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Russia imprisons first elderly Jehovah’s Witness woman for practicing faith

Roman Baranovskiy and Valentina Baranovskaya. Photo from Jehovah's Witnesses

ABAKAN, Russia (BP) – Russia has sentenced a frail elderly woman and her son to prison for being Jehovah’s Witnesses, the first time the country has sentenced a female Jehovah’s Witness since outlawing the religion in 2017, the Moscow Times reported.

Valentina Baranovskaya, whom Jehovah’s Witnesses said is 69 and survived a stroke in the summer of 2020, and her son Roman Baranovskiy were sentenced to two years and six years, respectively, Wednesday (Feb. 24) for practicing their faith despite it being against the law.

The two are imprisoned in Khakassia and will appeal the decision, the religious group said on its website. For now, the two have joined nine other Jehovah’s Witnesses held in penal colonies, 39 in pre-trial detention and 26 under house arrest in Russia, the religious group said. In addition, 80 cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses were in various stages of legal proceedings as of Feb. 20. Police arrested Baranovskaya and her son after raiding their home in 2019.

In her statement to the court, the elderly woman said her ordeal was “a great honor” and a fulfillment of prophecy.

Jehovah’s Witnesses identify as Christian, but reject or distort essential biblical doctrines of Christianity. The cult denies the deity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit and salvation by grace through faith, along with several other heretical beliefs.

The religious group counts 175,000 among its members in Russia, and said about 300,000 attend services there at least once a year.

Commissioner Gary Bauer of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said the imprisonment of Baranovskaya “marks a new low in Russia’s brutal campaign against religious freedom.”

Earlier this month, Russia sentenced 63-year-old Jehovah’s Witness Alexander Ivashin to 7 1/2 years in prison for conducting religious discussions with friends, ABC News reported Feb. 10, describing it as the harshest sentence in scores of cases.

In its 2020 report naming Russia a country of particular concern, USCIRF said religious freedom conditions in Russia have deteriorated, with the government continuing to target “nontraditional” religious minorities with fines, detentions, and criminal charges claiming extremism.

Independent Baptist missionary Donald Ossewaarde fled Russia in 2017 after exhausting all of his appeals on an August 2016 conviction of operating a church without a permit under the 2016 anti-religion Yarovaya Law. At that time, Ossewaarde said the Baptist ministry he had legally operated since 2002 in would cease in the nation where every religion outside Russian Orthodoxy is considered a cult, including Protestantism.