A court in southern Russia has handed the country’s longest prison sentence yet to an elderly Jehovah’s Witness leader for organizing an “extremist” group, the religious organization said Wednesday.
Authorities accused Alexander Ivshin, 63, of organizing the activities of a banned organization, including hosting Bible discussions with friends via video link, until his April 2020 detention as part of mass raids in the Krasnodar region. Russia outlawed the Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists” in 2017.
The Abinsk District Court in the Krasnodar region found Ivshin guilty and sentenced him to 7 years and 6 months in a prison colony.
The state prosecutor had sought an eight-year prison sentence for Ivshin.
“The imposed punishment is the harshest of all sentences imposed on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the organization said in an emailed statement.
Ivshin is now the 11th worshipper to receive real prison time in Russia on extremism charges, with sentences ranging from two to six years, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses website.
Ivshin maintained in his last word that he is “not being tried for extremism, but for simply continuing to practice the peaceful religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” according to the organization.
“My life position is based on biblical principles where there is no extremism or violence,” Ivshin said.
On Thursday, the U.S. State Department condemned Russia’s ongoing crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses “in the strongest possible terms.”
Ridiculed Russian Fairytale Statue Auctioned for $35K
The Russian Auction House has sold an infamous statue of a local fairytale hero for 2.6 million rubles ($35,500) Monday after a town in southern Russia dismantled it following a public outcry.
Authorities in Novovoronezh heeded mounting calls to take down the metal Alyonka sculpture shortly after unveiling it in December to mark the town’s 250th anniversary. While local lore says Alyonka founded the town after being sent to find a suitable place to live, social media users and locals alike called her statue “a monument to Russian Death” and compared its appearance to that of a White Walker from “Game of Thrones.”
“Thanks to public and media attention, the auctioned object’s status has risen to unprecedented heights,” Russian Auction House deputy director Pavel Zhirunov said in a statement.
“Its sale through an auction has fueled this interest and made the art object not only a subject of discussion, but also of investment,” Zhirunov said.
The auction house listed the buyer’s name as Yelena Nikolayevna Osipova, one of four participants in the three-hour bidding war. The Open Russia investigative outlet said the auction house declined to provide further details about the buyer.
The scandalous sculpture’s starting price stood at 1 million rubles.
Alyonka’s sculptor has vowed to donate part of the proceeds, the auction house said.