Russia jails woman, 69, and son in Jehovah's Witness crackdown

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia sentenced a 69-year-old woman to two years in jail on Wednesday after finding her guilty of taking part in the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a spokesman for the organisation said.

Russia’s Supreme Court labelled the Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” organisation in 2017 and ordered it to disband. Since then authorities have detained hundreds of its adherents and convicted dozens on extremism charges.

A court in the Siberian region of Khakassia found Valentina Baranovskaya guilty of taking part in the activities of a banned organisation. She is the first woman, and the oldest person, to be jailed under the crackdown on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Her son, Roman Baranovsky, was handed a six-year sentence for the more serious crime of organising the activities of a banned organisation, spokesman Yaroslav Sivulsky of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses said in a statement.

Sivulsky said both denied guilt and would appeal.

The court did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Such cruelty has no justification,” Sivulsky said.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been under pressure for years in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin. Orthodox scholars have cast them as a dangerous foreign sect that erodes state institutions and traditional values, allegations they reject.

Russia’s crackdown has drawn condemnation from the U.S. State Department.

Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Giles Elgood