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
5 May 2016
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.
25 April 2016
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.
11 April 2016
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.
22 March 2016
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.
2 March 2016
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.
22 February 2016
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.
21 January 2016
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.
14 December 2015
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.
3 December 2015
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.
30 November 2015
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.
4 November 2015
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.
14 October 2015
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.
21 September 2015
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".
17 September 2015
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.
28 August 2015
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.
24 August 2015
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.
27 July 2015
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.
8 June 2015
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.
27 May 2015
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.
15 May 2015
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.
1 May 2015
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.
31 March 2015
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.
20 March 2015
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.
6 March 2015
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).
2 March 2015
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.
29 January 2015
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.
22 January 2015
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.
16 December 2014
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".
3 December 2014
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.
20 November 2014
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.
8 September 2014
RUSSIA: Further fines for religious literature
In the four months up till the end of August, Forum 18 News Service identified 18 individuals or organisations in 15 different regions of Russia facing administrative punishment for possessing religious literature which appears not to incite violence or hatred. All but two were eventually fined. Jehovah's Witness Aleksandr Yevdoshenko was fined in Krasnoyarsk after a man claimed to have been given an "extremist" booklet at a religious meeting, even though fellow Jehovah's Witnesses say no "available evidence" exists that the man who brought the complaint to police was present. The man claimed on his party website he "simply went to the police station and wrote a statement", which the police received "with enthusiasm". According to court documents seen by Forum 18, searches of Jehovah's Witnesses' homes, vehicles and workplaces tend to be prompted by complaints from members of the public. Inspections of mosques and Muslim shops are more often carried out to monitor "compliance with the law on extremist activity", according to prosecutors.
28 August 2014
RUSSIA: "We still cry when we remember the burned books"
A Tatarstan court had to reject the prosecutor's suit to have a further 18 books by or about the Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi declared "extremist" as police had already burned them. According to a police letter seen by Forum 18 News Service, police claim not to have received a court decision ordering their return to the owner, Nakiya Sharifullina, who had controversially been convicted for "extremist" activity. "We still cry when we remember the burned books," a local Muslim told Forum 18, adding that they "asked God that these people repent for their actions, since in these books were verses of the Holy Koran". Four further Nursi titles, plus more Jehovah's Witness publications, have been declared "extremist" and banned. Websites or pages that host religious materials controversially banned as "extremist" have similarly been banned and added to Russia's Register of Banned Sites.
19 August 2014
RUSSIA: Suspended prison terms and fines and criminal records for meeting for worship
Seven Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog in southern European Russia will have criminal records unless their appeals against their 30 July convictions for "extremism" are upheld. They may not change their places of work, study or residence without notifying the authorities and must also show that they have "corrected" their behaviour, Forum 18 News Service notes. Four of the seven were given suspended prison terms of at least five years, while all seven were fined (though these were waived). The defendants - all members of the community declared "extremist" in 2009 – were punished for continuing to meet for prayer and Bible study. Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 they fear that "their determination to continue religious activity means that they might be subject to more severe punishments as recidivists". Samara's Jehovah's Witness community has similarly been ruled "extremist" and dissolved. The criminal trial of two Muslims, Yelena Gerasimova and Tatyana Guzenko, in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on "extremism"-related charges is expected to begin soon.
5 August 2014
RUSSIA: European Court repeats calls for Religion Law change
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled against Russia in two freedom of religion or belief cases, Forum 18 News Service notes. Jehovah's Witnesses detained during a police raid on a meeting for worship in Moscow, and a Pentecostal centre in Chuvashia liquidated for alleged violations of educational, fire and sanitary regulations both won their cases. Liquidation and loss of legal status as a registered religious organisation should not legally lead to a complete ban on activity, but will make it difficult to continue to do more than privately meet for worship and to study texts. Despite this, people who belonged to forcibly liquidated Jehovah's Witness communities in Samara and Taganrog have found that they are not allowed to even meet together. The ECtHR also ruled that Russia must bring the Religion Law into line with both the country's international obligations and with the case-law of the Russian Supreme and Constitutional Courts. One ECtHR judge stated that "any additional delay would be unforgivable". Current changes to the Religion Law now in the Duma appear to have stalled. The proposed changes removed the 15-year registration waiting period, but human rights defenders have expressed concern about an apparent attempt to make registration of all religious groups compulsory.
