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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: Police harassment as Supreme Court considers ban

Russia's Supreme Court is due to resume considering a total ban on Jehovah's Witness activity on 12 April. Already police in several towns have disrupted their worship. A Moscow community's rental of a hall to mark their main annual commemoration was cancelled after an FSB visit.

RUSSIA: Trial for studying religious books begins

Eleven Muslims charged or on trial for meeting to study Turkish theologian Said Nursi's works face up to six years' imprisonment if convicted. The trial of three men began in Dagestan, while another continues in Blagoveshchensk. Two Jehovah's Witnesses also remain on criminal trial.

RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witness activity largely halted

Russia has summarily suspended most Jehovah's Witness activities. UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai told Forum 18: "The Russian government is claiming that the Jehovah's Witnesses are an extremist group, but in fact it's their move to ban them outright that appears to be extreme."

RUSSIA: Justice Ministry seeks complete Jehovah's Witness ban

With no public announcement, Russia's Justice Ministry lodged a suit at the Supreme Court today (15 March) to declare the Jehovah's Witness Administrative Centre "extremist", to liquidate it, and to ban its activity. If successful, this would ban all Jehovah's Witness activity across Russia.

RUSSIA: Alleged "missionary activity" prosecutions continue

Prosecutions continue under "missionary activity" restrictions, and have led to the first known deportation of a foreigner, Indian Victor-Immanuel Mani. This separates him from his Russian wife and young child. Separately, appeals have been made against two court orders to destroy Bibles, the Bhagavad Gita, and other texts.

RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witnesses to be liquidated?

Russia appears to be moving to close the Jehovah's Witnesses' headquarters as "extremist". If this happens, all 406 registered local organisations and over 2,500 religious groups would be highly likely also to be liquidated, ending Jehovah's Witness open public communal life in Russia.

RUSSIA: Warnings and forced community liquidations increase

Russia's forced dissolution of local communities, literature bans, and "extremism" prosecutions increasingly restrict Jehovah's Witnesses' freedom of religion and belief. On 16 January, their national Administrative Centre in St Petersburg lost its latest legal challenge of a prosecutors' warning threatening it with liquidation.

RUSSIA: Long-running cases against Muslims for meetings

Eleven Russian Muslims currently face "extremism" criminal charges for meeting together and reading the works of theologian Said Nursi. Two have been detained before trial since March 2016, and one has not been allowed to pray. An atheist blogger's next hearing is on 2 February.

RUSSIA: Ten years' imprisonment for religious meetings?

Prosecutors state Yevgeny Kim faces up to 10 years' imprisonment for studying a Muslim theologian's works with friends. His criminal trial began in Blagoveshchensk on 25 January after a year in prison. Two Jehovah's Witness elders face "inciting religious hatred" criminal charges in Moscow Region.

RUSSIA: Religious freedom survey, January 2017

Russian laws restricting freedom of religion and belief have increased, as have prosecutions of people exercising this freedom. Given intensifying official hostility to independent public activities without state permission, freedom of religion and belief and interlinked human rights may in future be increasingly restricted.

RUSSIA: Inconsistency of "anti-missionary" punishments

Confusion and inconsistency mark decisions whether to prosecute individuals and religious organisations for sharing beliefs under so-called "anti-missionary" punishments, which came into force in July, and what the outcome of court hearings is. Of 33 known prosecutions, 17 ended with convictions and fines so far.

RUSSIA: Many meetings raided and evidence planted

Raids on Jehovah's Witness premises now take place more than three times per month. These raids on doctrinally pacifist religious communities often involve many heavily armed and camouflaged officials, with the "discovery" of apparently planted banned "extremist" literature. Legal dissolution of communities can follow.

RUSSIA: "Extremism" religious freedom survey, September 2016

Russia's "Extremism" Law and associated Criminal and Administrative Codes (with ever-harsher punishments) are used to arrest, imprison or fine individuals exercising freedom of religion and belief, punish communities for meeting, and ban publications on religion which do not encourage violations of others' human rights.

