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24 May 2016

RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witnesses face possible liquidation

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

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

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

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"?

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

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

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

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

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

Komil Odilov was arrested in Novosibirsk and Oleg 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

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

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

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

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.

22 February 2016

RUSSIA: Community service order, 31 initial fines in 46 cases for public religious events over 4 months

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

In the last four months of 2015, at least 45 individuals and one religious organisation are known to have been brought to court under Administrative Code Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket") for exercising their right to freedom of religion and belief in public space. Most were Jehovah's Witnesses offering religious literature on the streets, but Mormons, Hare Krishna devotees, Baptists and a Muslim were also prosecuted. These prosecutions led to 31 fines and one sentence of community service (before appeals), according to an analysis by Forum 18 News Service, continuing an increasing trend from 2015. Fines were, in some cases, nearly two-thirds the average monthly wage and nearly twice the average monthly pension. These can place a heavy burden on the poor, elderly, and unemployed. Prosecutions at least partly stem from pressure from Russia's federal government to "minimise the public activity of citizens", Hare Krishna lawyer Mikhail Frolov commented to Forum 18.

21 January 2016

RUSSIA: Raids, charges, detentions and fines of Muslims continue

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

Two more Muslims who read the works of the late Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi, Komil Odilov and Yevgeny Kim, were arrested in December 2015 and are in pre-trial detention on "extremism" criminal charges, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Odilov has already served a one-year suspended sentence for alleged "extremist" activity and is currently appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. Another long-running case against three Muslim men in Krasnoyarsk ended in December 2015 in convictions and large fines for two of the defendants, and will soon go to appeal. After being convicted on almost the same "extremism" charges, after the longest such trial yet in Russia, 14 male and two female Jehovah's Witnesses have appealed against heavy fines and suspended prison terms for continuing to meet to pray and read the Bible after their Taganrog community was banned. And the criminal trial of an atheist blogger in Stavropol for "insulting religious feelings" is due to begin on 4 February.

14 December 2015

RUSSIA: Customs block literature "with no reason, no legal right and no court ruling"

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

Prosecutors are seeking through the courts to have at least some of the items of Jehovah's Witness literature impounded by Russian customs at the Finnish border declared "extremist", Forum 18 News Service has learned. Leningrad-Finland Transport Prosecutor's Office refused to respond to Forum 18's questions as to why more than ten million Jehovah's Witness books and brochures - including 4,000 Bibles in Russian and Ossetian – remain impounded simply because they might or might not contain "extremist" content. None of the impounded literature has been declared "extremist" in Russia. All attempted Jehovah's Witness literature imports have been blocked since March "with no reason, no legal right and no court ruling", Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Ivan Belenko complained to Forum 18. Forum 18 is not aware of religious literature of other faiths that has been blocked from import into Russia, apart from works which have been banned as "extremist" seized from individual travellers.

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