Pictured: Dennis Christensen’s support group outside the courthouse. 4 September 2020

Criminal trial

A court decision leaves Dennis Christensen behind bars, but is providing an opportunity to another court to free the believer

Oryol Region

On September 4, 2020, Vladimir Olovnikov, judge of the Kursk Regional Court, overturned the court's decision to release Dennis Christensen and sent the case of one of Jehovah's Witnesses from Denmark for a new trial to the Lgov District Court of the Kursk Region.

As lawyer Anton Bogdanov said after the court hearing, "Dennis was not at all discouraged and met this court decision with a smile." "His health condition is consistently difficult, as there is no adequate treatment for his neurological diseases. Despite this, the believer is determined to go to the end, defending his innocence," the lawyer said.

"There is not a single person, either at large or in prison, who has been harmed in any way by Christensen. But he, as some kind of murderer or rapist, has been purposefully kept behind bars for the 4th year only because he prayed to Jehovah together with others and talked about love for one's neighbor. This only underlines the demonstratively repressive nature of the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia," Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, commented on the decision of the Kursk service.

Dane Dennis Christensen is the first Jehovah's Witness imprisoned for his faith even before the entry into force of the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to ban religious organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. Christensen was arrested on May 25, 2017 in Oryol, where he had lived with his wife Irina for more than a decade. In February 2019, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Oryol sentenced the believer to 6 years in a general regime colony. The court considered it extremism that Dennis gathered with fellow believers for worship. At the same time, there were no victims of Christensen's actions.

To date, the Dane has actually been behind bars for about 1200 days (a little more than 3 years and 3 months), of which 731 days were in a pre-trial detention center. Taking into account the fact that according to the law, one day in a pre-trial detention center equals 1.5 days in a general regime colony, Christensen served more than 4 years of the 6-year term appointed by the court.

Already a year ago, he was eligible for parole or other mitigation. On the 4th attempt, the believer's petition went to court, and on June 23, 2020, the judge of the Lgovsky District Court of the Kursk Region, Galina Petlitsa, decided to replace Christensen's unserved part of the sentence with a fine. However, the Kursk prosecutor for the supervision of correctional institutions, Alexei Shatunov, appealed this decision. Not only did Dennis not receive legal freedom, but he also faced additional pressure from the colony authorities.

Even before the decision to release Lgov Colony No. 3, the administration of Lgov Colony No. 3 used far-fetched pretexts to draw up a negative characterization of Christensen. In particular, he was regularly forced to perform types of work that were contraindicated for health reasons (in the colony, Dennis suffered pneumonia, he was diagnosed with serious diseases of the spine). After the court's decision to replace the term with a fine, the management of the correctional institution fabricated violations against the believer, as a result of which he spent 27 days in a punishment cell.

The unfair treatment of Christensen by the authorities caused a wide international outcry. "The accusation and imprisonment of Christensen only for confessing his faith is an unacceptable violation of the right to freedom of religion," said observers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Kingdom of Denmark, the European Union External Action Service , the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation and other well-known human rights organizations and ombudsmen also spoke in support of the first Russian prisoner of conscience.

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