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Russia jails Jehovah’s Witness for six years in landmark case

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A Russian court on Wednesday found a Danish adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses guilty of organizing the activities of a banned extremist organization and jailed him for six years in a case Western governments cast as a test of religious freedom.

Armed police detained Dennis Christensen, a 46-year-old builder, in May 2017 at a prayer meeting in Oryol, some 200 miles (320 km) south of Moscow after a court in the region outlawed the local Jehovah’s Witnesses a year earlier.

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Russia’s Supreme Court later ruled the group was an “extremist” organization and ordered it to disband nationwide, and Christiansen’s detention, the first extremism-related arrest of a Jehovah’s Witness in Russia, foreshadowed dozens of similar cases.

A court in Oryol found Christiansen guilty on Wednesday after a long trial, his lawyer, wife and a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses told Reuters.

Christiansen had pleaded not guilty, saying he had only been practicing his religion, something he said was legal according to the Russian constitution which guarantees the right to practice any or no religion.

The U.S.-headquartered 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.

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But Russia’s latest falling-out with the West, triggered by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, spurred a more determined drive to push out “the enemy within”.

After Crimea was seized, a giant poster hung in central Moscow bearing the faces of Kremlin critics and labeling them as “a fifth column”. One of them, opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, was later shot dead.

Anton Bogdanov, Christiansen’s lawyer, said he planned to appeal Wednesday’s verdict, which he described as an illegal decision and part of Russia’s fight against religious freedom.

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He said he feared the verdict would set a dangerous precedent.

More than 100 criminal cases have been opened against Jehovah’s Witnesses and some of their publications are on a list of banned extremist literature.

Yaroslav Sivulsky, a Jehovah’s Witness spokesman, said the group was disappointed by what it regarded as an unjust verdict.

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Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said there had clearly been reasons for Christiansen’s arrest, but that he was unaware of the details of the case.

The group has around 8 million active followers around the world and has faced court proceedings in several countries, mostly over its pacifism and rejection of blood transfusions.

Additonal reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe

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The Trump depression: Experts see a serious psychological depression taking hold in America

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Reviewing “Trump’s Wacky, Angry, and Extreme August” on Twitter, the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser said the experience “was exhausting, a dark journey to a nasty and contentious place.” But that’s hardly news: it’s a place we live in every day. We try to turn the volume down and ignore it, and that may work for a while. But it won’t last. It can’t. It’s getting worse, and we can all see where we’re headed.
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Julian Castro nails McConnell and GOP to the wall for putting ‘sexual predator’ Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court

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Calling into MSNBC's "AM Joy" on Sunday morning, Democratic presidential contender Julian Castro ripped into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a serial sexual predator and said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the GOP are to blame for his being on the court.

Speaking with host Joy Reid, Castro renewed a call he made late Saturday night for Kavanaugh to be impeached over fresh allegations of sexual assault  before getting down to the heart of the matter.

"Do you believe there was misconduct in this case by the FBI and the Department of Justice or even by the senators who seemed uninterested in finding out of what really happened with this very brief investigation of Mr. Kavanaugh?" Reid asked.

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Condi Rice deflects Trump’s racism by saying slavery was just ‘a number of people being treated badly’

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Former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Sunday blamed Democrats for racism after she was asked about President Donald Trump's controversial bigoted statements.

During an interview on CNN, host Fareed Zakaria asked Rice about some of Trump's most racist statements, like telling Democratic congresswomen to "go back" where they came from. And when he said there were good people on "both sides" at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.

"When you hear Trump, this is a repudiation of everything you were trying to do," Zakaria pointed out.

"The president needs to be a lot more careful," Rice agreed. "Race is a very delicate and raw nerve in America. We have the birth defect of slavery, we have the birth defect of a number of people being treated badly."

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