The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported Wednesday that two of the religious group’s members have been found guilty of extremism by the Berezovsky City Court (Kemerovo Region) in Russia. The two had been detained since 2018 on criminal charges and were sentenced to four years in prison for being members of an extremist organization.
The prosecution in the case had initially requested a sentence of six-and-a-half years for Vadim Levchuk and Sergei Britvin, who plan to appeal their sentence. They are the latest of at least 313 Jehovah’s Witnesses that have been charged or convicted of criminal extremism in Russia.
The religion was first banned as extremist by the Russian Supreme Court in 2017. The decision has lead to the persecution of the over 170,000 followers of the Jehovah’s Witness faith in Russia. In the past few years, the ruling has faced several challenges but has ultimately been affirmed.
Many prominent international human rights organizations have urged Russia to release the detained members of the faith and to reverse the 2017 decision. However, the persecution of Russia’s Jehovah’s Witness population has only intensified. With government forces routinely implementing dangerous house raids, widespread surveillance, and long detainment in an effort to curb the spread of the faith.