WASHINGTON — The US State Department is disturbed by reports that a Russian court sentenced Valentina Baranovskaya and her son, Roman Baranovsky, to terms of two and six years in a Russian penal colony, respectively, for being practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses. The sentencing of Valentina, a 69-year-old stroke victim, is particularly cruel. It also marks the first time a Russian court has sentenced a female Jehovah’s Witness.

“The decision by the Russian court is the latest development in an on-going crackdown on members of religious minority groups in Russia,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. ”Since the Russian Supreme Court designated the Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” organization in 2017, 52 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned for exercising their beliefs, including Alexandr Ivshin, who was recently given a record-length 7.5 year sentence for a Jehovah’s Witness by a Russian court.

“We urge Russia to lift its ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and to respect the right of all to exercise their freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief,” said Price.