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
30 May 2023
RUSSIA: "Would Jesus Christ have gone to kill in Ukraine?"
Eduard Charov criticised Russia's invasion of Ukraine on social media, asking "Would Jesus Christ have gone to kill in Ukraine?". The FSB alerted the Prosecutor's Office. A Sverdlovsk Region court fined him for "discrediting" the Armed Forces and "inciting hatred" towards state authorities. A Moscow court fined Mariya Kunchenko for an Orthodox Easter Sunday protest, while a Kareliya court fined Yekaterina Kukharskaya for putting up stickers bearing the Sixth Commandment ("Thou shalt not kill"). Police, prosecutors' offices, and courts did not respond to Forum 18's questions.
28 April 2023
RUSSIA: Freedom of religion and belief monitoring group ordered closed
Following a media campaign, a complaint from the Veterans of Russia organisation, a Prosecutor General's Office demand, a Moscow Justice Department inspection and court suit, a Judge has ordered the liquidation of the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, Russia's leading organisation monitoring freedom of religion or belief violations. "Organisations like SOVA or Memorial conducting subversive activity in Russia must be liquidated and brought to criminal responsibility," Ildar Rezyapov, who lodged the complaint, told Forum 18. The head of the Non-Governmental Organisations Department at Moscow's Justice Department refused to comment.
26 April 2023
RUSSIA: Jailed for meetings "to understand the Koran [and] strengthen his faith"
Khunar Agayev testified to Naberezhnyye Chelny City Court that he had read Muslim theologian Said Nursi's books "to understand the Koran [and] strengthen his faith". When others were interested, he explained Nursi's works to them. The court in March jailed him and another Muslim who met others to study Nursi's works for 2 and a half years for "organising the activities of a banned extremist organisation" and ordered their religious books destroyed. The court gave a third Muslim a suspended sentence. Elsewhere, a Kazan court handed suspended sentences to three Muslims who also met to study Nursi's works.
5 April 2023
RUSSIA: First jail term for religious-based opposition to war
On 30 March, a Moscow court jailed 63-year-old Orthodox Christian Mikhail Simonov for 7 years for disseminating "false information" about the Russian armed forces on the basis of "political hatred". He had made two short social media posts condemning Russia's war against Ukraine, including: "We, Russia, have become godless. Forgive us, Lord!" The Investigative Committee and Prosecutor's Office did not respond on why they sought a long jail term for Simonov, who suffers from health problems. A Krasnodar Region court fined 86-year-old independent Orthodox Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov two months' average pension for a sermon.
20 March 2023
RUSSIA: Two criminal trials to resume in April
The criminal trial of Tomsk musician Anna Chagina on charges of again "discrediting" the Armed Forces resumes on 11 April. She was fined in 2022 for a poster reading "Blessed are the peacemakers". "Many times after [the arrest for the poster], I inwardly turned to these words of Christ and realised that peacemaking begins with what is in a person's heart," Chagina says. In St Petersburg, Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov's trial resumes on 10 April. He says he has been denied medical attention in prison, including from a cardiologist. New penalties for "false information" and "discreditation", also applying these actions to criticism of mercenaries, are due to come into force on 28 March.
16 March 2023
RUSSIA: "Thou shalt not kill" leads to fines
A Moscow court fined Rostislav Charushin for his poster quoting three of the Bible's Ten Commandments which police said "clearly expresses a negative attitude towards the use of the Armed Forces". A Petrozavodsk court is due to hear a case on 20 March against yoga teacher Yekaterina Kukharskaya for putting stickers around the city bearing the Commandment "Thou shalt not kill". Buddhist former leader Telo Tulku Rinpoche – who left Russia in 2022 - became the first religious leader to be declared a "foreign agent" by the Justice Ministry.
7 March 2023
RUSSIA: Tomsk musician's criminal trial to begin 15 March
The criminal trial of Tomsk musician Anna Chagina on charges of repeatedly "discrediting" the Armed Forces is due to begin on 15 March. She is being tried for social media posts opposing Russia's war in Ukraine, based on her Christian beliefs, having already received a fine in 2022 for her poster at an anti-war protest which read "Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)". Tomsk Region Investigative Committee refused to discuss the case. The criminal trial of St Petersburg Orthodox priest Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov is due to resume on 10 April.
10 February 2023
RUSSIA: Fled fearing prosecution for preaching that war is "terrible"
Moscow Patriarchate priest Aleksandr Dombrovsky fled Russia in January, shortly after police told him the FSB had opened a criminal case against him. He had repeatedly preached against the war in Ukraine. "Everything related to my anti-war position was recorded in a most thorough manner," he told Forum 18. The criminal trial of Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov is due to resume in St Petersburg on 13 February. Fr Gleb Krivoshein became the first known person punished for signing an Orthodox open letter against the war.
24 January 2023
RUSSIA: Two trials, nine long jail terms
Eight of nine Jehovah's Witnesses convicted on "extremism"-related charges in two trials in Russia's Far East in December 2022 received jail terms of 6 to 7 years. An Amur Region Prosecutor's Office official justified the jailings: "Any missionary activity of members of a religious organisation liquidated by a court in connection with repeated violations of the law on countering extremist activity will be illegal in nature and subject to liability established by law." The 9 were among 124 Jehovah's Witnesses criminally convicted in 2022. Trials continue.
20 December 2022
RUSSIA: Refusing to "carry out orders aimed at destruction and utter defeat of living people"
A Leningrad Region court upheld Pavel Mushumansky's request to have his mobilisation order cancelled. He had stated in his application for alternative service that based on his Christian beliefs he could not "carry out orders aimed at the destruction and utter defeat of living people". Once the decision enters legal force, he should be able to return home from his military base. Dmitry Zlakazov, a Protestant whose application for alternative civilian service was rejected, lost his lawsuit against the military authorities. His whereabouts are unclear.
19 December 2022
RUSSIA: No legal provision for alternative civilian service during mobilisation
No legal or practical provision exists for alternative civilian service (ACS) during mobilisation, despite the Constitution guaranteeing this right for every citizen. This has led to military recruitment offices refusing applications for ACS and sending conscientious objectors to military units. Moreover, a November legal amendment allows those already undertaking ACS after being called up for regular military service to be transferred to a non-combat role within the Armed Forces. The amendment effectively "abolishes ACS as a peaceful alternative to military service" during mobilisation, says lawyer Valeriya Vetoshkina.
7 November 2022
RUSSIA: Administrative fines continue for Ukraine war protests
Yekaterinburg-based artist Ivan Lyubimov has been fined three times for "discrediting" Russia's armed forces for protesting against Russia's war in Ukraine with posters with religious themes. Police have also taken him to court twice for conducting an illegal demonstration and jailed him for 30 days. A Moscow court fined 72-year-old Catholic Galina Borisova for pinning a note to the Russian flag outside St Louis' Church. Another Moscow court acquitted district deputy Konstantin Yankauskas, saying that reposting Pope Francis' words on social media had not "discredited" the army.