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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: Regional targeting of religious "sects"

New amendments in Kostroma Region ban and punish "propaganda of religious sects among minors". An official order in Arkhangelsk Region banned Jehovah's Witnesses from renting municipally-owned property. A deputy Education Minister in Bashkortostan warned educational leaders – using FSB security service information – against "destructive religions", such as Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Health Department of Kurgan Region warned health institutions that Baptist leaders intend to "use the technology of hidden influence on the psychic state of citizens to increase the number of parishioners through the involvement of specialist doctors in the area of psychology and psychiatry". Although many of these official texts – seen by Forum 18 News Service – were subsequently revoked, religious communities say they reflect the attitudes of many local officials. "Such views are not just those of one official – many think like that," the regional Baptist presbyter in Bashkortostan told Forum 18.

RUSSIA: "They broke the law and have to answer before the courts"

Fifteen named Jehovah's Witnesses and "unidentified" others in the southern Russian town of Taganrog are being investigated in two criminal cases on "extremism"-related charges carrying prison terms of up to three years, according to case documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. These are the largest criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses launched in Russia since 1991, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. "I'm not saying these people are dangerous," Investigator Vitaly Pustynnikov, who launched the two cases, told Forum 18 from Rostov-on-Don. "But they broke the law and have to answer before the courts." Taganrog's main Jehovah's Witness community was declared "extremist" through the courts in 2009 and forcibly liquidated. At least twelve community members have faced house searches since August 2011 for "banned 'jehovist' literature" and membership documents. An officer of the FSB security service in Taganrog – which contributed material for at least one of the cases - explained to Forum 18 that the FSB counters "terrorism and extremism". However, he refused to specify to which category he believes Jehovah's Witnesses belong.

RUSSIA: Psychiatric examination, lawyer gagged, car tampering

Russia's FSB security service is seeking to have a Muslim being investigated on "extremism"-related criminal charges forcibly detained in a psychiatric facility for a psychiatric evaluation, after he refused to undergo one voluntarily, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Amir Abuev, a Muslim resident of the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, has been forced to sign a statement that he will not leave the city. "They're trying to prove he is mad, but he is a perfectly sane individual," his Moscow-based lawyer Sergei Sychev told Forum 18. Abuev's car has also been tampered with – despite his being under surveillance from the authorities - and Abuev's local lawyer has been obliged to sign an order banning them from discussing the case publicly until the investigation is completed. The FSB investigator has several times refused adamantly to discuss any aspect of the case with Forum 18. The 31-year-old Abuev - a reader of the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi - denies any wrongdoing.

RUSSIA: "I've never encountered the practice of destroying religious literature before"

Judge Patimat Dadayeva in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Dagestan has ordered up to 70 copies of translations of 15 different Islamic books, by the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, to be destroyed. She refused to tell Forum 18 News Service why she ordered their destruction and refused to order other Islamic books seized from local Muslim Ziyavdin Dapayev to be returned. "This is blasphemy," Dapayev's lawyer Murtazali Barkayev told Forum 18. "I've never encountered the practice of destroying religious literature in Russia before." Four more works by Nursi were in March banned and placed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Courts in several places in Russia are also seeking to ban more Jehovah's Witness publications. Elsewhere, prosecutors in Tomsk have today (21 March) failed in their appeal against an earlier court decision rejecting their suit to have the book The Bhagavad-gita As It Is declared extremist. This text is the most important book for Hare Krishna devotees. Tomsk Regional Prosecutor's Office will decide whether to appeal against the latest decision once the Regional Court has issued its full written decision, spokesperson Svetlana Krimskaya told Forum 18.

RUSSIA: One "extremism" criminal trial ends, others continue

After two years of investigation and trial hearings, Russian prosecutors have run out of time in their attempt to convict on "extremism"-related charges four Muslim readers of the works of theologian Said Nursi from Krasnoyarsk. However, criminal cases continue against other Muslim readers of Nursi's works and Jehovah's Witnesses elsewhere in Russia, Forum 18 News Service notes. Two of the defendents, Andrei Dedkov and Yevgeny Petry, cautiously welcomed the closure of the cases, though both stressed to Forum 18 that the decision has not been issued yet in writing. Both said that although this case is now closed, a new case could be launched at any time. Petry told Forum 18 the same day that he and his friends are still under surveillance and have their phone calls monitored. Dedkov noted that many of "our books" (Russian translations of Nursi's works) are still banned. A common factor in many of the Nursi reader and Jehovah's Witness cases is surveillance and raids by the FSB security service.

RUSSIA: Kaliningrad Muslim "extremist" ?

Amir Abuev, a resident of Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, is the latest Muslim to face a criminal case on "extremism"-related charges, after an 11 February FSB security service raid on his flat where local Muslims had gathered to pray the namaz (prayers). Participants told Forum 18 News Service they were questioned all night, while Abuev – a reader of the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi - was detained for about 48 hours. Abuev's friends expressed concern that he – like other Muslims who read Nursi's works – could be imprisoned on "fabricated charges". FSB officers told the media Abuev belongs to the banned Nurdzhular movement. Like other Muslims who read Nursi's works, Abuev denied to Forum 18 that such a movement exists. The FSB security service investigator leading the case, Lieutenant Artyom Voychenko, declined to discuss the case. "I won't give you any information," he told Forum 18. The FSB security service also confiscated all Abuev's literature and DVDs with religious material in an illegal way.

