The right to believe, to worship and witness
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RUSSIA: Criminal charges against readers of religious literature
For the first time in Russia to Forum 18 News Service's knowledge, formal criminal charges have been brought against four readers of the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. The four – Aleksei Gerasimov, Fizuli Askarov, Yevgeny Petry and Andrei Dedkov – are accused of violating Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code ("organising activity by a banned religious or other association"), which carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment. The association concerned is "Nurdzhular", which Nursi readers insist does not exist. Two Nursi readers in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, Ziyavdin Dapayev and Ruslan Bulatov, are being investigated under Article 282.2, Part 2 of the Criminal Code ("participation in a banned religious extremist organisation"). Many Russian translations of Nursi's works feature on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, making their distribution a criminal offence.
Aleksei Gerasimov, one of the four Nursi readers, told Forum 18 from Krasnoyarsk on 3 March that it is unclear how long the FSB's investigation will last and when any trial will take place.
Only he and the three others are facing charges, he added, although 20 private homes were raided on the night of 16-17 February. Religious literature was confiscated from all, including Korans and other books as well as Nursi works. In Gerasimov's case, all 14 volumes of Nursi's Koranic commentary "Risale-i Nur" ("Messages of Light") in Turkish and seven books in Russian were confiscated, he told Forum 18.
Strong doubts have been raised about the legality of some literature seizures. Two lawyers working separately on religious freedom cases have told Forum 18 that it is unlawful for the authorities to take religious literature without formally recording this. To continue to hold the literature, the authorities must conduct an investigation which either results in criminal or administrative proceedings, or the literature being handed back (see F18News 5 March 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1417).
Gerasimov said that state representatives searched his flat "in a proper manner" (see most recently F18News 23 February 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1412). However, statements viewed by Forum 18 from five others raided claim rougher treatment.
Dated 19 February, Roman Gavrusik's account describes how, after 11pm on 16 February, a masked and armed group burst into a Krasnoyarsk flat where he and other Nursi readers were meeting. The state representatives pushed those present to the floor and forced them to lie face down with their hands behind their heads for some four hours, he writes, also hitting or kicking several even though they offered no resistance. Later taken to the local FSB headquarters, the Nursi readers were made to stand against a wall with their hats covering their faces for two hours. An interrogator threatened Gavrusik with detention, a four-year prison term and harm to his family if he did not admit to leading "some sect": "He also said he had killed people like me in Chechnya".
Statements by Nazim Balamirzoyev , Yevgeny Petry and Yevgeny Tarasov – present at the same raid – concur with Gavrusik's. Balamirzoyev adds that the Nursi readers were sworn at and insulted, including as "terrorists and separatists". Tarasov – who is ethnically Tatar – says he was called a "parasite" and asked: "How can you, a Russian, betray Russia by becoming a Muslim?"
Russian translations of "Risale-i Nur" were controversially banned as extremist by a Moscow court in May 2007 (see F18News 27 June 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=981). "Nurdzhular" – which Nursi readers insist does not exist – was banned as an extremist organisation by the Supreme Court in April 2008 (see F18News 29 May 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1136). Countering the claims of Nursi critics in Russia that his work is banned in Turkey, a top Turkish religious affairs official stated in March 2007 that the 14 books of "Risale-i Nur" "do not pose any harm whatsoever from a religious and social point of view" (see F18News 28 January 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1400).
The latest March 2010 additions to the Federal List of Extremist Materials include all 34 of the latest Jehovah's Witness publications declared "extremist" in a Rostov-on-Don court ruling, upheld by the Supreme Court in December 2009 (see F18News 5 March 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1417).
Krasnoyarsk criminal charges
Vladimir Ruban, the assistant head of Krasnoyarsk regional FSB's Investigation Department, signed the criminal charge against the four Nursi readers on 26 February. The four – Gerasimov and Petry, as well as Fizuli Askarov and Andrei Dedkov – are accused of violating Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code ("organising activity by a banned religious or other association"), which carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment.
The charge against Gerasimov, seen by Forum 18, claims that in 2006 he and the three others began a religious organisation and the joint reading of Nursi's works. It describes Nursi readers as "members of a criminal group".
Even after the 2008 Supreme Court ban, the document adds, the four continued "organised activity" by the banned group, including by "distributing extremist literature" and "conspiracy". The charge echoes the wording of the resolution opening the criminal case (see F18News 23 February 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1412).
Gerasimov told Forum 18 that the charges against the other three are similarly worded.
