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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: "Virtually anything can be deemed to be unlawful missionary work"

In the 18 months from July 2020 to December 2021, Forum 18 found 108 prosecutions on administrative charges of unlawful "missionary activity" to punish a wide range of activities, including worship meetings for fellow believers. Prosecutions continued in 2022, with a judge fining and ordering deported a Tajik citizen for leading Muslim prayers. The legislation on missionary activity is "formulated in such a way that virtually anything can be deemed to be unlawful missionary work", comments Olga Sibiryova of SOVA Center.

RUSSIA: Patriarchate priest fined for condemning war in Ukraine

On 10 March, a court fined Fr Ioann Burdin of the Moscow Patriarchate's Kostroma Diocese one month's average local wages for online remarks and a Sunday sermon in church condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and stressing the importance of the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill". The court decision is "a ban not only on expressing one's opinion but also even on professing one's religious beliefs", Fr Ioann told Forum 18. So far, no other individual is known to have been prosecuted under the new Administrative Code Article punishing "discrediting the use of the Armed Forces" for expressing opposition to Russia's war against Ukraine related specifically to their exercise of freedom of religion or belief.

RUSSIA: Three acquitted on "extremism" charges but jailings continue

An appeal court has overturned the suspended sentences handed to three Jehovah's Witnesses. "We hope that the Kamchatka example will turn out to have an effect on other judges, and they will take the liberty of correcting the mistakes made by their colleagues," said Jehovah's Witness Yaroslav Sivulsky. The acquittals may be linked to Supreme Court amendments governing the implementation of "extremism" laws. Yet prosecutions continue. On 25 January, an Astrakhan court handed Anna Safronova the longest prison sentence yet given to a Jehovah's Witness woman – six years. The Justice Ministry did not answer as to whether Russia had become a safer country as a consequence of the prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslim Nursi readers.

RUSSIA: Suspended sentences and fines – list

Courts across Russia have jailed on "extremism"-related criminal charges many Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims who read the works of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi. Courts have punished still more with suspended sentences or fines. Nearly 100 Jehovah's Witnesses are now on probation after receiving suspended sentences, as well as one Muslim Nursi reader. Jehovah's Witnesses serving suspended sentences have described the consequences, including being unable to see relatives living in other regions, and finding it impossible to secure jobs. A total of 20 Jehovah's Witnesses have been fined. Jehovah's Witness Yevgeny Yakku was fined more than a year's average wage in his home region of Arkhangelsk.

RUSSIA: "Foreign agents", "undesirable organisations", and freedom of religion or belief

Russia has used increasingly strict legislation on "foreign agents" (a term which has connotations of spying) and "undesirable organisations" to curtail, complicate, or prohibit the activities of organisations which promote human rights and monitor their violation, including that of freedom of religion and belief. This "indirectly affects the people human rights defenders stand up for", Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (branded a "foreign agent") told Forum 18. The Justice Ministry and prosecutors are seeking through the courts to close down the Memorial Human Rights Centre (also branded a "foreign agent"), partly for its monitoring of criminal prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses.

RUSSIA: Jailed, awaiting appeal, deported, post-prison restrictions - list

Of 54 people given jail sentences on "extremism" charges for exercising freedom of religion or belief, 20 are serving their sentences in prison, 12 awaiting appeal, 2 were deported after completing their jail term and 16 have been released from prison but remain under restrictions or supervision. Two who have completed their jail terms have left Russia and are therefore no longer subject to the post-prison restrictions. Two left Russia before conviction. Post-prison restrictions on 46-year-old prisoner of conscience Aleksey Berchuk are due to end on 27 November 2038, when he would be 63.

