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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

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CRIMEA: Two "extremism" criminal trials, more raids, criminal investigations

Russian occupation forces have raided more Jehovah's Witness homes in occupied Crimea. Timed to coincide with the raids, investigators launched criminal cases on "extremism" charges against three Jehovah's Witnesses. One - Sergei Parfenovich – has been in pre-trial detention in Simferopol since late September. Two others, Sergei Zhigalov and Viktor Kudinov, are banned from specific activity including "visiting collective meetings of people following the Jehovah's Witness faith"."Believing in God is not punishable, but they continued the activity of a banned organisation," Investigator Maksim Ukrainsky told Forum 18.

CRIMEA: Three 6-year jail terms, with 7-year post-jail bans

On 6 October, a Sevastopol court in Russian-occupied Crimea jailed three Jehovah's Witnesses for six years each on "extremism" charges, followed by a seven-year ban on specific activities. Prosecutor Valery Yazev, who led the case in court, refused to answer Forum 18's questions. The three are appealing, and if this fails are likely to be – against international law - transferred to labour camps in Russia. There are currently 7 Crimean prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Religious leaders seized, tortured; churches, mosques closed; no news of seized Baptist couple

Following Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian and Russian-backed officials and soldiers have in newly-occupied areas seized and tortured religious leaders, searched and sealed places of worship to prevent their use for worship, confiscated equipment and literature, and demanded documents. On 21 September masked Russian soldiers seized Mariupol Baptist pastor Leonid Ponomaryov and his wife Tatyana, and the occupation authorities are still refusing to tell local Baptists what has happened to them. [UPDATE: Ponomaryovs freed 21 October.]

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Masked soldiers seize Mariupol pastor and wife

Church members and relatives have been unable to find out who is holding Council of Churches Baptist Pastor Leonid Ponomaryov and his wife Tatyana, where and why. Armed and masked men in military uniform seized them on 21 September from their home in Russian-occupied Mariupol. Neighbours "distinctly heard groans and cries" as the masked men took them away "in an unknown direction", local Baptists said. Military personnel searched and sealed Ponomaryov's Baptist Church. Russian officials had initially claimed the couple had been involved in "extremist activity".

CRIMEA: Religious freedom survey, September 2022

Freedom of religion and belief is, along with other human rights, severely restricted within the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Forum 18's survey analysis documents violations including: forced imposition of Russian laws and restrictions on exercising human rights, including freedom of religion or belief; jailing Muslim and Jehovah's Witness Crimean prisoners of conscience; forcible closure of places of worship; and fining people for leading meetings for worship without Russian state permission.

CRIMEA: Catholic priest latest fined for failing to use full name

Yalta's Catholic priest, Fr Tomasz Wytrwal, was fined one month's average wage on 5 August for his parish's failure to use its full official name on material it had produced. Under a Russian Supreme Court decision, only organisations, not individuals, can be subject to such punishments. His is one of nine cases against religious communities so far in 2022. The warning to Simferopol's Orthodox Jewish community followed an inspection by the FSB security service's Service for the Defence of the Constitutional Order and the Struggle Against Terrorism.

CRIMEA: "Punished simply for conducting communal prayers"

After two Crimean Tatars attended Friday prayers and handed recordings to Russia's FSB security service, prosecutors brought a case against Emir Medzhitov under Russia's anti-missionary law. A court in Dzhankoi fined him three weeks' average local wages. Prosecutor's Office official Natalya Tishchenko – who led the case in court – put the phone down when asked why the Prosecutor's Office had opened the case at the instigation of Russia's FSB security service and why Medzhitov had been punished for exercising freedom of religion or belief.

CRIMEA: Churches, mosque fined for failing to use full name

Of 10 religious communities prosecuted in Russian-occupied Crimea in 2021 for failing to use their full legal name on websites, social media or online videos, on places of worship, or on religious literature, 6 were fined one month's average wages, 3 received a warning and one a verbal reprimand. "Local Religious Organisation Synagogue of Messianic Jews 'Havah Nagilah' in Yevpatoriya" was fined for missing out the "in" on Facebook videos. Dmitry Pikhanov of Krasnoperekopsk Prosecutor's Office refused to discuss why he had called for Christ's Love Pentecostal Church to be fined or who suffered because it failed to give its full legal name on its social media page. "I have no comments to make by phone."

DONBAS: Luhansk: Religious freedom survey, February 2022

Freedom of religion and belief is severely restricted in the rebel Luhansk People's Republic occupying currently (February 2022) about a third of Ukraine's Luhansk Region. Forum 18's survey analysis documents violations including: rendering illegal all Protestant and non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox communities; a climate of fear about discussing human rights violations; repeated denials of permission to a Roman Catholic priest to live in the region; and increasing numbers of banned allegedly "extremist" books, including an edition of the Gospel of John published in 1820.

CRIMEA: 23 fines under Russia's "anti-missionary" laws in 2021

All 23 of the administrative prosecutions against individuals under Russia's "anti-missionary" laws in 2021 in Russian-occupied Crimea led to convictions and fines. Assistant Prosecutor Olga Kushnerova brought the case against Imam Said Akhmad Asadov, fined five days' average local wages for leading prayers in a Simferopol District mosque raided by Russian FSB security service officers and Prosecutor's Office officials. "I won't give any comments by phone," she told Forum 18. "Everything I did was within the parameters of the law and the duties assigned to me under the law." She refused to discuss why an individual should be punished for leading worship in a religious community.

DONBAS: Luhansk: Christmas saved for parishes not allowed a priest

The first Christmas services in the Roman Catholic parishes in Luhansk and Stakhanov since 2019 are due to go ahead, thanks to a Greek Catholic priest from neighbouring Donetsk prepared to make the seven-hour round trip. Parish priest Grzegorz Rapa left in March 2020 expecting to return, but the authorities of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic repeatedly refused. The only two Masses in 2021 were both celebrated by the visiting Greek Catholic priest. Asked why Catholics have not been allowed a resident priest since 2020, Sergei Panteleyev of the Religious and Inter-Ethnic Relations Sector of the Culture Ministry said: "Our department doesn't take such a decision – it is decided at a higher level."

CRIMEA: Four already jailed, 12 more to follow?

A Sevastopol court jailed 49-year-old Jehovah's Witness Igor Schmidt for six years on "extremism"-related charges to be followed by a six-year ban on specific activities although the prosecution presented no victims of any wrongdoing in court. Schmidt is the fourth Crimean Jehovah's Witness handed a long jail term. Another is on trial in Kerch and at least 11 more face criminal cases. The widow of a man shot dead by Russian forces in disputed circumstances in May has lost her appeal against the denial of release of the body for an Islamic burial.

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