An Associated Press wire June 18 reports that the Trump administration is calling on Russia to release more than 150 political or religious prisoners and to cease suppressing dissent and peaceful religious practice.
“We urge Russia to immediately release all those who are called political or religious prisoners and stop using the legal system to suppress dissent and peaceful religious practice,” the statement said.
Specific cases mentioned were:
- Four Ukrainians, including filmmaker and dissident Oleg Sentsov, arrested in 2015, who are holding a hunger strike demanding Russia release all Ukrainian political prisoners. Sentsov himself was convicted of conspiracy to commit terror attacks and sentenced to 20 years in prison after speaking out about Russia’s annexing of the Crimea.
- Oyub Titiyev, head of Chechnya’s branch of the Russian human rights group Memorial, arrested earlier this year on drug charges the U.S. believes to have been trumped up.
- Jehovah’s Witness, Dennis Christensen, held without trial since last year.
- The incarceration of five leaders from the Church of Scientology.
- More than a dozen Muslim followers of the late Said Nursi, a Turkish theologian.
This statement follows on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement May 29 that he will host a meeting of foreign ministers in Washington in July to discuss ways to push back against governments in countries where religious minorities are persecuted, indicating the administration intends to make religious freedom a priority in its diplomatic relations.