RUSSIA: "I would like to believe" acquittal "is first of many"

For the first time since the Supreme Court ban on Jehovah's Witnesses as "extremist" in 2017, a Vladivostok court yesterday (22 November) issued an acquittal. Dmitry Barmakin walked free after the Judge cited 28 October Supreme Court amendments which direct judges to ascertain a defendant's "specific actions", their motivation, and "the significance [of these actions] for the continuation or resumption of [a banned organisation]'s activities", rather than rely on generalised claims. The prosecutor could appeal against the acquittal. A 63-year-old teacher Nakiya Sharifullina risks being jailed if Tatarstan's Supreme Court on 17 December upholds the prosecutor's appeal against her suspended sentence for allegedly organising a "madrassah".

RUSSIA: "Prior conspiracy" leads to eight-year jail terms

Courts have jailed four Jehovah's Witnesses for eight years each so far in 2021 for exercising freedom of religion or belief, one in Blagoveshchensk and three in Astrakhan, equalling the term a Dagestan court handed to Muslim Ilgar Aliyev in 2018. Courts gave other Jehovah's Witnesses shorter jail terms. In Astrakhan, the judge cited as an aggravating circumstance "the commission of a crime as part of a group of persons, by prior conspiracy". Astrakhan Region Prosecutor's Office did not reply as to why prosecutors requested such long jail sentences, and why meeting for prayer and Bible reading should be treated as a criminal offence.

RUSSIA: "Unjustified, unmotivated cruelty against peaceful, unresisting believers"

Jehovah's Witnesses continue to be tortured, and Russia is not following its UN Convention against Torture obligations to punish the perpetrators. After one victim complained, they were amazed "that it was the very same investigator [assigned to the complaint] as is conducting the criminal case [against the other Jehovah's Witnesses]." Officials have repeatedly responded to Forum 18's enquiries by either not answering its questions, or asserting that no torture took place or that a case has not been opened against the suspect torturers.

RUSSIA: Rosfinmonitoring List violates presumption of innocence

Prosecutors and investigators have had hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims who meet with others to read Said Nursi's works added to Rosfinmonitoring's "List of Terrorists and Extremists", many even before they have been charged with any crime. This blocks their bank accounts, and causes problems in finding formal employment, obtaining insurance, buying and selling property, and a range of other financial activities. Those convicted remain on the list until their active criminal records (sudimost) expire, often eight years or more after their release. Those on the list – and those who have been removed – face reputational damage as they are publicly identifiable as being "terrorists or extremists".

RUSSIA: Suspended sentence, though she did "nothing apart from study Koran"

After a trial lasting more than six months, Naberezhnyye Chelny City Court in Tatarstan handed 63-year-old Nakiya Sharifullina a two-year suspended sentence on 31 August on "extremism" charges to punish her for meeting with others to study the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi. The case followed police raids on the homes of 20 women in March 2020. Sharifullina, who has "a number of serious illnesses", denied any guilt and insisted she had done "nothing apart from study the Koran", her lawyer Ruslan Nagiyev noted. He has lodged an appeal. Seven Jehovah's Witnesses have been given prison terms on extremism-related charges since late June.

RUSSIA: Post-sentence: Curfews, regular registration, movement restrictions, job bans

Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims jailed on "extremism"-related charges for exercising freedom of religion or belief face years of restrictions once the sentence ends. With sudimost (the state of being a convicted person with an active criminal record), they risk harsher punishment if prosecuted again. Courts can impose post-sentence restrictions on freedom and administrative supervision, entailing curfews, movement restrictions, and regular registration with police or probation authorities. Individuals are barred from certain jobs. Many have bank accounts blocked for years. Jehovah's Witnesses have also been banned from leading or participating in religious organisations. Those fined or given suspended sentences face shorter restrictions.

RUSSIA: "Extremist organisations" suspended sentences and fines - list

Courts have handed suspended sentences of between two and seven years on "extremism"-related charges to 70 Jehovah's Witnesses as a result of the 2017 Supreme Court ban on their activity. A Muslim who reads Said Nursi's works has completed a two-year suspended sentence. Courts have fined 11 Jehovah's Witnesses and two Muslims on the same "extremism"-related charges. While 29 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1 Muslim have been given jail terms, suspended sentences are now the most common form of punishment.

