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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

RUSSIA: "The Kremlin's failure to uphold its own constitutional commitment to religious freedom"

This is the first of two abridged extracts from a book by Geraldine Fagan, Forum 18's Russia and Belarus Correspondent, "Believing in Russia - Religious Policy after Communism" (Routledge, 2013). The book presents a comprehensive overview of religious policy in Russia since the end of the communist regime, exposing many of the ambiguities and uncertainties about the position of religion in Russian life and revealing how religious freedom in Russia has, contrary to the widely held view, a long tradition. The book argues that continuing failure to resolve the question of whether Russia is to be an Orthodox country with religious minorities or a multi-confessional state is destabilising the nation. More details on the book are available from http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415490023/.

RUSSIA: Pussy Riot, blasphemy, and freedom of religion or belief

The way that Russia has handled the Pussy Riot case indicates that the authorities are using it to intensify restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. A shift from the Kremlin's initial response to the case suggests that a claimed moral outrage was not the motivation to prosecute, and that support for the Moscow Patriarchate is tactical. Since the Extremism Law was adopted in 2002, officials have used the same selective determination of what causes offence to persons of one worldview to restrict the freedom of religion or belief of people with a different worldview, as can be seen in prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses. This approach now also targets supporters of atheism. Arbitrary state prosecutions of some manifestations of religion or belief – such as by Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslim readers of Said Nursi's works - may soon be further strengthened by controversial proposed "blasphemy" amendments to the Criminal Code and Code of Administrative Offences. The legal chaos proposed by state representatives after the Pussy Riot trial thus continues a well-established trend.

RUSSIA: Article 20.29 causes 60-day community ban, fines, and bookshop closure

Prosecutors often use Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offences to try to punish individuals, religious communities and bookshops found to have religious literature which has controversially been banned, Forum 18 News Service has found. A court in Primorsky Region banned a Jehovah's Witness community for 60 days after a raid found 16 copies of their publications which have been placed on Russia's Federal List of Extremist Materials. A Muslim bookshop in Tolyatti was fined 50,000 Roubles (nearly 11 months' minimum wage) after a prosecutor and officers of the Police's Anti-Extremism Centre found two copies of books by a Turkish Sufi teacher. "The books have been banned and are on the Federal List, so they have to be seized. That's all," a Prosecutor's Office official told Forum 18. Verdicts often order confiscated literature to be destroyed.

RUSSIA: "The crime he is being accused of does not envisage the existence of victims"

Two separate criminal trials in Russia, on "extremism"-related charges, have started of Muslims who read the works of theologian Said Nursi, Forum 18 News Service notes. The sixth hearing in the trial of Ramil Latypov is due to begin in the southern Urals city of Orenburg on 22 October, and the trial of Farida Ulmaskulova, Gulnaz Valeyeva and Venera Yuldasheva in Chelyabinsk east of the Urals is due to resume on 26 November. Asked who had been the victims of Latypov's alleged "extremist" activity, a Prosecutor's Office official told Forum 18 that there had been no victims, and none were appearing at the trial. Also, the criminal trial of a Jehovah's Witness in the southern Astrakhan Region has been adjourned. However, in Chuvashia in the central part of European Russia, Jehovah's Witnesses Igor Yefimov and Aleksei Nikolaev were freed from pre-trial detention. They are among five local Jehovah's Witnesses still facing "extremism" criminal charges for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.

RUSSIA: No more mosques outside "Muslim areas"?

Just as in the Russian capital, Muslims in other parts of Russia considered ethnically Russian face persistent difficulties building mosques to meet the growing numbers of Muslim worshippers, Forum 18 News Service has found. Jamaletdin Makhmudov, a St Petersburg Muslim, told Forum 18 that the municipal authorities do not prevent Muslims from meeting in approximately six rented premises besides the two official mosques. But he says the city's long-standing refusal to allow construction of further mosques remains unchanged. A Muslim community in Sochi – the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics - has lobbied fruitlessly for a mosque for over 15 years. Rejecting one appeal, an official pointed to a mosque in a village two hours' drive away. In Maloyaroslavets, officials rejected the community's latest application, claiming all sites for places of worship are already taken.

RUSSIA: No more mosques for Moscow?

With only four official mosques in the Russian capital (one of which is being reconstructed), Moscow's Muslim community has long sought to open new places of worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Police estimated 170,000 worshippers at the end-of-Ramadan festival Eid-ul-Fitr (locally known as Uraza-bairam) in August, close to the numbers who attend Russian Orthodox churches at Easter. Yet one of just two new mosque sites approved in early September was withdrawn on 20 September after street protests. A Council of Muftis official told Forum 18 "we're just asking for the number of mosques to be raised from four to 10 at least – that would be just". Anton Ignatenko, Vice-chair of Moscow's Department for Relations with Religious Organisations, apologised to Forum 18 that he was currently not authorised to comment on this issue.