RUSSIA: Punishments under anti-sharing beliefs changes begin

Three individuals – two of them foreign citizens – are the first known victims of Russia's new amendments punishing sharing beliefs, which came into force on 20 July. All were fined. A Russian citizen is due in court on 29 August. An earlier prosecution ended in acquittal.

RUSSIA: Anti-sharing beliefs changes' first use

Less than four weeks after Russia's "anti-terrorism" changes restricting sharing beliefs came into force, a Judge acquitted Vadim Sibiryev on 15 August in the first known attempted prosecution. "Anti-extremism" Police had charged Hare Krishna devotee Sibiryev for offering religious books on the streets of Cherkessk.

RUSSIA: Putin signs sharing beliefs, "extremism", punishments

President Putin has signed amendments imposing harsh restrictions on sharing beliefs, including where and who may share them, and increased "extremism" punishments, introduced with alleged "anti-terrorism" changes. There are widespread Russian protests against the suddenly-introduced changes, and may be a Constitutional Court challenge.

RUSSIA: Sharing belief restrictions, increased "extremism" punishments?

President Putin may sign amendments imposing strict limits on sharing beliefs, including where and who may share them, as well as increased "extremism" punishments, introduced with alleged "anti-terrorism" changes. There are widespread Russian protests against the suddenly-introduced changes, though some fear consequences for protesting.

RUSSIA: Eleven new "extremism" criminal trials?

Eleven further Muslims face criminal prosecution for reading works of theologian Said Nursi the authorities claim are "extremist". Five are in pre-trial detention and three under travel restrictions. A twelfth has already been given a two-year suspended sentence, the first for sharing Nursi's works online.

RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witnesses face possible liquidation

If prosecutors proceed with their threat to liquidate the Jehovah's Witness headquarters near St Petersburg, thousands of local congregations across Russia could also face prohibition of their activities and individuals could be vulnerable to criminal charges for expressing their beliefs, Forum 18 notes.

RUSSIA: 2015 prosecutions for publicly sharing beliefs

Unapproved sharing of beliefs were a quarter of 2015 prosecutions for public events in Russia. Forum 18 found 119 individuals and 3 religious organisations prosecuted, a sharp rise on 2014. Initial punishments were 80 fines, 2 short-term jailings and one community service term.

RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witness Bible to be "extremist"?

Russian prosecutors are trying to ban the Jehovah's Witness New World Bible as "extremist", Forum 18 notes. However, a Pervouralsk court refused to ban two Islamic texts citing the Koran as "extremist", in the first use of a legal amendment protecting some sacred texts.

RUSSIA: In 2015, 89 known individuals and communities prosecuted for religious literature

Unemployed Jehovah's Witness A. Bokov served six days in prison for possessing Jehovah's Witness literature the Russian authorities deem "extremist". Yevgeny Menshenin served five days in prison for sharing an Islamic video on a social network. Elista's Jehovah's Witness community and an Islamic community in Komsomolsk-on-Amur were each fined 100,000 Roubles for religious literature (Jehovah's Witnesses say the literature in Elista had been planted). These were some of the 89 known individuals and communities brought to court in 2015 under Administrative Code Article 20.29 for religious literature, Forum 18 News Service notes, a rise of a third on 2014. While more than half the prosecutions resulted from Islamic materials (many of them online), more than a third (a marked increase on 2014) were Jehovah's Witness texts. The other two were from Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong.