RUSSIA: More "extremist organisation" trial outcomes: suspended sentences, fines

While 28 Jehovah's Witnesses have been jailed since the Supreme Court's 2017 ban, 69 have received suspended sentences. This includes the oldest person convicted of "extremism" for exercising freedom of religion and belief: 80-year-old Boris Burylov, with a suspended sentence of two years and six months. Igor Turik, sentenced with him, received the longest suspended sentence: seven years. "A suspended sentence means that you need to live under stress for many years, and the sentence can be changed to a real one," a Jehovah's Witness lawyer noted.

RUSSIA: More jailed after "extremist organisation" trials - list

As of 9 June, 20 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1 Muslim convicted on extremism-related criminal charges are in jail or in detention awaiting appeals. Another Jehovah's Witness is under house arrest and will be jailed if her appeal fails. Another Muslim who met with others to study Nursi's works is in detention awaiting deportation after serving his jail term. Twice as many prisoners of conscience are serving sentences or are in detention awaiting appeals for exercising freedom of religion or belief as in November 2020.

RUSSIA: Oldest Jehovah's Witness – and first woman - jailed

In July 2020, Valentina Baranovskaya suffered a stroke. In February 2021, Abakan City Court jailed the 70-year-old for two years to punish her for meeting fellow Jehovah's Witnesses for worship, a verdict her lawyer described as "devoid of all sympathy and compassion". Her son was jailed for six years. Baranovskaya is the oldest - and first female - Jehovah's Witness to be jailed since Russia banned all their activity. Two in their sixties - Yury Savelyov and Aleksandr Ivshin – are serving long jail terms.

RUSSIA: Widened ban on "extremists" exercising religious freedom

Religion Law amendments – which come into force in October – ban those the state considers to be "extremists" from participating in religious groups. They also ban commercial entities (such as bookshops) from including a religious affiliation in their name unless they were founded by a centralised religious organisation (or, for NGOs, get their approval). Olga Sibiryova of the Moscow-based SOVA Center warns that "the wording of the amendments is very imprecise and leaves room for interpretation" by police and prosecutors.

RUSSIA: How will extra training of foreign-trained clergy be implemented?

From October, when new Religion Law amendments come into force, all clergy, religious teachers and missionaries working for registered religious organisations who have trained abroad will need to undertake a course in "state-confessional relations in the Russian Federation". They will then need to be re-certified by a centralised religious organisation before being permitted to begin work for the first time. How the amendments will be applied in practice "is a big question", commented Stanislav Kulov of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice.

RUSSIA: Flagship Protestant colleges stripped of right to offer higher education

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria's Theological Institute lost its higher education licence on 6 April, the third flagship Protestant educational institution to lose the right to conduct formal religious education. Another Lutheran seminary is fighting against the stripping of its licence through the courts. "The issue has been serious and has caused a lot of extra work and expense," a staff member of one of the institutions told Forum 18. State education inspectorate Rosobrnadzor has not replied to Forum 18's questions. Religion Law changes will from October make extra training of foreign-educated clergy compulsory, but if a religious community has no educational institutions in Russia it is unclear where or how such extra training is possible.

RUSSIA: Early release applications denied

Six Jehovah's Witnesses jailed on "extremism"-related charges applied for early release after serving half their jail terms, but have been unsuccessful. Prison administrations opposed the applications with what Jehovah's Witnesses describe as "fabricated evidence" of violations of prison rules. Four of the prisoners were accused of smoking in the wrong place, but Jehovah's Witnesses do not smoke. Another Jehovah's Witness jailed since 2018 and a Muslim reader of Nursi's works jailed since 2017 should both become eligible to apply in summer 2021.

RUSSIA: Appeals fail to overturn "extremism" convictions

All the more than 60 Jehovah's Witnesses brought to criminal trial on "extremism"-related charges since the 2017 nationwide ban have been convicted, with several being jailed. Appeals have not overturned any convictions. In a few cases, appeal courts increased or reduced the punishment. Muslims who met to read the works of Said Nursi similarly convicted on "extremism"-related charges have also tended to be unsuccessful at appeal. Raids, house searches, criminal cases, prosecutions and convictions continue.