19 June 2014
RUSSIA: Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims face up to six years' imprisonment
Four of the 16 Jehovah's Witnesses on criminal trial in Taganrog and both the Muslim women whose criminal trial in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk is imminent face up to six years' imprisonment each if convicted. All have been accused of organising an "extremist" religious community banned by Russian courts, Forum 18 News Service notes. The criminal cases against Yelena Gerasimova and Tatyana Guzenko, Muslims who read Said Nursi's works, reached Krasnoyarsk's Soviet District Court on 29 May, but are being transferred to a Magistrate's Court. Meanwhile, several further Muslim women in Naberezhnyye Chelny have been issued warnings for allegedly attending an "underground madrassah", a fellow Muslim in the city told Forum 18. Officials "are harassing us on the quiet", one Muslim complained to Forum 18. "We are not left alone."
5 June 2014
RUSSIA: Obstructions to building places of worship
The Regional Court in the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad has upheld a lower court ruling which deemed a nearly completed mosque illegal, despite the fact that the federal law on heritage preservation it allegedly violates did not apply to the site at the time construction began. The community's lawyer Dagir Khasavov described the court to Forum 18 News Service as being "in the worst traditions of the Soviet period of stagnation". He said the community has organised "round-the-clock protection" of the mosque in case of attempts to destroy the building now that the court decision has come into force. The same court also upheld a decision suspending the construction of a synagogue to replace one destroyed by the Nazis. Moscow's Hare Krishna community lost its court case challenging the city Property Department's unilateral termination of its lease on a plot of land on which it had planned to build a temple. The Property Department claimed to Forum 18 it was working on a new possible site.
23 May 2014
RUSSIA: Auction to end Old Believer church restitution hopes?
Despite a verbal promise from the regional governor, Old Believers in Yekaterinburg in the Urals fear that they may never get restitution of their church, seized during the Soviet period. Sverdlovsk Regional Property Fund is due to auction the historical church on 11 June. "Logic, common sense, the Governor's promise, and historical justice compel us to believe that the church building will be handed over to its rightful owners," Maksim Gusev of the Church's Urals Diocese told Forum 18 News Service. "But officials are doing everything to obscure the situation and delay the outcome." Lutherans in Vyborg in north-western Russia have been refused the restitution of their former parish house, which they hope to use as the pastor's accommodation and a Sunday school. A 21 May court decision claims this is not a "religious purpose" as required under the 2010 restitution law. Catholics in Barnaul have been promised the return of their Soviet-confiscated church "no later than 3 February 2018".
1 May 2014
RUSSIA: "They'll punish you .. whether or not you committed a crime"
State agencies continue to conduct inspections of premises and vehicles owned by Muslims and Jehovah's Witness, often targeting religious literature banned as "extremist", Forum 18 News Service notes. Prosecution often follows on charges of "mass distribution" of "extremist" material – even if only one copy of a text is found. In the 15 known prosecutions so far in 2014 all have led to convictions. In one example, the Mufti of a Mosque in Saransk was tried for possession of one copy of Turkish theologian Said Nursi's "Guidebook for Women". Mosque staff think the book was planted, and Mufti Zyaki Aizatullin stated that the first time he had seen it was during an inspection by the Prosecutor. On appeal on 5 March, the defence pointed out among other things that there were discrepancies in who the prosecution stated had found the book. But the appeal was dismissed. The Mosque spokeswoman commented to Forum 18 that "it turns out the law exists only on paper, and in practice they'll punish you regardless of whether or not you committed a crime. It's enough just to be a Muslim."
15 April 2014
RUSSIA: European Court request enough to protect Uzbek asylum seeker?
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has told the Russian government that Uzbek asylum seeker Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov "should not be expelled or otherwise involuntarily removed from Russia to Uzbekistan or another country" while his case there is considered, according to court documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. The Uzbek government has been seeking his return since 2010 to face criminal charges for participating in an unregistered Muslim community. Although he succeeded in having an extradition order overturned in 2011, his status as a temporary refugee in Russia was not extended in 2013. His challenge failed in a Moscow court in March 2014. "The European Court measures should be enough to protect Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov, as Russia usually abides by such measures," his lawyer Eleonora Davidyan told Forum 18. However, she points to cases when security service officers have abducted asylum seekers in Russia. Irina Blazheyeva of Novosibirsk Region Federal Migration Service dismisses such concerns. "This is in the realm of fantasy," she told Forum 18.
