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MOSCOW (RNS/ENInews) A Jehovah’s Witness on trial in Siberia was found innocent on Thursday (April 14) of charges of “inciting religious hatred and enmity,” in a case that was seen as a litmus test of Russian religious freedom.

Aleksandr Kalistratov had been accused of distributing Jehovah’s Witnesses literature, which has been qualified as extremist in Russia under a law intended to fight hate crimes and Islamic extremism.

The criminal case against Kalistratov was one of nearly a dozen similar ones against Jehovah’s Witnesses across Russia. April also marks the 60th anniversary of the Soviet mass deportation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to Siberia in 1951.

Critics say the law is applied randomly and unfairly. At a news conference in Moscow, Kalistratov’s lawyer read from a Russian Orthodox catechism that described other religions as being “from the devil.”

The St. Petersburg-based Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Russia issued a statement saying “the charges against Kalistratov and other Jehovah’s Witnesses … are absolutely groundless and serve as a vivid example of the wrongful application” of the law.

Mikhail Odintsov, who represented Kalistratov on behalf of the office of Russia’s Kremlin-appointed human rights ombudsman, said he hopes the verdict will help officials to “finally open their eyes and see that the fate of millions and millions of Russian citizens depends on their actions, their behavior, their inner convictions and sentiments.”

– SOPHIA KISHKOVSKY, Religion News Service

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