RUSSIA: "The policy of expelling 'extremists and terrorists'"

After serving sentences as "extremists" for meeting to study and worship, three former prisoners of conscience face expulsion. One was deported, one may be expelled later in 2021, and one remains in detention as he is now stateless and no country has agreed to take him. "I think that the authorities – that is, de facto, the security services – perceive this measure not as an additional punishment, but as a way to get rid of the problem," says Aleksandr Verkhovsky.

RUSSIA: Raids, investigations, torture

Regional Investigative Committee branches, the FSB security service, and armed police have carried out at least 86 house searches between late October and mid-December alone across 16 regions of Russia as investigations and criminal prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses continue. Some raids involve violence. Three Muslims who met with others to study Islam with the writings of Said Nursi are known to be under criminal investigation in Tatarstan and Dagestan.

RUSSIA: "A fresh bloody wound on his forehead"

During 24 November raids by Investigative Committee officials, Police, FSB and National Guard on Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow, armed officials hit Vardan Zakaryan in the head with a rifle butt, resulting in his two-day hospitalisation. Officers assaulted a neighbour before locating and hitting another targeted Jehovah's Witness. Officials in these and earlier torture cases refused to explain or failed to respond to Forum 18 why the suspected torturers have not been arrested and prosecuted.

RUSSIA: "Extremist organisation" trial outcomes: fines and suspended sentences

Of 21 Jehovah's Witnesses convicted of "extremism" charges since late July 2020, six were given jail terms and 13 suspended sentences. Receiving a suspended sentence means a convicted person must live under restrictions specified by the judge, regularly register with probation authorities, and avoid conviction for any other offence during the probationary period or risk being sent to prison. "A suspended sentence means that you need to live under stress for many years," Jehovah's Witnesses note.

RUSSIA: "Extremist organisation" trial outcomes: jail sentences

Eight Jehovah's Witnesses and one Muslim Nursi reader are serving labour camp terms as "extremists". Six more Jehovah's Witnesses received jail terms since July. Sergey Britvin, one of two awaiting appeals, is allowed a "disabled cell" where he can lie down, his wife Natalya told Forum 18. It is so cold he must wear two jumpers and trousers. She takes him fresh colostomy bags and medications "all the time". A further 14 received suspended sentences.

RUSSIA: January 2019 - June 2020 prosecutions for not showing full official name - list

98 prosecutions for not showing a full official name reached court between the beginning of January 2019 and the end of June 2020. These involved 76 registered religious organisations and 22 individuals. Most resulted in guilty verdicts and fines, and the largest increase in the number of prosecutions by religious community was of Muslims.

RUSSIA: 2019-20 prosecutions increase for not showing full official name

Religious organisations continue to be prosecuted for not showing their full official names on literature, online, and most frequently on buildings. The conviction rate is 72.5 per cent. A Constitutional Court appeal may clarify the law on how and where names should be displayed. Charges are also sometimes brought against individuals, despite the Supreme Court in 2017 clarifying that this should not happen.

RUSSIA: 42 known "missionary activity" prosecutions in first half of 2020 – list

Forum 18 has found 42 prosecutions in the first half of 2020 (2 of organisations and 40 of individuals) for violating Russia's July 2016 Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5, which punish "illegal missionary activity". 36 of the prosecutions resulted in initial convictions, all being punished with fines (though a few were overturned on appeal). The first half of 2020 saw a conviction rate of 92 per cent. Two foreigners were ordered deported.

RUSSIA: 100 known "missionary activity" prosecutions in 2019 – list

Forum 18 has found 100 prosecutions in all of 2019 (15 of organisations and 85 of individuals) for violating Russia's July 2016 Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5, which punish "illegal missionary activity". 76 of the 2019 prosecutions resulted in initial convictions, almost all being punished with fines. 2019 saw a conviction rate of 89 per cent. Eight foreigners were ordered deported.

