Russian Jehovah's Witnesses leader found guilty of extremism

Ria Novosti, Russia/November 3, 2011

A regional court in Russia's Altai region found the local head of the Jehovah's Witnesses guilty of extremism on Thursday and sentenced him to 100 hours of community service.

The Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization. Many representatives of more traditional religions consider it to be a totalitarian pseudo-Christian sect.

The Gorno-Altaysk City Court initially acquitted Alexander Kalistratov, head of the Altai branch of the Jehovah's Witnesses, on April 14. The Supreme Court of the Altai Republic later canceled the acquittal judgment at the request of the prosecutor's office and remanded the case for reconsideration to the same court.

The second trial started on June 22. Investigators opened a case against Kalistratov after he published and distributed 48 religious articles of "a strongly extremist nature" aimed at discrediting other religions.

Prosecutors demanded 140 hours community service for Kalistratov after he was convicted of inciting hatred and insulting human dignity.

Prosecutors told RIA Novosti they will not appeal the sentence although Kalistratov was sentenced to only 100 hours community service.

The case is not the first time the authorities in Russia have acted against the Jehovah's Witnesses. In June 2010, a court in Komsomolsk-na-Amur ordered the blocking of a website operated by the group, claiming it violated the integrity of the Russian Federation and incited social, racial and religious discord."

Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) and other organizations have criticized Russia's 2002 law on religious extremism, claiming it has "led to the prosecution of numerous peaceful groups with do not threaten public order, social peace or national security."

HRWF says 265 religious and faith-based organizations are on a blacklist of so-called extremist groups in Russia.

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