RUSSIA: Prisoner of conscience freed but not exonerated

Seven months after being imprisoned in the Russian city of Orenburg, Muslim prisoner of conscience Asylzhan Kelmukhambetov was freed on 19 January at the end of his second appeal against his 18-month prison term, his lawyer Rauila Rogacheva and family members told Forum 18 News Service. A reader of the works of the late Turkish theologian Said Nursi, Kelmukhambetov had been imprisoned on "extremism"-related charges which he rejected. The Regional Court changed his punishment from imprisonment into a fine, which he is not required to pay due to changes in the Criminal Code. Rogacheva told Forum 18 that "I don't agree with the verdict as Asylzhan has not been exonerated." She said she will continue to challenge Kelmukhambetov's conviction when she gets the written verdict, which generally takes a week to issue. Elsewhere, cases continue on "extremism"-related criminal charges against other Muslims who read Nursi's works and Jehovah's Witnesses, who are also subject to raids on their meetings by officials. However, a magistrate in Udmurtia has upheld the rights of a local Jehovah's Witness community to meet for worship without notifying the authorities first.

RUSSIA: Appeal to be freed from jail due, but criminal prosecutions continue

After seven months' imprisonment in Russia, Asylzhan Kelmukhambetov is hoping that his second appeal against an 18-month jail term – due on 19 January at Orenburg Regional Court - will see him freed, his lawyer Raulya Rogacheva told Forum 18 News Service on 10 January. She said that: "Asylzhan has been in the prison hospital since his imprisonment suffering from the effects of diabetes. I saw him yesterday and he was the worst I have ever seen him." Although her client does not smoke, he is being held with others "who smoke constantly". She said that as a devout Muslim he only eats halal food, yet the warders bring whatever has been prepared, regardless of whether it meets his religious dietary requirements. The trial of four more Nursi readers on the same "extremism"-related charges resumes in a Krasnoyarsk court on 18 January. Muslim readers of Nursi's works frequently face prosecution under Criminal Code Article 282.2 ("Organisation of the activity of an extremist organisation"). Elsewhere in Russia, other criminal cases are continuing against people for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. These include Jehovah's Witnesses, who are normally prosecuted under Criminal Code Article 282.

RUSSIA: One acquittal, but the same day trial of two more begins

The criminal trial in Russia of a Jehovah's Witness married couple, Andrei and Lyutsiya Raitin, on "extremism" charges under Criminal Code Article 282 is due to resume on 23 January. Jehovah's Witnesses describe the accusations as "baseless", and have pointed out to Forum 18 News Service that the same day the Raitins' trial began - 22 December 2011 – fellow Jehovah's Witness Aleksandr Kalistratov was finally acquitted on exactly the same charges. "Unlike Kalistratov, the Raitins held no position of responsibility in their local community," Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Grigory Martynov told Forum 18. "They're just ordinary members of the community". Article 282 continues to be used against Jehovah's Witnesses, and punishments under this article were increased in December 2011. Elsewhere in Russia, other criminal cases are continuing against people for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. These include Muslim readers of the works of Said Nursi, who are normally prosecuted under Criminal Code Article 282.2.

RUSSIA: Has "madness" of banning religious publications been stopped?

On 20 December 2011, Russia's Ambassador to India Aleksandr Kadakin agreed with widespread Indian outrage at attempts by prosecutors in the Siberian city of Tomsk to declare the book the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is "extremist". "It is not normal either when religious books are sent for examination to ignorant people," Kadakin added, describing those seeking to ban the work as "madmen". Eight days later a Tomsk court finally rejected the prosecutor's suit. Yuri Pleshakov of Moscow's Hare Krishna community welcomed the ruling. "I hope the authorities will learn their lesson and that the case can now be forgotten," he told Forum 18 News Service. However, the prosecution case to ban a further Jehovah's Witness work resumes in court in Krasnodar Region on 16 January. 68 Jehovah's Witness publications and 15 works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi have already been ruled "extremist" and placed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, making it illegal to distribute or store them for distribution.

RUSSIA: "This isn't about freedom of conscience or censorship"

Russian state censorship increasingly extended nationwide in November to cover Jehovah's Witness websites – and possibly also Hare Krishna sms announcements, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. A Prosecutor's Office official claimed to Forum 18 that blocking the websites "isn't about freedom of conscience or censorship – it's about restricting access to extremist materials." Also, four more Jehovah's Witness publications have been banned nationwide by being added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Meanwhile, attempts to ban the Russian translation of a key book for Hare Krishna devotees – the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is – have been delayed. The reason is a delay for an unknown length of time in producing an "expert analysis" before the case can resume. Elsewhere, on 22 December an appeal is due to be heard after the second trial of Jehovah's Witness Aleksandr Kalistratov on "extremism" charges. Also facing "extremism" charges is a Muslim reader of the works of theologian Said Nursi, Ilham Merazhov. He is challenging the search of his home and the launching of a criminal case against him.

UZBEKISTAN: New haj pilgrimage, same old restrictions

The Uzbek authorities have again this year imposed severe restrictions on how many pilgrims could take part in this year's haj pilgrimage, now underway in Saudi Arabia. Only 5,080 out of a potential quota of about 28,000 travelled to Mecca. About as many pilgrims travelled from Kyrgyzstan as from Uzbekistan, more than five times more populous. An official of one Sergeli District mahalla (neighbourhood), with between 3,000 and 7,000 residents, told Forum 18 News Service that "our mahalla will be able to send pilgrims only in 2012. Several people are on the waiting list but maybe only one will go." As before, an "unwritten instruction" banned would-be pilgrims under the age of 45, officials of a local mahalla committee in Tashkent told Forum 18. Pilgrims faced official screening, while secret police officers reportedly accompany the pilgrims. An Imam outside Tashkent, who did not wish to be named for fear of state reprisals, complained that "unofficial payments" more than doubled the cost of the haj. "The number of applicants would be much, much higher if the cost was not so high," he lamented to Forum 18.