Photo: Dennis Christensen during one of the court hearings

Inside Penal Colonies and Detention Centers

What Did the Prison and Prosecutor's Office Do to Prevent the Danish Believer Dennis Christensen From Going Free?

Oryol Region,   Kursk Region

On June 26, 2020, the Lgov prison authorities illegally placed Dennis Christensen in a cell of a special punishment block (EPKT), typically used for malicious offenders. Given that his health has deteriorated, the move seems to be a calculated attempt to break him. At the same time, the prosecutor's office appealed the mitigation of his sentence, which they had originally supported in court. What happened?

What did the prosecutor's office do?

De jure, Dennis Christensen has already spent more than 4 out of 6 years in prison for his faith. Already one year ago, he was eligible for parole or another mitigation of his sentence. On the 4th attempt, his petition went to court, and on June 23, 2020, the Lgov District Court ordered the replacement of the remaining part of the sentence with a fine of 400,000 rubles. Artem Kofanov, Deputy Prosecutor of the Kursk Prosecutor's Office for the Supervision of Correctional Institutions, who took part in the trial, supported the mitigation of the punishment. But two days later, on June 25, Aleksey Shatunov, the prosecutor of the same prosecutor's office, stated that the court ruling was illegal and demanded to cancel it and sent the material for a new trial to the same court. What made the prosecutor's office change its position is unknown.

Why did Prosecutor Shatunov consider the decision to have been illegal? In his presentation, he referred to the administration of the Lgov prison, which, according to him, characterized the prisoner unsatisfactorily: "Due to the lack of positive activity in his work and public life of the correctional facility."

Shatunov's arguments were already considered invalid by the Lgov district court when they were voiced by the prison representatives during the trial on mitigation of the punishment. The defense submitted to the court expert reports confirming that Christensen has physical conditions that exclude him from physical labor: industrial work in the prison and participation in other types of labor. In turn, the representative of the penitentiary was forced to admit that the prison could not provide him with the type of work that would be in accord with his physical limitations. The court attached medical documents to the case and apparently relied on them in making its decision.

What did the prison do?

At the same time as the unexpected actions of the prosecutor's office, events were developing in the Lgov prison: on June 25, two reports against Christensen were made at the same time. The first one — for the fact that he was in the food room at a wrong time, and the second — for the fact that he was in the barracks in a T-shirt, without a jacket. This was enough to have him sent to the EPKT for 10 days. In penal colonies, this is the strictest of measures for particularly vicious violators of prison order.

According to the law, such measure is taken only in a case of repeated, serious violations by the prisoner and only after a medical examination for the absence of diseases that prevent the detention in the EPKT. Neither of these measures happened with Christensen.

"The colony administration chose a strange excuse to put Christensen in the EPKT as a particularly dangerous offender. The list of gross violations is given in Article 116 of the Penal Enforcement Code, and there is nothing in it that Christensen did. According to the administration of the colony, it turns out that being in a shirt in the barracks is the same as rioting or taking drugs," says Yaroslav Savulskiy, representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses.

The believer and another prisoner are in a cell measuring 3.3 meters by 2.3 meters. The room is poorly ventilated and there is mold, which threatens the health of Christensen, who suffered pneumonia a few months ago. "Dennis has been diagnosed with a serious spinal cord condition. The administration of the colony is aware of this, but placed him in conditions where he has to sleep on a hard bed, experiencing excruciating pain," said the lawyer of the believer.

Christensen himself told the lawyer that at the time of his alleged violations in similar circumstances, there were other prisoners with him, but he alone was sent to the EPKT. "This leads to the idea that there is a planned action, which is necessary to prevent Dennis from being released by court order," said the lawyer.

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