In a first, Russia jails female Jehovah’s Witness

Russia on Wednesday sentenced a female member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith to two years in prison, a first in the country’s crackdown on the US-based religious movement.

Moscow outlawed the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017, labelling it an extremist organisation and has since sentenced several members to lengthy jail terms.

A court in the Siberian city of Abakan on Wednesday sentenced Valentina Baranovskaya, 69, to two years in a penal colony for participating in a banned organisation, the religious movement said.

Her son, Roman Baranovsky, was jailed for six years for organising activities of a banned organisation.

The religious movement said Baranovskaya was the first female member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be sent to prison in modern Russia for her faith.

Yaroslav Sivulsky, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said that the court ruling took “the repression against Jehovah’s Witnesses to a new level.”

“Such cruelty has no justification. Modern Russia in terms of the level of unmotivated religious persecution is approaching the Soviet Union,” he was quoted as saying in a statement.

Baranovskaya was sent to prison despite having been diagnosed with ischemic stroke in the summer of 2020, the religious movement said.

The prosecutors had demanded that the elderly Baranovskaya be sentenced to five years in prison and her son to eight years.

Although President Vladimir Putin said in 2018 that Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be considered terrorists, Moscow has kept bringing legal action against members of the religious movement.

The Russia Orthodox Church has spoken out against the movement, with one official describing it as a “destructive sect”.

Founded in the United States in the late 19th century, the religious movement has been repeatedly accused of refusing to respect state symbols such as flags.