Washington, D.C. – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes the release of prisoner of conscience Dennis Christensen. Christensen was released from a Russian penal colony on May 24, 2022.
“After enduring years of unjust imprisonment and inhumane living conditions—all for the peaceful exercise of his faith—Dennis Christensen is a free man,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Nury Turkel, who advocated for Christensen as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience (RPOC) Project. “We are elated to see Mr. Christensen finally permitted to leave the country and return to his native Denmark.”
Since the Russian Supreme Court declared Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization and banned their activities in 2017, authorities have consistently targeted, arrested, and imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses on groundless charges of “extremism” in connection with their peaceful religious activities. In 2021 alone, the Russian state convicted 105 Jehovah’s Witnesses, including elderly and disabled members, as well as those residing in Russia-occupied Crimea in Ukraine.
On May 25, 2017, Russian authorities arrested Christensen following a raid on a Jehovah’s Witness worship service in Oryol, Russia. On February 6, 2019, a district court found Christensen guilty of organizing “extremist” activities and sentenced him to six years in prison at a penal colony.
“Unfortunately, Dennis Christensen is not the only member of a religious community whom Russia has unjustifiably incarcerated on bogus allegations of involvement in an ‘extremist’ or terrorist group,” added Vice Chair Turkel. “The Russian government should immediately release all those it has imprisoned for their peaceful religious practice or affiliation and put an end to its persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities.”
In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. Department of State redesignate Russia as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. In November 2021, the State Department designated Russia as a CPC for the first time. USCIRF recently highlighted religious freedom conditions under Russia in a Backgrounder documenting domestic religious freedom violations in the country and the use of similar tactics to expand Russian influence in Belarus and repress opposition to its occupation of Crimea in Ukraine. USCIRF also produced a series of Spotlight podcast episodes on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, focusing on Russia’s “Denazification” narrative and religious regulation framework.