RUSSIA: Eight facing criminal cases, five already under arrest

Komil Odilov was arrested in Novosibirsk and Yevgeny Kim in Blagoveshchensk in December 2015, Ziyavdin Dapayev and Sukhrab Kaltuyev in Makhachkala and Andrei Dedkov in Krasnoyarsk in March 2016, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The five – who can be held in pre-trial detention for up to one year - are among eight Sunni Muslims known to be facing FSB-led criminal prosecution on charges of "extremism" for studying the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi. Many Russian translations of his books have been banned as "extremist" in Russia, along with many Jehovah's Witness publications. The 16 Jehovah's Witnesses convicted of "extremist" activity in Taganrog in November 2015 have failed in their attempt to have their sentences overturned. When they get the written verdicts of the 17 March decision they will decide whether to appeal further, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

RUSSIA: Enforced liquidation of communities accelerates

Three Jehovah's Witness communities are trying to challenge lower court orders that they be liquidated as "extremist" and are awaiting Supreme Court decisions. The cases brought to six the number of their communities banned as "extremist". Court moves to liquidate a seventh were launched in May 2015. Since spring 2015 at least seven further Jehovah's Witness communities have received written "extremism" warnings from prosecutors, a frequent prelude to liquidation suits, Forum 18 News Service has found. A Jehovah's Witness community in Arkhangelsk applied to liquidate itself in October 2015, just weeks before Regional Governor Igor Orlov told the local Russian Orthodox Diocese website of "ongoing work to ensure the de-legalisation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Arkhangelsk Region". All these moves mark an intensification of state efforts to curtail Jehovah's Witness activity, Forum 18 notes. One Muslim community is known to have been similarly liquidated, with a second being issued a warning.

RUSSIA: Freedom of religion or belief "extremist" text prosecutions increase

From September to December 2015 inclusive at least 35 individuals and three religious organisations exercising freedom of religion or belief were prosecuted in Russia under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials"), Forum 18 News Service notes. Courts imposed fines in 34 of these cases, and one Jehovah's Witness was sentenced to a 10 day jail term later reduced to six days. Two individuals and one Jehovah's Witness community were acquitted. This is an increase on the September to December 2014 figure of 18 such prosecutions. Of the 38 September to December 2015 prosecutions, 19 involved Islamic texts or videos, 17 Jehovah's Witness texts, and two items produced by the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong. Court verdicts indicate that prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses under Article 20.29 increased in the last part of 2015. Their communities in Stariy Oskol and Belgorod city were liquidated in February 2016, and an appeal challenging the liquidation of the Tyumen community is due in Russia's Supreme Court on 24 March.

RUSSIA: Community service order, 31 initial fines in 46 cases for public religious events over 4 months

In the last four months of 2015, at least 45 individuals and one religious organisation are known to have been brought to court under Administrative Code Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket") for exercising their right to freedom of religion and belief in public space. Most were Jehovah's Witnesses offering religious literature on the streets, but Mormons, Hare Krishna devotees, Baptists and a Muslim were also prosecuted. These prosecutions led to 31 fines and one sentence of community service (before appeals), according to an analysis by Forum 18 News Service, continuing an increasing trend from 2015. Fines were, in some cases, nearly two-thirds the average monthly wage and nearly twice the average monthly pension. These can place a heavy burden on the poor, elderly, and unemployed. Prosecutions at least partly stem from pressure from Russia's federal government to "minimise the public activity of citizens", Hare Krishna lawyer Mikhail Frolov commented to Forum 18.

RUSSIA: Raids, charges, detentions and fines of Muslims continue

Two more Muslims who read the works of the late Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi, Komil Odilov and Yevgeny Kim, were arrested in December 2015 and are in pre-trial detention on "extremism" criminal charges, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Odilov has already served a one-year suspended sentence for alleged "extremist" activity and is currently appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. Another long-running case against three Muslim men in Krasnoyarsk ended in December 2015 in convictions and large fines for two of the defendants, and will soon go to appeal. After being convicted on almost the same "extremism" charges, after the longest such trial yet in Russia, 14 male and two female Jehovah's Witnesses have appealed against heavy fines and suspended prison terms for continuing to meet to pray and read the Bible after their Taganrog community was banned. And the criminal trial of an atheist blogger in Stavropol for "insulting religious feelings" is due to begin on 4 February.