RUSSIA: Raised penalties for demonstrations extended to worship

Pentecostal Pastor Aleksandr Kravchenko became the first religious leader in Russia known to have been fined at the higher level for holding a religious service since fines for violating the Demonstrations Law were raised in June. The large fine followed a police raid billed as part of "anti-extremism" measures, according to letters seen by Forum 18 News Service. The Magistrate brushed aside Kravchenko's argument that he did not need to notify the authorities of the services he has held at the same venue for two years. Also in Adygea, the FSB security service ordered prosecutors to close a Muslim prayer room, while Muslims in two other locations faced warnings that their Eid-ul-Fitr ceremonies in rented premises needed to conform to the Demonstrations Law. In Moscow, Pastor Vasily Romanyuk might be prosecuted for leading Sunday worship on the site of his bulldozed church.

RUSSIA: Shock at Moscow church demolition

Unknown workers – backed by police and druzhinniki (civil volunteers) – began tearing down Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church on the eastern edge of Moscow soon after midnight today (6 September), the Church's Pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, told Forum 18 News Service from the Russian capital. By morning almost the entire three-storey building had been destroyed. "This is the Soviet approach – to come in the middle of the night with mechanical diggers," Mikhail Odintsov, an aide to Russia's Ombudsperson for Human Rights, told Forum 18. "This is unacceptable." The church has struggled to legalise the building it put up with its own money in 1995-6. Andrei Ivanov, spokesperson for the prefect of Moscow's Eastern Administrative District, defended the destruction. "Everything was done at the decision of the court," he told Forum 18.

RUSSIA: One month in prison, another to follow

Jehovah's Witnesses Igor Yefimov and Aleksei Nikolaev, arrested in Chuvashia on 26 July, have been ordered held in continuing pre-trial detention until late September. "This is the first time in contemporary Russia that a court has ordered any of our people to be held in detention simply because they are Jehovah's Witnesses," Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Grigory Martynov told Forum 18 News Service. Prosecutors tried to have three others imprisoned as they await trial on "extremism"-related charges. "The accusation that he created an extremist group is absurd," Yefimov's wife Marina complained to Forum 18. In Chelyabinsk, three local Muslim women are due to go on trial on 6 September on "extremism"-related criminal charges. "We're not extremists – indeed, we're against extremism and against violence," one of the accused, Farida Ulmaskulova, insisted to Forum 18. "Islam bans the killing of oneself or others."

RUSSIA: More "extremist" books to be banned?

In two separate cases Russia's FSB security service in Kostroma Region, north-east of the capital Moscow, and Prosecutors in Primorskiy Territory, on the Pacific west of Sakhalin Island, have confiscated religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In Primorskiye the Jehovah's Witness who had the literature has been fined, but it is unclear whether the Muslim in Kostroma will be fined. In both cases the literature has been sent for "expert analysis" to see if it should be declared "extremist" and banned throughout Russia. The FSB claimed in relation to the "voluntary" handover of works by Muslim theologian Said Nursi in Kostroma that it had conducted "warning/prophylactic measures among individuals inclined towards carrying out crimes of extremist orientation". Asked by Forum 18 what these "crimes" were, the FSB stated that "they were not planning explosions or murders" and would not elaborate more.

RUSSIA: "A completely innocent person can be subjected to criminal prosecution"

"Extremism"-related criminal cases in Russia against Muslims who read the works of theologian Said Nursi and Jehovah's Witnesses are continuing. In the latest moves, two of four Jehovah's Witnesses facing prosecution in Chuvashia were on 30 July ordered to be detained until their trial. A further six community members are now also suspects in the criminal case. Also that day but in a separate case, prosecutors have appealed against the acquittal of another Jehovah's Witness on "extremism" charges. These moves follow the sentencing on 27 July of two Jehovah's Witnesses, Andrei and Lyutsia Raitin, to 200 hours community service each. Jehovah's Witnesses point out that "the verdict on the Raitins confirms the fact that anti-extremist laws are highly vague, which leads to the risk that a completely innocent person can be subjected to criminal prosecution".

RUSSIA: "Absurd bans"

Russia's recent ban of more than 65 Islamic works has attracted many protests. Appeals against the bans will be presented on 6 August to Orenburg Regional Court, Forum 18 News Service has been told by a court official. On 18 July it became known that one of the 65 books, Elmir Kuliyev's Russian-language book "The Path to the Koran", had been banned for the second time by a court in Omsk. This second ban was, like the Orenburg banning decision, at the initiative of the FSB security service. Islamic scholar Rinat Mukhametov has stated that the Orenburg court ban was a "crucial turning point" for Russia's Muslims. He said the "absurd bans" had to be challenged.