Dennis Christensen, convicted Jehovah’s Witness

Inside Penal Colonies and Detention Centers

Mice, Pneumonia and Unreasonable Penalties: How Dennis Christensen, a Prisoner of Conscience, is Serving His Sentence Three Years After His Arrest

Oryol Region,   Kursk Region

25 May 2020 marks exactly three years since the Danish citizen who lives in Oryol Dennis Christensen was taken into custody. Dennis' health has deteriorated during his imprisonment. Now the prison administration is not giving him any medication and is trying to prevent him from being released.

Dennis Christensen became the first Jehovah's Witness in modern Russia to be sentenced to real imprisonment for his faith. Immediately after his arrest, Christensen was imprisoned in the Oryol pre-trial detention center, where he was kept for about two years. In February 2019, the court sentenced Dennis to 6 years in prison. Three months later, the appellate court upheld this decision. After the verdict came into force, Dennis was transferred to colony No. 3 in the city of Lgov (Kursk region).

During his imprisonment, Dennis began to have health problems. Already in prison, he suffered pneumonia, the effects of which he still feels. According to the lawyer, Christensen's medical record was recently "lost", and without it, Dennis is refused treatment. Due to the "absence of superiors at the workplace," the believer is not given the medicines that his wife Irina sends him, although the dispensing of medicines is not in charge of the colony authorities, but of the hospital doctor.

"The medical documents "disappeared" after the defense petitioned for the recovery of medical records from the colony, which is suing the prosecutor for the fact that he declared the penalties imposed on Christensen illegal. We notified the prosecutor about this strange disappearance, "explained one of Dennis Christensen's lawyers.

In the meantime, the administration of the colony puts pressure on the believer, it keeps a diary in which it writes down untrue conclusions about Christensen's personality and behavior. Although Dennis has never been convicted before and the current prison term was assigned to him not for specific crimes, but for his faith, his characterization states that he "flaunts a criminal past", plans to "deal with" representatives of the authorities, the court and "accomplices" after his release. Such fictions sound absurd to anyone who knows Christensen and Jehovah's Witnesses in general.

"Recently, the head of the Federal Penitentiary Service for the Kursk region, Vladimir Nazarov, came to the colony, Dennis complained to him, but he only supported the position of his subordinates," the lawyer said.

In June 2017, Dennis Christensen filed an appeal against his arrest with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Later, the Kingdom of Denmark entered the case of Christensen v. Russia as a 3rd person. It is known that the complaint has passed the communication stage. Representatives of the Danish Embassy in Moscow regularly visit Christensen in the colony, the previous such visit took place on March 11, 2020.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dennis' wife, Irina Christensen, cannot get to the colony to meet her husband. Nevertheless, they communicate regularly on the phone.

According to Irina, during his imprisonment, Dennis had to adapt to different conditions, but now they are tolerable. "There are mice, cockroaches, mosquitoes and many other insects in the colony. I send cockroach traps and adhesive fly tape to my husband in a package. And he is friends with mice, "says Dennis's wife with a smile.

Postcards that Dennis Christensen sent to his wife Irina from the colony
Postcards that Dennis Christensen sent to his wife Irina from the colony

According to Irina, Dennis writes a lot, sometimes he receives 100 letters a day. "For the last month, he has not received letters in foreign languages, since there is no censor who knows foreign languages in the colony," she says.

To date, Christensen has served almost 4 years out of 6 appointed by the court - according to the Criminal Code, 1 day of detention in a pre-trial detention center is equal to 1.5 days in a colony. A year ago, he had the right to mitigation of punishment, petitioned for it, but the court rejected three petitions for bureaucratic reasons. While the believer is waiting for a decision on the fourth, the administration of the colony issues unjustified reprimands that are designed to prevent him from being released. It even went as far as tossing a knife. If the court does not commute Dennis Christensen's sentence, he will not be released until May 25, 2022.

"Russian Human Rights Defenders" and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom recognized Dennis Christensen as a prisoner of conscience, and the European Union called on his release "immediately and unconditionally." The same was demanded from the Russian authorities at the UN.

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