10 April 2014
RUSSIA: "Tired of the unjust treatment of the books, ourselves, and our loved ones"
Amid a crackdown on readers of the late Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi in Naberezhnyye Chelny in Tatarstan, two more were fined for involvement in an "extremist" organisation, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Nakiya Sharifullina and Laura Khapinova are now appealing against their criminal convictions. Naberezhnyye Chelny Court is also hearing a Prosecutor's Office suit to have 17 more of Nursi's books – plus a biography of him – seized during police raids banned as "extremist". The Prosecutor's Office refused to discuss the suit with Forum 18. On 21 March, the Russian government defended its 2010 ban on another Nursi publication in a case brought to the European Court of Human Rights by Krasnoyarsk Spiritual Administration of Muslims. The government response – seen by Forum 18 - insists that the ruling was "necessary". However, Jehovah's Witnesses have finally succeeded in having two of their brochures removed from the Federal List of Extremist Materials.
26 March 2014
RUSSIA: St Petersburg church liquidated, Rostov and Chelyabinsk drug and alcohol rehabilitation targeted
A St Petersburg Pentecostal church has been liquidated this month for alleged illegal educational activity. Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres in Rostov and Chelyabinsk regions of Russia are also been targeted for closure by the authorities, Forum 18 News Service has found. Harvest Church lawyer Sergei Chugunov of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice stated that the St Petersburg Prosecutor "could simply have demanded an end to the activities they deemed illegal, and taken action in the event of disobedience". But, he told Forum 18, "it was decided to resort immediately to the most extreme measure – liquidation. We pointed out this disparity in court, but the court decided otherwise." The Church continues to meet for worship and intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The three Rostov cases and single Chelyabinsk case have so far followed the same pattern – claims of illegal detention of addicts, an inspection by officials, and the removal of residents.
12 March 2014
RUSSIA: Two fines, two more sentences imminent, court-ordered book destructions
Two readers of Islamic theologian Said Nursi - Ilnur Khafizov and Fidail Salimzyanov – have appealed against fines handed down in Tatarstan in February for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. The verdict – seen by Forum 18 News Service – also orders religious books confiscated from them to be destroyed. Sentences in the criminal trial of two female Nursi readers are expected on 19 March. Although a criminal trial in Kaliningrad ended without a verdict after the two-year deadline, the court ordered Nursi reader Amir Abuev's books destroyed, a decision he described to Forum 18 as "a gross violation".
4 March 2014
RUSSIA: Still no mosque for Sochi, Protestants struggle to keep church
Acquiring and retaining places of worship in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi is difficult for some local residents, Forum 18 News Service notes. Sochi's Muslims are still without a mosque, despite repeated attempts to obtain land and permission to build since 1996. Despite repeated official promises of action, no concrete steps have yet been taken to enable a mosque to be built. In contrast, Krasnodar Region allocated more than 525 million Roubles for the construction of the vast Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Image of Christ at the Olympic Park, which was consecrated on 2 February 2014. Meanwhile, House of the Gospel Church is struggling to retain its Church building against city attempts to sell it off. In 2011 the Church asked for full ownership of the building it has used since 1993 (having had lesser ownership since 2007), as Russian law allows, but Sochi administration repeatedly failed to respond or give reasons for its lack of response. Two court hearings have failed to secure the Church's rights to the property, and it is now preparing a third appeal. The hearing date will be set on 25 March.
11 February 2014
RUSSIA: "We do not believe in the justice of our court"
The criminal trial of Ilnur Khafizov and Fidail Salimzyanov, both Muslim readers of the works of Islamic theologian Said Nursi, began again in a magistrates' court in Naberezhnyye Chelny in Russia on 29 January. Proceedings are due to re-start on 19 February, local Muslims told Forum 18 News Service. The criminal trial of two Muslim women, Nakiya Sharifullina and Laura Khapinova, began in a different magistrates' court in the town on 22 January. Their trial is due to resume on 12 February. In Krasnoyarsk, Andrei Dedkov has been accused of organising a cell of the banned "extremist" group "Nurdzhular", having been detained on 24 January when police searched the city's Cathedral Mosque after morning prayers. In the same city, Magomed Suleyman-ogly has been accused of being the leader of a "youth wing of Nurdzhular". Also, changes to "extremism"-related Articles of the Criminal Code, signed into law on 3 February, make it easier for the state to obtain legal permission for surveillance techniques such as phone tapping.
27 January 2014
RUSSIA: Two "extremism" bans overturned - but bans, fines continue
A Krasnodar court has overturned a ban on a popular Russian translation of the Koran (though the court has still not issued the written ruling), while a Tver court has overturned a ban in Russia on the main Jehovah's Witness international website. Yet bans on religious literature amid controversial "extremism" accusations continue, Forum 18 News Service notes. Four more Jehovah's Witness texts were ruled "extremist" in December 2013. And no moves have taken place to lift a less publicised "extremism" ban on 68 Islamic texts, Nirzhigit Dolubayev, a lawyer representing one of the publishers in the case, told Forum 18. Fines continue on mosques and individuals for possessing any of the 68 books – which include collections of hadiths [sayings of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed].