RUSSIA: 142 known "anti-missionary" prosecutions in 2019-20

At least 17 organisations and 125 individuals faced prosecution in 2019 and the first half of 2020 for "missionary activity" under Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5. Over 90 per cent of cases ended with convictions. Nineteen of the 125 individuals were foreigners, 10 of whom were ordered deported. One such – Tajik citizen Fayzali Kholmurodov – is still in a detention centre in Tula Region six months after his conviction.

RUSSIA: 15 months in deportation centre so far

18 months after officials secretly stripped Yevgeny Kim of Russian citizenship (his only citizenship) and 15 months after he completed his jail term for exercising freedom of religion or belief, the now-stateless 45-year-old Muslim remains in the foreigners' detention centre in Khabarovsk. Uzbekistan – where he was born – refuses to accept him. In June, he asked for identity documents enabling him to leave Russia voluntarily for Turkey.

RUSSIA: "Russia has deceived Interpol"

Russia is using Interpol Red Notices to try to get back at least three citizens now based abroad to prosecute them on extremism charges for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Two are Muslims who met to study their faith using the writings of Said Nursi. These Red Notices violate Interpol's rules, which ban their use in ways that violate individuals' human rights.

RUSSIA: Three prisoners of conscience stripped of citizenship

Authorities have stripped Russian citizenship from three men jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief: Muslim Yevgeny Kim in January 2019, and Jehovah's Witnesses Feliks Makhammadiyev and Konstantin Bazhenov in April 2020. Kim and Makhammadiyev are now stateless. Russia has been trying to deport Kim since 2019, and might try to deport Makhammadiyev and Bazhenov when they complete their jail terms.

RUSSIA: Currently jailed, serving suspended sentences, fined - list

Eleven people are serving prison terms and eight suspended sentences under the Extremism Law for exercising their freedom of religion and belief. A further seven have been fined. One man was sentenced to assigned work, but this was changed to a fine on appeal. Of these, 25 are Jehovah's Witnesses, and two are Muslims who met with others to study the works of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi.

RUSSIA: 6.5 years' jail for building "world theocratic state" with 700 roubles

A Pskov court handed a six and a half year jail term to 61-year-old Jehovah's Witness Gennady Shpakovsky. This is the second-longest jail term yet on "extremism"-related charges for meeting with others to pray and study beliefs. Muslim Ilgar Aliyev received an eight-year prison term in 2018. Prosecutors claimed two jars of small donations Shpakovsky had were to finance building a "world theocratic state".

RUSSIA: UN Working Group condemns detentions. Trial list

Full list of 93 people currently on trial for exercising the right to freedom of religion and belief as Jehovah's Witnesses. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has adopted a wide-ranging Opinion condemning the "ever-growing number of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia who have been arrested, detained and charged with criminal activity on the basis of mere exercise of freedom of religion".

RUSSIA: 43 trials with 93 defendants

For 93 people on trial in 43 cases for "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation" since the Supreme Court ban on Jehovah's Witnesses, court proceedings can be lengthy. As well as the strong possibility of conviction, bringing with it a criminal record and a heavy fine or prison sentence, prosecution and trial can have wider consequences, including blocking of bank accounts, dismissal from work and seizure of property.

RUSSIA: On trial despite age, sickness

Of the 93 people on trial in 43 cases for "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation" for exercising freedom of religion or belief since the Supreme Court ban on Jehovah's Witnesses, 85-year-old Yelena Zayshchuk is the oldest. Five fellow defendants in her case are in their sixties or seventies. All face up to six years' imprisonment if convicted. Two defendants in their sixties died in April before trials began.

RUSSIA: Mass raids, new arrests on "extremism" charges

Police raided 20 Muslim women's homes in Naberezhnyye Chelny in Tatarstan. One woman suffered a heart attack and was placed in intensive care. A court ordered two months' house arrest for 62-year-old Nakiya Sharifullina as she is investigated on criminal "extremism" charges for meeting to study theologian Said Nursi's works. A Dagestan court ordered two months' pre-trial detention for Ibragim Murtazaliyev as he is investigated on similar charges.