Ruban's telephone at the FSB went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 3 and 4 March.
Dagestan investigation "dragging on"
Meanwhile, two Nursi readers in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, Ziyavdin Dapayev and Ruslan Bulatov, are still being investigated under Article 282.2, Part 2 of the Criminal Code ("participation in a banned religious extremist organisation"), which carries a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment. The investigation has been underway since mid-December 2009, when homes associated with Nursi readers in three Dagestani towns were subjected to armed raids (see F18News 28 January 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1400).
Complaining that the investigation is "dragging on", Dapayev claimed that this was because the authorities have no proof of any wrongdoing. "Our lawyer told us we could easily win any case," he told Forum 18 on 3 March. "Of course we read Nursi's works – they teach us to understand our faith. But they want to brand us as terrorists." (END)
For a personal commentary by Irina Budkina, editor of the http://www.samstar.ru Old Believer website, about continuing denial of equality to Russia's religious minorities, see F18News 26 May 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=570.
For more background, see Forum 18's Russia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1196.
Analysis of the background to Russian policy on "religious extremism" is available in two articles: 'How the battle with "religious extremism" began' (F18News 27 April 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1287 and 'The battle with "religious extremism" - a return to past methods?' (F18News 28 April 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1288).
Reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Russia can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=10.
A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351.
A printer-friendly map of Russia is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=russi.
26 February 2010
RUSSIA: Back to the future for Jehovah's Witnesses?
Just weeks after Russia's Supreme Court outlawed their literature as extremist, Jehovah's Witnesses are encountering at least ten times the level of state harassment across the country as before the ban, their press secretary has estimated to Forum 18 News Service. Since 8 December, they have catalogued over 30 incidents, including searches, threats and brief detentions. So alarmed are the Jehovah's Witnesses by the growing similarity of their predicament with their repression during the Soviet period that their entire 160,000-strong Russian membership will today (26 February) begin distributing 12 million copies of "Is History Repeating Itself?", a leaflet refuting the religious extremism allegations against them. In December, Russia's Human Rights Ombudsman informed President Dmitry Medvedev of an upsurge in citizens' complaints about religious freedom violations, but his only response was to check if they came from "non-traditional" confessions. Mikhail Odintsov of the Ombudsman's Office declined to answer Forum 18's questions. Readers of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi – whose works are also banned - similarly note increased state scrutiny, with raids by the police and FSB security service on dozens of homes in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan and Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk in the past two months.
23 February 2010
RUSSIA: Three more readers of Muslim theologian detained
Following simultaneous raids on 20 homes in Krasnoyarsk on the night of 16-17 February by Russia's FSB security service, three readers of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi were detained for some 36 hours, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. They and a fourth Nursi reader could now face religious extremism charges carrying a maximum three-year jail term. "These accusations of extremism are incomprehensible and ridiculous," Aleksei Gerasimov, one of those detained, told Forum 18 after his detention. "On the contrary, the Islam we're studying teaches deeper knowledge of the Most High, honesty, sincerity, how to help people and become a better person." Akhmad Kolobayev, the detained Muslims' lawyer, told Forum 18 that no formal charges have yet been brought, and he thought that court proceedings might not begin for some time. The Krasnoyarsk events follow similar raids and detentions in Dagestan in December 2009. Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia are also reporting a significant increase in brief police detentions since December.
28 January 2010
RUSSIA: Muslims raided, more Jehovah's Witness literature banned
Following an 11 December raid on a Makhachkala flat by "a whole busload" of armed and masked rapid reaction police led by a Dagestani FSB security service investigator, some 30 readers of the works of the late Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi were taken for questioning. Six homes of other Nursi readers in Dagestan were raided. Ziyavdin Dapayev, one of two of those held who could face criminal charges of participating in a banned religious extremist organisation, lamented to Forum 18 News Service that Nursi readers are becoming "victims to the incompetence of some employees of the law enforcement agencies". Dagestan FSB told Forum 18 no one could answer questions about the investigation. Nursi's works have been banned in Russia, despite a 2007 Turkish government statement that they "contain no statements whatsoever aimed at inciting religious hatred". Moscow Public Prosecutor's Office confirmed to Forum 18 that it had issued an extremism warning to Ravil Gainutdin, chair of the Russia-wide Council of Muftis, for inviting a Turkish Nursi follower to a Moscow conference. Meanwhile, Jehovah's Witnesses have lost their latest appeal against an extremism ban on more of their publications.