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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: "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", says Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis (branded a "foreign agent"). 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.