RUSSIA: Customs block literature "with no reason, no legal right and no court ruling"

Prosecutors are seeking through the courts to have at least some of the items of Jehovah's Witness literature impounded by Russian customs at the Finnish border declared "extremist", Forum 18 News Service has learned. Leningrad-Finland Transport Prosecutor's Office refused to respond to Forum 18's questions as to why more than ten million Jehovah's Witness books and brochures - including 4,000 Bibles in Russian and Ossetian – remain impounded simply because they might or might not contain "extremist" content. None of the impounded literature has been declared "extremist" in Russia. All attempted Jehovah's Witness literature imports have been blocked since March "with no reason, no legal right and no court ruling", Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Ivan Belenko complained to Forum 18. Forum 18 is not aware of religious literature of other faiths that has been blocked from import into Russia, apart from works which have been banned as "extremist" seized from individual travellers.

RUSSIA: Criminal convictions for "extremist" prayer and Bible-reading meetings

After more than 60 hearings over 10 months, a Judge in Taganrog in southern European Russia found 14 men and two women guilty of "extremism" on 30 November for continuing to meet to pray and read the Bible after their community was banned. He handed down heavy fines (which he waived) and suspended prison terms. All 16 Jehovah's Witnesses intend to appeal against what they describe as "a dangerous precedent for religious freedom in Russia", as soon as they have the written verdict. Pensioner Aleksei Koptev, one of those on five years' probation, told Forum 18 News Service he would appeal "because I did not commit any crime". He is in poor health and has suffered a heart attack, he added. Prosecutors in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk are seeking jail sentences for at least two of the three Muslims whose criminal trial for meeting to study their faith and the works of theologian Said Nursi is expected to end soon. Contrastingly, the trial of 16 alleged members of Tabligh Jamaat in Novosibirsk ended without sentences, as it was not completed within the required two years.

RUSSIA: Some but not all sacred texts exempted from banning

A new Russian legal amendment bans some sacred texts - "the Bible, the Koran, the Tanakh and the Kanjur, their contents, and quotations from them" - from being banned as "extremist". But about 4,000 Jehovah's Witness Bibles are among millions of their publications still held up at Russian customs as they may contain "extremism", Forum 18 News Service notes. The amendments aim to protect only books of those faiths considered as so-called "traditional". Muslim scholar Ilhom Merazhov thinks that it "does not solve the problem", as "religious books – commentaries on holy books – may still be prohibited". Hare Krishna lawyer Mikhail Frolov told Forum 18 that "if these differences ['traditional' and 'non-traditional'] are used to justify division into 'us' and 'them', then this is extremism in a pure and dangerous form, which is so damaging to our multinational and multi-confessional state". Concerns also persist that the amendment leaves so-called "non-traditional" faiths open to discrimination, such as Theravada Buddhism.

RUSSIA: Two prison terms, 25 initial fines in 37 cases for public religious events over 4 months

Over four months between May and August, 37 cases were brought to punish individuals and religious communities across Russia for exercising freedom of religion or belief in public spaces under Administrative Code Article 20.2, Forum 18 News Service has found. One community was fined after members offered religious literature near a bus stop. In Magadan, two Hare Krishna devotees were sentenced to six days' imprisonment each for performing religious chants and handing out literature in the street. "Six days of administrative arrest is a nasty thing, especially for a Hindu vegetarian," Hare Krishna lawyer Mikhail Frolov told Forum 18. "A vegetarian diet is generally not provided by law while serving administrative detention, so for the first three days, neither ate." While court decisions in such cases are inconsistent, fines handed down can present "serious financial difficulties" for pensioners and the poor, Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Ivan Belenko told Forum 18.

RUSSIA: 23 known prosecutions for religious literature in four months

Among the 23 known prosecutions across Russia between May and August for religious literature which does not appear to incite violence, hatred or other crime, a mosque in Tomsk Region of Siberia was fined in July. This was the first known fine on an organisation for religious literature the government deems "extremist" since fines under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production or mass distribution of extremist materials") were increased for organisations in May, Forum 18 News Service notes. Among the 22 individuals punished, two were given short-term jail terms and the rest were fined. Russia's Justice Ministry has not yet responded to Forum 18's question of whether it is right that people should be prosecuted for distribution of texts which do not advocate violence, hatred, or the violation of human rights in other ways.