20 January 2014
RUSSIA: Religion, schools and the right to choose
Russian state schools offer sharply different interpretations of the religion and ethics course introduced in September 2012, Forum 18 News Service notes in a comprehensive analysis of the current situation. In one Siberian school, only the Orthodox Culture module was offered as a headteacher claimed "we live in an Orthodox country". Yet a teacher in a different school tried to convey to pupils that "we may believe in different religions but we should respect one another". This inconsistency on the ground could result in violations of freedom of religion or belief anywhere in Russia. Unlike the initial version proposed by the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), pupils may choose one module from six on Secular Ethics, Foundations of World Religious Cultures, Foundations of Orthodox, Islamic, Jewish or Buddhist Culture. Most parents and pupils do not favour instruction in the Russian Orthodoxy of the Patriarchate in state schools. (Orthodox Old Believer churches have recommended either Secular Ethics or Foundations of World Religious Cultures.) The most common module choice is Secular Ethics.
2 December 2013
RUSSIA: Alternatives to "extremism" charges to punish freedom of religion or belief
"Extremism" accusations are not at present routinely turning into "extremism" prosecutions against members of most religious communities exercising freedom of religion or belief. (Such charges continue to be used against Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslim readers of Said Nursi's works.) But other charges continue. Taganrog's Exodus Pentecostal Church has been forced to stop drug and alcohol rehabilitation work due to alleged fire and sanitation violations. In 2010 the church it is affiliated with was given a warning for "extremism". But this does not seem to feature in the current case, although Taganrog is a focus of a key "extremism" trial against Jehovah's Witnesses. Baptists continue to be prosecuted and fined for meeting without state permission. Forum 18 News Service has found state hostility to be highly localised, with some officials supportive of Protestants exercising freedom of religion or belief. In contrast, newly emerged documents from the Jewish Autonomous Region suggest co-ordination with Moscow during local officials' preparation of an "extremism" case against Jehovah's Witnesses.
25 November 2013
RUSSIA: Catholic and Protestant "extremism"?
Russia has ruled as "extremist" a sermon given in 1900 by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Unlike the 15 other Ukrainian texts (not written by Sheptytsky) simultaneously ruled "extremist" the sermon focuses on the Catholic faith. Officials have refused to reveal to Forum 18 why the sermon was ruled "extremist". The Metropolitan has recently been posthumously honoured for saving Jews from the Holocaust. Blog entries by Pentecostal Petr Tkalich also form the basis of an "extremism" investigation in Asbest. He criticised what he describes as "Soviet Orthodox". Official pursuit of religious "extremism" may continue widening beyond the Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslim readers of Said Nursi's works now routinely facing prosecution. Possession of "extremist" texts renders the possessor liable to criminal prosecution.
25 October 2013
RUSSIA: Incoherence persists in counter-"extremism" policy
As the Russian state continues its campaign to brand as "extremist" readers of Islamic theologian Said Nursi and Jehovah's Witnesses, Forum 18 News Service has found strikingly different levels of support for the campaign among officials - even in the same locality. In Siberia's Krasnoyarsk Region, criminal cases have been brought against Nursi readers and courts have ruled his books "extremist". Yet when Forum 18 suggested that Nursi texts had been banned without foundation, the region's religious affairs official replied: "Something needs to be done about this, we agree." After a local court found four Jehovah's Witness texts "extremist", two of the findings were overturned on appeal. Prosecutors dropped four further cases, even though all eight cases were "as alike as peas in a pod", a local Jehovah's Witness involved in the hearings told Forum 18.
21 October 2013
RUSSIA: Muslims "fed up" with "not being allowed to read these texts"
After two separate raids on 8 August on the homes of Muslims in Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, an "extremism" criminal case has been opened against a 48-year-old Muslim woman who state officials refuse to name. The woman is alleged to be involved in an organisation called "Nurdzhular" which Russian readers of theologian Said Nursi's works deny exists. The same day, another raid lasting 5 hours took place on the home of Yelena Gerasimova. Gerasimova, a professional lawyer, noted numerous procedural violations in the raid, including an invalid search warrant the authorities unlawfully refused to give her. She also told Forum 18 News Service that, for fear of a similar raid, she did not this year host a party to celebrate the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha on 15 October. "We're fed up with this whole thing – not being allowed to read these texts – but we don't read them", Gerasimova told Forum 18. Other trials of alleged readers of Nursi's works continue, as well as of 16 people in Taganrog allegedly involved in the local Jehovah's Witnesses community. This has been banned as allegedly "extremist".