IN the latest case of its kind, a Russian court has convicted and fined a Jehova’s Witness who was charged with organising the activities of an “extremist” organisation.

What happened?

The Furmanovsky City Court in the Ivanovo Region of Russia imposed a fine of 500,000 rubles (£5,300) on Yevgeniy Spirin, 34, who will appeal the conviction. He had been charged with organising the activities of an “extremist” organisation and the prosecution had wanted to see him jailed for seven years.

“Extremist organisation?”

In April 2017, Russia's Supreme Court ruled the religion to be an “extremist” group and since then, the organisation says authorities have raided more than 1,000 properties of its followers.

So Spirin is not alone?

There are 372 believers under criminal investigation  in Russia, with 43 people in prison—including 10 who have been convicted of extremism. Spirin had already spent 160 days in pre-trial detention and been under house arrest from July last year, before he was sentenced last week. In June, a 61-year-old Jehova's Witness, Gennady Shpakovsky, was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison.

The focus seems to be ramping up?

In just one area of Russia - the Voronezh region, south of Moscow - on July 13, Russian authorities carried out more than 100 raids on the homes of Jehova's Witnesses, with two criminal cases opened against 10 worshippers who now face up to 10 years in jail on charges of organising an extremist community for holding religious meetings, preaching and recruiting new members between the middle of 2018 and early 2020.

What has the reaction been?

A spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses said “the security forces’ special operations are staggering in their cruelty”, adding of the latest conviction that it is "in complete disregard for the religious freedom enshrined in Russia's Constitution”.

Jehova’s Witnesses?

There are said to be more than 8.6 million in the world, with 1,618 congregations in the UK and around 400 groups said to be in Russia. In a land where the Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin, Russia has viewed Jehova’s Witnesses with suspicion, particularly as they see themselves as a worldwide brotherhood, transcending national boundaries.

Russia also bans Scientology?

In 2015, Russia's Justice Ministry banned Scientology, declaring it to be in violation of Russian law. Three years ago, leaders of the Church of Scientology were arrested in St Petersburg and charges included with being involved with an "extremist" community. One of the leaders, Ivan Matsitsky, has been detained since then.

What does the UK and US say?

The US State Department has called on Russia to release all jailed Jehovah's Witnesses, saying "they pose no threat" and that "their right to worship in peace” should be respected. Meanwhile, Nicola Murray, deputy head of the UK Delegation to the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) told the Permanent Council in Vienna last week: "We again call on the Russian Federation to end the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and to uphold the commitments on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief for all individuals across the Russian Federation.”