RUSSIA: Religious literature banned and blocked

Outrage among Muslims followed the August banning by a Sakhalin court of a Koranic commentary as "extremist", apparently basing the decision on statements of monotheism in Koranic verses. Three appeals have now been lodged, one of them by the Prosecutor's Office which requested the original ban. Widespread public protests have been successful following earlier religious literature banning cases in Russia, Forum 18 News Service notes. Jehovah's Witnesses in Belgorod have failed to overturn both a ban on two more of their publications and an order that they should pay for the court-ordered "expert analysis" used to prove the texts' "extremism". Muslims in Pervouralsk have failed to overturn a decision that the FSB security service will conduct an "expert analysis" of works prosecutors are seeking to have banned as "extremist", again at the expense of the religious community. And Jehovah's Witnesses have failed to overturn a ban on 4,000 of their Bibles and other literature confiscated at the border as "supposedly prohibited from being imported".

RUSSIA: Have Religion Law amendments rendered unregistered religious activity illegal?

Changes to Russia's Religion Law which came into force in July appear to require all religious communities that do not have legal status to notify the authorities of their existence and activity. This includes names and addresses of all their members and addresses where any meeting takes place. This is "bad news" and "against the Constitution for sure", Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis told Forum 18 News Service. Although no punishments yet exist for those who continue to meet for worship without notifying the authorities, unregistered religious communities and human rights defenders fear these may follow. The changes also deny newly-registered religious organisations not affiliated with centralised religious organisations the right to create religious educational organisations, conduct ceremonies in hospitals, prisons and old people's homes, or invite foreigners for the first ten years after their registration. The Human Rights Ombudsperson's Office has yet to respond to Forum 18 as to whether these provisions violate Russia's Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

RUSSIA: Another enforced liquidation, place of worship to be seized

The 100 or so members of Abinsk's Jehovah's Witness community in Krasnodar Region of southern European Russia will risk criminal prosecution if they continue to meet to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief, now that Russia's Supreme Court has upheld the community's enforced liquidation. The state will also seize their place of worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Three Jehovah's Witness communities and one mosque community have now been banned as "extremist". Jehovah's Witnesses believe prosecutors' similar liquidation suit in Cherkessk is an attempt to seize their property for commercial development. The community has faced searches it believes are illegal, seizure of religious publications and a fine, while two of its members have been fined and another was "subjected to beatings and severe psychological pressure" by police. Karachay-Cherkessiya Prosecutor's Office refused to discuss the liquidation suit with Forum 18.

RUSSIA: Religious festival raided, two-year investigation, criminal trials, one fine

Exactly two years after police raided two Muslim homes in Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk during celebrations of the end-of-Ramadan festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, criminal charges of "extremism" have been dropped against Yelena Gerasimova as the two-year statute of limitations for prosecutors and courts to complete cases has expired. The other home-owner, Tatyana Guzenko, was fined three months' average local wages, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18 News Service. Also in Krasnoyarsk, the criminal trial of three other Muslims on similar charges began in July and is due to resume on 8 September. The criminal re-trial of 16 Jehovah's Witnesses for continuing to meet after their community in Taganrog was banned through the courts is due to resume on 7 September.

RUSSIA: Banning religious texts easy, unbanning them difficult

In mid-July, Russia's Justice Ministry finally deleted from its Federal List of Extremist Materials 50 Islamic texts among 68 banned in a 20-minute hearing in Orenburg back in March 2012. The 50 texts spent at least four months on the Federal List after they should have been removed, because the appeal judge did not explicitly reverse the original "extremism" designation, lawyer Timur Zaripov told Forum 18 News Service. Yet 11 of the 50 works are already banned in different editions. Of ten other religious texts removed from the Federal List after difficult and protracted efforts, seven (Muslim and Falun Gong) were soon re-banned. Three Jehovah's Witness brochures removed from the List in 2014 and 2015 have not been re-banned. Yet over 60 Jehovah's Witness texts remain on the Federal List, and successful appeals against "extremism" designations, whether before or after they come into force, are rare. Those possessing banned religious literature are often fined.

