MOSCOW (AP) — A court in northern Russia on Friday fined two Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted of extremism related to their membership of the religious group, Russian media reported citing court filings.
Roman Markin and Victor Trofimov were fined the equivalent of $4,850 and $5,600 for “carrying out activities of the religious organization by calling and holding meetings” and “collecting money under the guise of fundraising.”
Russia officially banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017 and declared the group an extremist organization. The Kremlin has actively used vaguely worded extremism laws to crack down on opposition activists and religious minorities.
Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses world headquarters in the United States, said Friday the group was happy the two believers were not sent to prison.
“However, it remains an injustice for these peaceful men to be convicted … for nothing more than peacefully practicing their Christian beliefs,” Lopes said in a statement.
Since 2017, Russian law enforcement have targeted hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses across the country, raiding their homes and arresting them on extremism charges. Thirty-four members of the group have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms so far, with almost 300 people currently being investigated, Lopes told the AP.