RUSSIA: 32nd Jehovah's Witness criminal conviction

On 1 April, Igor Ivashin became the 32nd Jehovah's Witness convicted of "continuing the activity of an extremist organisation" since the 2017 Supreme Court ban. A Siberian court handed him a six-year suspended sentence, requiring him to live under restrictions. Jehovah's Witness Vladimir Alushkin was freed from pre-trial detention after nearly ten months after a court overturned his six-year jail term. He and five others face a new trial.

RUSSIA: Impunity for officials who torture?

No officials accused in three cases of torture of individuals detained for exercising freedom of religion or belief appear to have been arrested or put on criminal trial. Prison officials in Blagoveshchensk between 2015 and 2017 oversaw the torture of Yevgeny Kim, which included broken ribs and attempted rape. Seven Jehovah's Witnesses were hooded, kicked, beaten and tortured with electric shocks at the Investigative Committee in Surgut in February 2019.

RUSSIA: More Jehovah's Witnesses tortured this month

Jehovah's Witnesses state that this month (February 2020), prison guards tortured five of their prisoners of conscience in the Urals city of Orenburg, and National Guard officers tortured two adherents in the Siberian city of Chita. The torture included beatings, choking and electric shocks. No officials have yet been arrested for the tortures.

RUSSIA: Pentecostal churches facing possible closure, destruction

Kaluga's Word of Life Church and Oryol's Resurrection Church of God are battling, in court, official attempts to destroy their places of worship. "The City Administration received an order from the FSB to shut us down by any means," Oryol Pastor Pavel Abashin insists. Bailiffs closed the building of Nizhny Novgorod's Jesus Embassy Church. A court rejected a suit to demolish Samara's Good News Church.

RUSSIA: Will church's alleged fire safety violations be resolved?

Bailiffs have closed the building of Jesus Embassy Church in Nizhny Novgorod due to alleged "fire safety" violations, but the changing number of violations claimed, and the apparent hostility of the FSB security service, raise doubts that the church building will be reopened soon. "Of course the FSB isn't interested in fire safety," Alexander Verkhovsky of SOVA Center commented.

RUSSIA: Three more Jehovah's Witness "extremism" convictions

As criminal trials of people exercising freedom of religion continue, three more Jehovah's Witnesses have been convicted of "extremist activity". Grigory Bubnov was given a six-year suspended jail sentence while Roman Markin and Viktor Trofimov were each fined about a year's average local wages. The Judge ordered two of Bubnov's Bibles to be destroyed. The court has not explained why.

RUSSIA: Can homes now be freely used for worship meetings?

A Constitutional Court ruling may reduce fines for using private homes for meetings for worship. This largely relies on officials, one Christian lawyer stating that when he and his colleagues attempt to resolve cases "some [inspectors] work with common sense, others do not".

RUSSIA: 32 people on trial after nationwide ban

32 Jehovah's Witnesses are now on criminal trial due to 2017 nationwide ban, with one more Jehovah's Witness on trial for alleged "public calls for extremist activity". "Extremism" trials of two Muslim readers of Said Nursi's works and two more Jehovah's Witnesses have been delayed.

RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witness criminal cases - list

Full list of 245 Jehovah's Witnesses across Russia facing criminal prosecution on extremism-related charges for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Of these, 33 are in pre-trial detention. Trials of 25 are already underway. Eight more have already been convicted. Raids, arrests and interrogations continue.

RUSSIA: Jailings "equate peaceful believers with dangerous criminals"

The jailing of six Jehovah's Witnesses in Saratov for up to three and a half years "equates peaceful believers with dangerous criminals", Jehovah's Witnesses complain. The Prosecutor's Office did not respond as to why it considered these men dangerous and should be jailed. A Khabarovsk court sentenced another man to assigned work for discussing Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.