RUSSIA: Bans demanded for "religious superiority", "religious hatred"

A judge in the Urals has ordered new analyses of two Muslim books prosecutors are trying to have banned as "extremist", Forum 18 News Service has learned. The first analyses by an FSB security service specialist claimed that a Russian-language collection of hadith (sayings of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed) and an Islamic examination of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity promote "religious superiority" of one faith over others and incite "religious hatred". Similar arguments have been used to ban Jehovah's Witness works as "extremist". The right to believe in the inherent truth and superiority of one's own faith is part of the right to freedom of religion and belief. And, as Ilhom Merazhov – an Islamic scholar defending the two works against the prosecutors' suit - argues, "cannot by itself be regarded as an act aimed at inciting hatred or enmity". Religious publications, websites, webpages and apps continue to be banned as "extremist" elsewhere in Russia.

RUSSIA: Trials of Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses continue

After two appeal hearings on 6 and 13 May, Judge Maksim Maksimov of Russia's Ulyanovsk Regional Court upheld a February ruling that Bagir Kazikhanov, Stepan Kudryashov and Aleksandr Melentyev met regularly in "conspiratorial gatherings". Kazikhanov was alleged to have come to Ulyanovsk to set up a "cell" on the orders of "Nurdzhular", an organisation Russian Muslims deny exists. He has now begun his three and a half year jail term. Also, in the criminal trial in Krasnoyarsk of Yelena Gerasimova and Tatyana Guzenko, accused of running a "Nurdzhular women's cell", Gerasimova was placed on the Interior Ministry's federal "Wanted Database" because of her frequent absences at hearings. Separate proceedings were opened against her, but she was absent because she was pregnant, a Muslim told Forum 18 News Service, and she has now been removed from the Wanted Database. And after multiple delays, the re-trial of 16 Taganrog Jehovah's Witnesses charged with "continuing the activities of an extremist organisation" continues.

RUSSIA: Increased fines for "extremist" texts, one jailing so far in 2015

Organisations in Russia - including religious communities - charged with distributing banned "extremist" texts face sharply increased fines after May changes to Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code. Confiscations of religious texts from both Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses, mostly during raids or detentions, frequently result in prosecutions of people, Forum 18 News Service notes. Convictions have led to liquidation, or threats of liquidation, against Jehovah's Witness or Muslim communities they belong to. This has most recently happened in April, after a Jehovah's Witness was convicted of distributing texts on the street. Tikhoretsk Inter-District Prosecutor's Office warned the local Jehovah's Witness congregation about the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" and stated that if it is not heeded "the question of liquidating the above organisation may be considered". In March a Perm Region resident was jailed for five days for posting a banned video on the VKontakte social network, entitled "The Wonders of the Koran". Other recent convictions have taken place after the Islamic texts concerned have been ordered to be taken off the Federal List.

RUSSIA: Jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief in public

Baptist pastor Pavel Pilipchuk was imprisoned for five days in Orel in mid-April for refusing to pay a fine for allegedly organising an open-air meeting for worship without informing the city administration beforehand, church members told Forum 18 News Service. "Christian songs and conversations with people cannot be classified as rallies, pickets, marches and demonstrations," they insist. Religious communities whose beliefs require them to share their beliefs in public, beyond the confines of a place of worship, are particularly vulnerable to prosecution in Russia. Public processions with chanting constitute "one of the main forms of expression of the right of believers to act in accordance with their beliefs and the right to disseminate them", Hare Krishna lawyer Mikhail Frolov explained to Forum 18. Nine Jehovah's Witnesses and four Muslims are known to have been fined since the beginning of 2015 for holding public religious events.

