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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: Renewed criminal trials of Muslim Nursi readers

Three Muslims who met with others to study the works of theologian Said Nursi are on criminal trial on "extremism" charges in Izberbash, Dagestan. Judges closed similar cases with the "active repentance" of the defendants, the court claims. "People have been persuaded or forced to sign confessions by intimidation and deception," says a fellow Muslim. Other criminal cases continue in Dagestan and Tatarstan. Criminal cases against almost 200 Jehovah's Witnesses are in court. On 1 June, a Vladivostok court handed six Jehovah's Witnesses suspended sentences.

RUSSIA: Five years after Jehovah's Witness ban, jailings continue

Five years on from the 2017 ban on Jehovah's Witnesses, prosecutors have launched criminal cases on "extremism" charges against more than 600 individuals, of whom more than 200 have so far been convicted. Nearly 60 have received prison terms ranging from one to eight years. Andrey Vlasov, who is registered disabled, was sentenced to seven years in labour camp. "The essence of the accusation boils down to the fact that after 2017 I remained a believer and profess the Jehovah's Witness religion," he told the court.

RUSSIA: Opposition to war in Ukraine - official pressure and censorship

State censorship and control of religious communities increased following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Lutheran Archbishop Dietrich Brauer, who has left Russia, said that, at the start of the war, President Putin's administration made "a clear demand" of religious leaders to speak out in favour of the invasion. Another Protestant pastor says FSB officers visited clergy to warn them not to say anything critical in sermons or on social media. Protestors against the war on the basis of their faith continue to be detained.

RUSSIA: Religious opposition to war in Ukraine - prosecutions and detentions

Despite the official support for Russia's invasion shown by many religious leaders, most notably those in the Moscow Patriarchate, small numbers of clergy and laypeople in Russia continue to protest for explicitly religious reasons against the renewed war in Ukraine. They often face detention, prosecution, and the loss of their jobs in consequence. One, Fr Ioann Burdin, told Forum 18 he is appealing against being fined "so that life is not a bed of roses for the authorities and judges".

RUSSIA: First known criminal investigation for opposing Ukraine war on explicitly religious grounds

Nina Belyayeva, a Protestant who is a Communist Party municipal deputy, has become the first known person in Russia to face criminal prosecution for opposing the war in Ukraine on explicitly religious grounds. During a meeting of Semiluk District Council in Voronezh Region she called Russia's invasion a war crime. She later wrote: "I realised that if I kept silent, I would not be able to respect myself. I wouldn't be a true Christian and human being." She fled Russia in early April.

RUSSIA: 71 known "missionary activity" prosecutions in 2021 – list

Forum 18 found 71 prosecutions in 2021 (4 of organisations and 67 of individuals) for violating Russia's July 2016 Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5, which punish "illegal missionary activity". 44 of the prosecutions resulted in initial convictions, all being punished with fines (though 7 were overturned on appeal). In 2021 there was a conviction rate of 85 per cent. Of the 15 foreigners prosecuted, 4 were fined, of whom 3 were also ordered deported.

RUSSIA: 37 known "missionary activity" prosecutions in second half of 2020 – list

Forum 18 found 37 prosecutions in the second half of 2020 (3 of organisations and 34 of individuals) for violating Russia's July 2016 Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5, which punish "illegal missionary activity". 27 of the prosecutions resulted in initial convictions, all being punished with fines (though 3 were overturned on appeal). The second half of 2020 saw a conviction rate of 84 per cent. Neither of the two convicted and fined foreigners was ordered deported.

RUSSIA: "Virtually anything can be deemed to be unlawful missionary work"

In the 18 months from July 2020 to December 2021, Forum 18 found 108 prosecutions on administrative charges of unlawful "missionary activity" to punish a wide range of activities, including worship meetings for fellow believers. Prosecutions continued in 2022, with a judge fining and ordering deported a Tajik citizen for leading Muslim prayers. The legislation on missionary activity is "formulated in such a way that virtually anything can be deemed to be unlawful missionary work", comments Olga Sibiryova of SOVA Centre.

RUSSIA: Patriarchate priest fined for condemning war in Ukraine

On 10 March, a court fined Fr Ioann Burdin of the Moscow Patriarchate's Kostroma Diocese one month's average local wages for online remarks and a Sunday sermon in church condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and stressing the importance of the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill". The court decision is "a ban not only on expressing one's opinion but also even on professing one's religious beliefs", Fr Ioann told Forum 18. So far, no other individual is known to have been prosecuted under the new Administrative Code Article punishing "discrediting the use of the Armed Forces" for expressing opposition to Russia's war against Ukraine related specifically to their exercise of freedom of religion or belief.

RUSSIA: Three acquitted on "extremism" charges but jailings continue

An appeal court has overturned the suspended sentences handed to three Jehovah's Witnesses. "We hope that the Kamchatka example will turn out to have an effect on other judges, and they will take the liberty of correcting the mistakes made by their colleagues," said Jehovah's Witness Yaroslav Sivulsky. The acquittals may be linked to Supreme Court amendments governing the implementation of "extremism" laws. Yet prosecutions continue. On 25 January, an Astrakhan court handed Anna Safronova the longest prison sentence yet given to a Jehovah's Witness woman – six years. The Justice Ministry did not answer as to whether Russia had become a safer country as a consequence of the prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslim Nursi readers.

RUSSIA: Suspended sentences and fines – list

Courts across Russia have jailed on "extremism"-related criminal charges many Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims who read the works of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi. Courts have punished still more with suspended sentences or fines. Nearly 100 Jehovah's Witnesses are now on probation after receiving suspended sentences, as well as one Muslim Nursi reader. Jehovah's Witnesses serving suspended sentences have described the consequences, including being unable to see relatives living in other regions, and finding it impossible to secure jobs. A total of 20 Jehovah's Witnesses have been fined. Jehovah's Witness Yevgeny Yakku was fined more than a year's average wage in his home region of Arkhangelsk.

RUSSIA: "Foreign agents", "undesirable organisations", and freedom of religion or belief

Russia has used increasingly strict legislation on "foreign agents" (a term which has connotations of spying) and "undesirable organisations" to curtail, complicate, or prohibit the activities of organisations which promote human rights and monitor their violation, including that of freedom of religion and belief. This "indirectly affects the people human rights defenders stand up for", says Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis (branded a "foreign agent"). The Justice Ministry and prosecutors are seeking through the courts to close down the Memorial Human Rights Centre (also branded a "foreign agent"), partly for its monitoring of criminal prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses.