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8 July 2016

RUSSIA: Putin signs sharing beliefs, "extremism", punishments

President Putin has signed amendments imposing harsh restrictions on sharing beliefs, including where and who may share them, and increased "extremism" punishments, introduced with alleged "anti-terrorism" changes. There are widespread Russian protests against the suddenly-introduced changes, and may be a Constitutional Court challenge.

4 July 2016

RUSSIA: Sharing belief restrictions, increased "extremism" punishments?

President Putin may sign amendments imposing strict limits on sharing beliefs, including where and who may share them, as well as increased "extremism" punishments, introduced with alleged "anti-terrorism" changes. There are widespread Russian protests against the suddenly-introduced changes, though some fear consequences for protesting.

29 June 2016

RUSSIA: Eleven new "extremism" criminal trials?

Eleven further Muslims face criminal prosecution for reading works of theologian Said Nursi the authorities claim are "extremist". Five are in pre-trial detention and three under travel restrictions. A twelfth has already been given a two-year suspended sentence, the first for sharing Nursi's works online.

24 May 2016

RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witnesses face possible liquidation

If prosecutors proceed with their threat to liquidate the Jehovah's Witness headquarters near St Petersburg, thousands of local congregations across Russia could also face prohibition of their activities and individuals could be vulnerable to criminal charges for expressing their beliefs, Forum 18 notes.

18 May 2016

RUSSIA: 2015 prosecutions for publicly sharing beliefs

Unapproved sharing of beliefs were a quarter of 2015 prosecutions for public events in Russia. Forum 18 found 119 individuals and 3 religious organisations prosecuted, a sharp rise on 2014. Initial punishments were 80 fines, 2 short-term jailings and one community service term.

5 May 2016

RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witness Bible to be "extremist"?

Russian prosecutors are trying to ban the Jehovah's Witness New World Bible as "extremist", Forum 18 notes. However, a Pervouralsk court refused to ban two Islamic texts citing the Koran as "extremist", in the first use of a legal amendment protecting some sacred texts.

25 April 2016

RUSSIA: In 2015, 89 known individuals and communities prosecuted for religious literature

Unemployed Jehovah's Witness A. Bokov served six days in prison for possessing Jehovah's Witness literature the Russian authorities deem "extremist". Yevgeny Menshenin served five days in prison for sharing an Islamic video on a social network. Elista's Jehovah's Witness community and an Islamic community in Komsomolsk-on-Amur were each fined 100,000 Roubles for religious literature (Jehovah's Witnesses say the literature in Elista had been planted). These were some of the 89 known individuals and communities brought to court in 2015 under Administrative Code Article 20.29 for religious literature, Forum 18 News Service notes, a rise of a third on 2014. While more than half the prosecutions resulted from Islamic materials (many of them online), more than a third (a marked increase on 2014) were Jehovah's Witness texts. The other two were from Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong.

11 April 2016

RUSSIA: Eight facing criminal cases, five already under arrest

Komil Odilov was arrested in Novosibirsk and Yevgeny Kim in Blagoveshchensk in December 2015, Ziyavdin Dapayev and Sukhrab Kultuyev in Makhachkala and Andrei Dedkov in Krasnoyarsk in March 2016, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The five – who can be held in pre-trial detention for up to one year - are among eight Sunni Muslims known to be facing FSB-led criminal prosecution on charges of "extremism" for studying the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi. Many Russian translations of his books have been banned as "extremist" in Russia, along with many Jehovah's Witness publications. The 16 Jehovah's Witnesses convicted of "extremist" activity in Taganrog in November 2015 have failed in their attempt to have their sentences overturned. When they get the written verdicts of the 17 March decision they will decide whether to appeal further, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

22 March 2016

RUSSIA: Enforced liquidation of communities accelerates

Three Jehovah's Witness communities are trying to challenge lower court orders that they be liquidated as "extremist" and are awaiting Supreme Court decisions. The cases brought to six the number of their communities banned as "extremist". Court moves to liquidate a seventh were launched in May 2015. Since spring 2015 at least seven further Jehovah's Witness communities have received written "extremism" warnings from prosecutors, a frequent prelude to liquidation suits, Forum 18 News Service has found. A Jehovah's Witness community in Arkhangelsk applied to liquidate itself in October 2015, just weeks before Regional Governor Igor Orlov told the local Russian Orthodox Diocese website of "ongoing work to ensure the de-legalisation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Arkhangelsk Region". All these moves mark an intensification of law enforcement efforts to curtail Jehovah's Witness activity, Forum 18 notes. One Muslim community is known to have been similarly liquidated, with a second being issued a warning.

2 March 2016

RUSSIA: Freedom of religion or belief "extremist" text prosecutions increase

From September to December 2015 inclusive at least 35 individuals and three religious organisations exercising freedom of religion or belief were prosecuted in Russia under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials"), Forum 18 News Service notes. Courts imposed fines in 34 of these cases, and one Jehovah's Witness was sentenced to a 10 day jail term later reduced to six days. Two individuals and one Jehovah's Witness community were acquitted. This is an increase on the September to December 2014 figure of 18 such prosecutions. Of the 38 September to December 2015 prosecutions, 19 involved Islamic texts or videos, 17 Jehovah's Witness texts, and two items produced by the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong. Court verdicts indicate that prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses under Article 20.29 increased in the last part of 2015. Their communities in Stariy Oskol and Belgorod city were liquidated in February 2016, and an appeal challenging the liquidation of the Tyumen community is due in Russia's Supreme Court on 24 March.

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