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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

RUSSIA: Fourth post-prison Jehovah's Witness deportation

Despite living half his life in Russia and marriage to a Russian citizen, 46-year-old Jehovah's Witness Rustam Seidkuliyev was deported to his native Turkmenistan in September after completing his jail term for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Officials did not explain to Forum 18 why his Russian citizenship had been annulled in 2022, given his long residence in Russia, that there were no victims in his criminal case, and that his family had had to leave Turkmenistan because of their exercise of freedom of religion or belief.

RUSSIA: Armed raid on Krasnodar Region church

In early October, 10 unidentified armed men raided a non-Moscow Patriarchate Russian Orthodox Church in the southern Krasnodar Region whose clergy have repeatedly spoken out against Russia's war in Ukraine. A priest was physically tortured, detained, and charged with "disobeying a police officer" and "discrediting the Russian Armed Forces". "At least five searches took place simultaneously", Fr Iona told Forum 18. The Krasnodar Region branches of the Investigative Committee, Federal Security Service (FSB), Interior Ministry, and National Guard failed to respond to Forum 18's questions about the raid.

RUSSIA: Four now jailed for refusing to fight in Ukraine on religious grounds

Military courts have now jailed four men for refusing on religious grounds to go to fight in Ukraine. In Vladivostok, Baptist Vyacheslav Reznichenko entered the prison colony-settlement on 18 September to start his 2 year, 6 month term. In Murmansk, a court handed long-serving contract soldier Maksim Makushin, a Pentecostal Christian, a term of 2 years and 8 months "for refusing to kill Ukrainians". He is awaiting his appeal. Neither courts nor prosecutors answered Forum 18's questions why they were not allowed to do alternative civilian service.

RUSSIA: Second jail term for opposing Russia's war in Ukraine on religious grounds

On 31 August, a St Petersburg court jailed 55-year-old Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov for 3 years and banned him from posting on the internet for 2 years for distributing "false information about the Russian Armed Forces". His is the second known prison term for opposing Russia's war against Ukraine from a religious perspective. In March, a Moscow court jailed Mikhail Simonov for 7 years. Fr Ioann pleaded guilty, telling the court: "I undertake in the future not to touch upon the topic of the conduct of special military operations by our troops."

RUSSIA: Freedom of religion and belief monitoring group to be liquidated

Russia's leading freedom of religion and belief monitoring group ceases to exist as a legal entity. On 17 August, a Moscow Appeal Court rejected SOVA Center for Information and Analysis's appeal against its liquidation. Moscow's Justice Department claimed it committed "gross violations" of the law by holding events outside Moscow. SOVA's director Aleksandr Verkhovsky notes the "obvious and extreme selectivity" of the Justice Department's claims against human rights groups "but not to hundreds of others". The Non-Governmental Organisations Department at Moscow's Justice Department refused comment.

RUSSIA: Pacifist Christian musician fined, banned from internet posting

Musician and teacher Anna Chagina has been handed a fine and a ban on internet posting for opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She stood accused of "discrediting" the Russian armed forces more than once in a year. "I also want to remind you of a simple ethical rule – do to others as you would have them do to you," Chagina said in her final statement. Elsewhere, Mikhail Simonov, the first person to be sentenced to jail for opposing the war from a religious perspective, has lost his appeal against his 7-year jail term.

RUSSIA: Jailed for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience

Called up in September 2022, Pentecostal Andrey Kapatsyna refused to fight in Ukraine, telling commanders that "in accordance with his religious beliefs, he could not take up arms and use them against other people". A Vladivostok court sentenced him to 2 years, 10 months' imprisonment under new legislation punishing non-fulfilment of orders in a period of combat operations. A Murmansk Region military court jailed Dmitry Vasilets for 2 years, 2 months for refusing on grounds of his new Buddhist faith to return to Ukraine after five months on the frontlines.

RUSSIA: Long jail terms for Moscow Nursi readers

Arrested in October 2021, six Muslims who met to study the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi finally went on trial in September 2022. On 27 June 2023, a Moscow court jailed four of the six for 6 years or more, with the others receiving lesser terms. The judge ordered the destruction of books by Nursi taken during the investigation. On 20 June, a Taganrog court jailed Jehovah's Witness Aleksandr Skvortsov for 7 years. All were convicted on "extremism" charges, which all denied.

RUSSIA: Judges "ignore completely" amended Supreme Court guidance on Extremism Law application

Hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses and dozens of Muslims who read theologian Said Nursi's works have been jailed or given suspended sentences on "extremism" charges. October 2021 Supreme Court revised guidance for extremism trials directed judges to ascertain defendants' "specific actions" and "motivation". Courts have now overturned all eight acquittals resulting from the revised guidance, with one acquitted earlier jailed for 8 years. Early hope has now "completely gone", Jehovah's Witness lawyers say. The defence "of course" refers to the Supreme Court guidance in every case, but "the judges ignore it completely".

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.

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.

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.