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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
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RUSSIA: "Extremist organisations" suspended sentences and fines - list

Courts have handed suspended sentences of between two and seven years on "extremism"-related charges to 70 Jehovah's Witnesses as a result of the 2017 Supreme Court ban on their activity. A Muslim who reads Said Nursi's works has completed a two-year suspended sentence. Courts have fined 11 Jehovah's Witnesses and two Muslims on the same "extremism"-related charges. While 29 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1 Muslim have been given jail terms, suspended sentences are now the most common form of punishment.

RUSSIA: More "extremist organisation" trial outcomes: suspended sentences, fines

While 28 Jehovah's Witnesses have been jailed since the Supreme Court's 2017 ban, 69 have received suspended sentences. This includes the oldest person convicted of "extremism" for exercising freedom of religion and belief: 80-year-old Boris Burylov, with a suspended sentence of two years and six months. Igor Turik, sentenced with him, received the longest suspended sentence: seven years. "A suspended sentence means that you need to live under stress for many years, and the sentence can be changed to a real one," a Jehovah's Witness lawyer noted.

RUSSIA: More jailed after "extremist organisation" trials - list

As of 9 June, 20 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1 Muslim convicted on extremism-related criminal charges are in jail or in detention awaiting appeals. Another Jehovah's Witness is under house arrest and will be jailed if her appeal fails. Another Muslim who met with others to study Nursi's works is in detention awaiting deportation after serving his jail term. Twice as many prisoners of conscience are serving sentences or are in detention awaiting appeals for exercising freedom of religion or belief as in November 2020.

RUSSIA: Oldest Jehovah's Witness – and first woman - jailed

In July 2020, Valentina Baranovskaya suffered a stroke. In February 2021, Abakan City Court jailed the 70-year-old for two years to punish her for meeting fellow Jehovah's Witnesses for worship, a verdict her lawyer described as "devoid of all sympathy and compassion". Her son was jailed for six years. Baranovskaya is the oldest - and first female - Jehovah's Witness to be jailed since Russia banned all their activity. Two in their sixties - Yury Savelyov and Aleksandr Ivshin – are serving long jail terms.

RUSSIA: Widened ban on "extremists" exercising religious freedom

Religion Law amendments – which come into force in October – ban those the state considers to be "extremists" from participating in religious groups. They also ban commercial entities (such as bookshops) from including a religious affiliation in their name unless they were founded by a centralised religious organisation (or, for NGOs, get their approval). Olga Sibiryova of the Moscow-based SOVA Center warns that "the wording of the amendments is very imprecise and leaves room for interpretation" by police and prosecutors.

RUSSIA: How will extra training of foreign-trained clergy be implemented?

From October, when new Religion Law amendments come into force, all clergy, religious teachers and missionaries working for registered religious organisations who have trained abroad will need to undertake a course in "state-confessional relations in the Russian Federation". They will then need to be re-certified by a centralised religious organisation before being permitted to begin work for the first time. How the amendments will be applied in practice "is a big question", commented Stanislav Kulov of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice.

RUSSIA: Flagship Protestant colleges stripped of right to offer higher education

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria's Theological Institute lost its higher education licence on 6 April, the third flagship Protestant educational institution to lose the right to conduct formal religious education. Another Lutheran seminary is fighting against the stripping of its licence through the courts. "The issue has been serious and has caused a lot of extra work and expense," a staff member of one of the institutions told Forum 18. State education inspectorate Rosobrnadzor has not replied to Forum 18's questions. Religion Law changes will from October make extra training of foreign-educated clergy compulsory, but if a religious community has no educational institutions in Russia it is unclear where or how such extra training is possible.

RUSSIA: Early release applications denied

Six Jehovah's Witnesses jailed on "extremism"-related charges applied for early release after serving half their jail terms, but have been unsuccessful. Prison administrations opposed the applications with what Jehovah's Witnesses describe as "fabricated evidence" of violations of prison rules. Four of the prisoners were accused of smoking in the wrong place, but Jehovah's Witnesses do not smoke. Another Jehovah's Witness jailed since 2018 and a Muslim reader of Nursi's works jailed since 2017 should both become eligible to apply in summer 2021.

RUSSIA: Appeals fail to overturn "extremism" convictions

All the more than 60 Jehovah's Witnesses brought to criminal trial on "extremism"-related charges since the 2017 nationwide ban have been convicted, with several being jailed. Appeals have not overturned any convictions. In a few cases, appeal courts increased or reduced the punishment. Muslims who met to read the works of Said Nursi similarly convicted on "extremism"-related charges have also tended to be unsuccessful at appeal. Raids, house searches, criminal cases, prosecutions and convictions continue.

RUSSIA: "The policy of expelling 'extremists and terrorists'"

After serving sentences as "extremists" for meeting to study and worship, three former prisoners of conscience face expulsion. One was deported, one may be expelled later in 2021, and one remains in detention as he is now stateless and no country has agreed to take him. "I think that the authorities – that is, de facto, the security services – perceive this measure not as an additional punishment, but as a way to get rid of the problem," says Aleksandr Verkhovsky.

RUSSIA: Raids, investigations, torture

Regional Investigative Committee branches, the FSB security service, and armed police have carried out at least 86 house searches between late October and mid-December alone across 16 regions of Russia as investigations and criminal prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses continue. Some raids involve violence. Three Muslims who met with others to study Islam with the writings of Said Nursi are known to be under criminal investigation in Tatarstan and Dagestan.

RUSSIA: "A fresh bloody wound on his forehead"

During 24 November raids by Investigative Committee officials, Police, FSB and National Guard on Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow, armed officials hit Vardan Zakaryan in the head with a rifle butt, resulting in his two-day hospitalisation. Officers assaulted a neighbour before locating and hitting another targeted Jehovah's Witness. Officials in these and earlier torture cases refused to explain or failed to respond to Forum 18 why the suspected torturers have not been arrested and prosecuted.