f18 Logo

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: Government pressure on religious leaders to support Ukraine war

The government has pressured religious leaders to support Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine, and prosecuted and fined religious believers and leaders who publicly oppose the war. Lutheran Bishop Dietrich Brauer and Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt left Russia in March after resisting state pressure to support the war. The FSB security service warned local religious leaders, including at least three Protestant pastors individually in one region. "Such warnings don't take place now," a pastor told Forum 18 in July. "Those [March warnings] were enough for everyone."

RUSSIA: Administrative prosecutions for opposing Ukraine war

Police in Yekaterinburg detained artist Ivan Lyubimov for quoting on his anti-war poster John Donne's text "No man is an island" and UN figures for civilian casualties in Ukraine. He awaits charges. Police in Kaluga charged Aleksandr Ivanov for an anti-war statement on his online Orthodox encyclopaedia on the war's first day. For fear of prosecution, the site has been forced to remove its news section, which had reported the destruction of churches in Ukraine and reposted foreign Orthodox leaders' anti-war pronouncements.

RUSSIA: Second Orthodox priest facing criminal charges for opposing Ukraine war

Russian Orthodox priest Fr Nikandr Pinchuk faces a criminal case for opposing Russia's war against Ukraine. He opposed the war on religious grounds. He is under investigation under Criminal Code Article 280.3, which punishes a repeat offence of "discrediting" the Armed Forces. "But I have committed no crime," says Fr Nikandr. "I am a priest and have the right to denounce evil, regardless of who is involved and the political situation." He remains a suspect and has not been arrested.

RUSSIA: Orthodox priest detained for opposing war "outraged by absurdity of accusations"

Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov posted videos outlining his religious opposition to Russia's war against Ukraine. Arrested on 7 June, he is in St Petersburg's Kresty prison awaiting trial for the new criminal offence of disseminating "knowingly false information" about the military. St Petersburg Investigative Committee has not responded to Forum 18's questions. "He is aware that he may be sentenced to a long term of imprisonment – up to 10 years – but he does not intend to deviate from his convictions," says his lawyer Leonid Krikun.

RUSSIA: Renewed criminal trials of Muslim Nursi readers

Three Muslims who met with others to study the works of theologian Said Nursi are on criminal trial on "extremism" charges in Izberbash, Dagestan. Judges closed similar cases with the "active repentance" of the defendants, the court claims. "People have been persuaded or forced to sign confessions by intimidation and deception," says a fellow Muslim. Other criminal cases continue in Dagestan and Tatarstan. Criminal cases against almost 200 Jehovah's Witnesses are in court. On 1 June, a Vladivostok court handed six Jehovah's Witnesses suspended sentences.

RUSSIA: Five years after Jehovah's Witness ban, jailings continue

Five years on from the 2017 ban on Jehovah's Witnesses, prosecutors have launched criminal cases on "extremism" charges against more than 600 individuals, of whom more than 200 have so far been convicted. Nearly 60 have received prison terms ranging from one to eight years. Andrey Vlasov, who is registered disabled, was sentenced to seven years in labour camp. "The essence of the accusation boils down to the fact that after 2017 I remained a believer and profess the Jehovah's Witness religion," he told the court.

RUSSIA: Opposition to war in Ukraine - official pressure and censorship

State censorship and control of religious communities increased following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Lutheran Archbishop Dietrich Brauer, who has left Russia, said that, at the start of the war, President Putin's administration made "a clear demand" of religious leaders to speak out in favour of the invasion. Another Protestant pastor says FSB officers visited clergy to warn them not to say anything critical in sermons or on social media. Protestors against the war on the basis of their faith continue to be detained.

RUSSIA: Religious opposition to war in Ukraine - prosecutions and detentions

Despite the official support for Russia's invasion shown by many religious leaders, most notably those in the Moscow Patriarchate, small numbers of clergy and laypeople in Russia continue to protest for explicitly religious reasons against the renewed war in Ukraine. They often face detention, prosecution, and the loss of their jobs in consequence. One, Fr Ioann Burdin, told Forum 18 he is appealing against being fined "so that life is not a bed of roses for the authorities and judges".

RUSSIA: First known criminal investigation for opposing Ukraine war on explicitly religious grounds

Nina Belyayeva, a Protestant who is a Communist Party municipal deputy, has become the first known person in Russia to face criminal prosecution for opposing the war in Ukraine on explicitly religious grounds. During a meeting of Semiluk District Council in Voronezh Region she called Russia's invasion a war crime. She later wrote: "I realised that if I kept silent, I would not be able to respect myself. I wouldn't be a true Christian and human being." She fled Russia in early April.

RUSSIA: 71 known "missionary activity" prosecutions in 2021 – list

Forum 18 found 71 prosecutions in 2021 (4 of organisations and 67 of individuals) for violating Russia's July 2016 Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5, which punish "illegal missionary activity". 44 of the prosecutions resulted in initial convictions, all being punished with fines (though 7 were overturned on appeal). In 2021 there was a conviction rate of 85 per cent. Of the 15 foreigners prosecuted, 4 were fined, of whom 3 were also ordered deported.

RUSSIA: 37 known "missionary activity" prosecutions in second half of 2020 – list

Forum 18 found 37 prosecutions in the second half of 2020 (3 of organisations and 34 of individuals) for violating Russia's July 2016 Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5, which punish "illegal missionary activity". 27 of the prosecutions resulted in initial convictions, all being punished with fines (though 3 were overturned on appeal). The second half of 2020 saw a conviction rate of 84 per cent. Neither of the two convicted and fined foreigners was ordered deported.

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.