course, shocks everyone in the pre-trial detention center, because they say: "As much as you receive, well, no one receives."

According to Irina, Dennis writes her several letters every week, in each of which he finds words to support her and share encouraging thoughts. Here is an excerpt from one of the letters: "Positive emotions are the key to success, and today we have a lot of reasons to rejoice! Is it not an honor for each of us to illuminate Jehovah's name in our city? Justifying God's great sovereignty is not the purpose of our existence? I know that our path is long, and there will be no victory yet, but for now! In the end, we will win. I'm 100% sure of that."

Irina very much hopes that the court of appeal will release her husband from custody. But, she said, whatever the outcome, she will continue to support Dennis. "If he was there because he killed someone or raped someone or robbed them, that's one thing. And the fact that a person is in jail for his faith is another. And he sits with a clear conscience, he sits with good thoughts, because he has done no harm to anyone. Therefore, I have always been proud and proud of my husband. And I understand what an honor it is to endure all this with dignity, calmly, confidently... Jesus Christ said that all of his followers would be persecuted, so of course what is happening now is not surprising, it should have been. And with the help of the power of God, you can withstand any test at all, absolutely any, whatever it may be.

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