RUSSIA: 65 known "extremist" religious literature cases in 2014

A total of 65 individuals and religious communities are known to have been prosecuted in 2014 across Russia for possession of allegedly "extremist" banned religious literature which does not appear to incite violence or hatred, Forum 18 News Service notes. Of these, 56 ended up with punishments. The cases were brought under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production and distribution of extremist materials"), and all the cases related to the alleged possession of Muslim or Jehovah's Witness literature by individuals, religious communities, shopkeepers or stall holders. Courts continue in 2015 to rule Muslim and Jehovah's Witness literature "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions. In 16 of the 65 known 2014 cases, courts ordered the religious literature to be destroyed. Prosecutors may use Article 20.29 convictions to seek to have a religious community forcibly dissolved. These 65 literature-related "extremism" cases are part of a wider pattern of investigations and prosecutions of people exercising their freedom of religion or belief.

RUSSIA: More literature, website and video bans, but one partially overturned

A Russian court's 2012 ban of 65 Islamic books, one issue of the Muslim journal Novie Grani (New Boundaries), and two short articles as allegedly "extremist" has been partially overturned, Forum 18 News Service notes. However, 18 of the 68 texts in the original ruling remain banned. Appeals are being prepared against these bans. However, courts continue to rule literature "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions for their possession or "mass distribution". These include the Google Translate Russian version of a collection of sayings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, and a video commenting on the attempted seizure by bailiffs of saints' relics from the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. Also banned as "extremist" have been two Jehovah's Witness texts, with the community being forced to pay for the state's "expert analysis" which contributed to the ban. Analyses and testimony by Jehovah's Witnesses themselves were refused. Despite the term "mass distribution", prosecutors have often brought charges even if only one copy of a text is discovered. No state agency has answered Forum 18's questions on whether it is right that people should be punished for their possession and whether such prosecutions are a sensible use of police and prosecutors' time.

RUSSIA: Muslim first known victim of lengthened "extremism" prison terms

A 31-year-old Muslim from Ulyanovsk, Bagir Kazikhanov, is preparing to appeal against his sentence of three and a half years' imprisonment for "organisation of extremist activity". He is the first known person to be sentenced under the February 2014 lengthened Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 terms of imprisonment, Forum 18 News Service notes. Two fellow Muslims who received suspended prison terms are also set to appeal, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18. A fourth man is wanted by police. The four met to discuss religion, watch football and study the works of the Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi. Many Russian translations of his works have been banned. The 15th hearing in the criminal trial of two leaders of a Muslim "women's cell" in Krasnoyarsk is due on 1 April. And the eighth hearing in the re-trial of 16 members of the banned Jehovah's Witness community in Taganrog for alleged "extremism" offences was adjourned today (6 March).

RUSSIA: Prosecutions for public evangelism and public meetings for worship

Communities who exercise freedom of religion or belief in public without Russian state permission may find their members facing five-figure Rouble fines if they do not inform the local authorities in advance, Forum 18 News Service notes. It is possible that changes to the Religion Law may have a positive effect on cases currently before the courts, such as that of a Sochi Protestant leader fined for holding prayers and a Bible study in a rented café. The FSB security service was behind that case, sending officials to attend the meeting. However, a new Criminal Code Article 212.1 ("Repeated infringement of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession, or picket") may have a chilling effect on exercising freedom of religion or belief in public. The Sochi Bible study group has ceased to meet fearing prosecution under this Article, their lawyer told Forum 18. However, Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis thinks the authorities may seek to avoid prosecuting religious or belief communities under this article. "Political protesters will go first", he thought.

RUSSIA: After raids and pre-trial detention, six Muslims fined

Held in prison in pre-trial detention for months in 2013 after a Police and FSB security service raid, six Muslims in Perm in the Urals were finally convicted in December 2014 and fined, court officials told Forum 18 News Service. They were convicted of "extremism"-related offences for meeting to study the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, many of whose books have been banned in Russian translation. Fined the same month was another Nursi reader in Rostov-on-Don. Two other criminal trials – in Ulyanovsk and Krasnoyarsk – are underway. One of the Ulyanovsk defendants, Bagir Kazikhanov, spent more than 6 months in pre-trial detention in 2014. The other two spent about three months in pre-trial detention. The re-trial of 16 members of Taganrog's Jehovah's Witness community – already banned as "extremist" - is due to begin on 5 February.

