17 May 2021
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.
12 May 2021
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.
13 April 2021
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.
17 February 2021
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.
16 February 2021
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.
29 January 2021
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.
18 December 2020
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.
16 December 2020
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.
25 November 2020
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.
23 November 2020
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.
20 October 2020
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.
19 October 2020
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.