The FINANCIAL — Russian-installed authorities in Crimea have detained several members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the latest sign of a widening crackdown on the religious group.
The U.S.-based denomination said on March 20 that authorities in the occupied Black Sea peninsula staged raids on homes in Yalta and Alupka and detained six members of the group for questioning. The group identified one as 34-year-old Artyom Gerasimov.
A statement from the regional bureau of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) confirmed a man had been taken in custody but did not release his name.
“It was determined that a 34-year-old Yalta resident had organized the work of a local cell of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including meetings, preaching, and disseminating the ideas of the aforementioned religious sect,” the service was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
The Crimean Peninsula has been occupied by Russia since 2014 when Moscow seized the territory from Ukraine and illegally annexed it.
Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been under intense pressure across Russia since the Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the group is an “extremist” organization.
The group has reported a growing number of raids and detentions of its adherents across Russia in recent months.
In February, a Danish member of the group was convicted of extremism by a court in the southern city of Oryol and sentenced to six years in prison.
Earlier this week, an Oryol prosecutor asked a court for a three-year prison sentence against another adherent, Sergei Skrynnikov.
A verdict is scheduled to be announced in Skrynnikov’s case on April 1.
The group said officials in the Far Eastern city of Magadan have also staged a series of raids on four homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses there on March 20, seizing cell phones, computers, flash cards, notebooks, and other materials.
Headquartered in the U.S. state of New York, the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization has long been viewed with suspicion by some governments for its members’ views about military service, voting, and government authority in general.