Amnesty International condemned Russia for imprisoning Jehovah’s Witnesses and said in a Monday statement that “intimidation and persecution” of Jehovah’s Witnesses must stop.

The United Kingdom-based human rights group called on the Russian government to release Vladimir Alushkin, a Jehovah’s Witness imprisoned Friday, and cease persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Amnesty International also condemned Russia for ignoring calls from the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to release Alushkin. (RELATED: Russia Convicts Six More Jehovah’s Witnesses Of ‘Extremist Activities,’ Imprisons One For Six Years)

“This decision is a testament to the fact that the Russian authorities have put on stream the persecution of people for the peaceful practice of their faith,” said Natalia Zvyagina, director of Amnesty International Russia. 

“A dangerous precedent was the imposition of a six-year sentence for the same ‘crime’ to Dennis Christensen in February 2019,” Zvyagina said. “For the umpteenth time, the Russian court has applied such literally savage measures connected with real imprisonment. This is not only a matter of banning organizations, it is a ban on specific religion in Russia.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting to discuss the Ukrainian peace process at the German federal Chancellery on Oct. 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

The Leninsky District Court of Penza convicted Alushkin and sentenced him to six years in prison Friday, Jehovah’s Witnesses World Headquarters spokesman Jarrod Lopes told the Daily Caller News Foundation. The court convicted Alushkin of “extremist activity,” and Alushkin was “immediately handcuffed and taken into detention,” Lopes said.

The court also convicted five other Jehovah’s Witnesses Friday and gave them conditional sentences (which did not include prison time) of two years, Lopes told the DCNF, adding that “Vladimir’s six-year prison sentence is one of the harshest imposed on one of Jehovah’s Witnesses since the 2017 ban.” (RELATED: Russia Convicts 12th Jehovah’s Witness This Year For ‘Extremist Activities’)

Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses has heightened since the Russian Supreme Court in 2017 declared Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization.

A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said after the Supreme Court ruled against Jehovah’s Witnesses that members of the organization “pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security.”

But Russian President Vladimir Putin has distanced himself from participation in persecution and said in December 2018 that it is “complete nonsense” that Jehovah’s Witnesses are classified as members of a terrorist organization.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too. I don’t quite understand why they are persecuted,” Putin said. “So this should be looked into. This must be done.”

But Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to endure persecution in Russia.

There were 297 Jehovah’s Witnesses facing criminal charges in over 50 regions of Russia as of Monday, Lopes told the DCNF. Forty-three Jehovah’s Witnesses are in detention, and 22 are under house arrest, he added.

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