RUSSIA: Punishments continue for religious literature

In October 2014, Ramazan mosque in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg was fined 50,000 Roubles – equivalent to nine months' official minimum wage – for possessing religious literature which does not appear to incite violence or hatred. The mosque's imam Albert Bayazitov was formally warned about the inadmissibility of "extremist" activity. A court rejected the appeal against the fine in December 2014. This was among 18 administrative cases in 14 different regions of Russia in the last four months of 2014 identified by Forum 18 News Service in which individuals or organisations were punished for possessing religious literature the authorities deem "extremist". Forum 18 asked Russia's Justice Ministry in writing in September 2014 whether it is right that people should be punished for possessing religious texts which do not incite hatred. More than four months on, it has received no response.

RUSSIA: Kaliningrad and Moscow struggles for places of worship

In Russia's capital Moscow Hare Krishna devotees are appealing against a unilaterally terminated land lease and the denial of building permission for a temple by the authorities. "We will pursue both cases through every level of the courts, to be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights", the community's lawyer told Forum 18 News Service. Long-standing official obstructions also continue in Moscow for other disfavoured faiths in the capital, such as Muslims and Protestants. Muslims in Kaliningrad have already appealed to the ECtHR in their efforts to overcome official obstructions and complete their mosque. "In Russia no hope remains of correcting this illegal judicial act", their lawyer told Forum 18 News Service. Kaliningrad's Jewish community, trying to reconstruct their synagogue destroyed in 1938 by the Nazis, is challenging the city administration's denial of a building permit in the Regional Arbitration Court. Local Jewish newspaper editor Sergey Sterlin told Forum 18 that the project is "historical justice..with respect to the victims of the Holocaust and the anti-fascist movement".

RUSSIA: Bans on more literature, website and video

Russian courts have banned more Muslim literature and a video on the ownership of Orthodox saints' relics as "extremist", Forum 18 News Service notes. They have also banned a US-based Russian language website with the text of a hadith collection held by Sunni Muslims to be the most important Islamic book after the Koran. Ravil Tugushev, a lawyer challenging the website ban, noted that "many native Muslims of the Russian Federation do not know Arabic and read Russian translations of the holy texts, including those on the internet". Also, Sakhalin prosecutors are trying to ban a book containing verses from the Koran. Mufti of Asiatic Russia Nafigulla Ashirov described the case as "complete insanity" for being based on verses of the Koran. Commenting on the banning by Artyomovo Municipal Court of 13 Islamic texts as "extremist", Mufti of Saratov Mukaddas Bibarsov stated that if the hadith collection is banned "you should ban books of all religions, without exception, because each of us believes his religion exceptional and the truth". Officials have refused to discuss any of the cases with Forum 18.

RUSSIA: "Extremism" charges for possessing Muslim books, Jehovah's Witness community ban confirmed

The criminal trial of six Russian Muslims accused of "extremism" for alleged involvement in "Nurdzhular", an organisation which Muslims deny exists, began in Perm on 16 October, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Two women facing the same charges in Krasnoyarsk will go on trial on 27 November, and another man in Rostov-on-Don is likely to be tried soon after. Four more people are soon to be brought to court on similar charges. Another Muslim from Perm, who reads the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, was given a suspended prison sentence in June. Also, the Jehovah's Witness community in Samara – forcibly liquidated on charges of "extremism" – has been unable to overturn the liquidation ruling on 12 November in the Supreme Court. In Taganrog a similar 2009 liquidation also upheld by the Supreme Court has been used to justify banning all Jehovah's Witness activity. Subsequently, seven Jehovah's Witnesses were found guilty of "extremism" in August 2014 for continuing to meet together for prayer and Bible study.