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The right to change one’s belief or religion
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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.

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.

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.

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.

RUSSIA: Opposition to war in Ukraine – administrative prosecutions, detentions

A St Petersburg court is due to hear the case on 25 November of Danara Erendzhenova, who held up a poster outside the city's Buddhist temple. "Militarism is very expensive – Dalai Lama XIV", it read, which police claim "discredits" Russia's armed forces. A Chita court fined Vitaly Goryachikh two weeks' average local wage for an anti-war poster which cited "I will fear no evil" from Psalm 23. They are among at least 26 known such prosecutions for opposing Russia's war against Ukraine on the basis of faith.

RUSSIA: First criminal conviction for opposing war in Ukraine on religious grounds

Russian Orthodox (ROCOR) priest Nikandr Pinchuk became the first person to receive a criminal conviction for opposing Russia's war in Ukraine on religious grounds. A court in the Urals fined him two months' average local wage for a social media post condemning the "horde of the Antichrist" attacking Ukraine. Neither Verkhoturye District Court nor Prosecutor's Office replied to Forum 18's questions on why expressing religious views on the war in Ukraine should be considered "discreditation" of the Armed Forces and incur such a large fine.

RUSSIA: Two priests on trial for opposing Russia's war in Ukraine

Two Russian Orthodox priests are on criminal trial for opposing Russia's war in Ukraine from a religious perspective and could face imprisonment or massive fines. Fr Nikandr Pinchuk's first full trial hearing in Sverdlovsk Region is due on 17 October. Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov's trial in St Petersburg is due to resume on 14 November. He has been in pre-trial detention since early June. Investigative Committee officials in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg refused to explain why they brought prosecutions for opposing the war on religious grounds.

RUSSIA: Four-year jail term if Russia gets back exiled Muslim?

If Russia succeeds in getting back exiled Imam Ilkhom Merazhov, he could be tried and punished with a maximum four-year jail term. He left Russia in 2015, but in June 2022 the Novosibirsk FSB reopened the criminal case to punish him for meeting with others to study the works of theologian Said Nursi. On 8 September, a Novosibirsk court issued a detention order in absentia. The FSB has sought to have an Interpol Red Notice issued, though it remains unclear whether Interpol has approved any request.

RUSSIA: 200 people on criminal trial for exercising freedom of religion or belief

Nearly 200 Jehovah's Witnesses and 9 Muslims who study Said Nursi's writings are on criminal trial for exercising freedom of religion and belief. Since June, courts jailed 17 Jehovah's Witnesses for "organising" or "participating in" banned communities. "I still do not understand what my crime is," Yelena Nikulina told a Saransk court. "There are no victims in our case, but there are still injured parties – and they are in front of you, in the dock!" The court jailed her and her husband for 4 years, 2 months.

RUSSIA: Six who met to study their faith on trial in Moscow

On 1 September [postponed to 22 September], Moscow's Kuzminsky District Court is due to begin the largest criminal trial for eight years of Muslims who met to study the works of the theologian Said Nursi, which have been banned as "extremist". Prosecutors accuse the six men – who face possible long jail terms - of forming a "home madrassah". The men have been in Butyrka prison since October 2021. Moscow City Prosecutor's Office did not respond as to who might have been harmed by the men's exercise of freedom of religion or belief.

RUSSIA: New registers of "extremist" people and literature

July legal amendments introduce a new register of people allegedly connected to "extremism", apparently to be used in parallel with the existing Rosfinmonitoring "List of Terrorists and Extremists". Individuals liable for inclusion are so broadly defined that it is unclear whether there may be wider implications, including for religious believers whose organisations have been banned as "extremist", such as Jehovah's Witnesses or Muslim Nursi readers. "Anyone could end up [on the new unified register]," says Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre in Moscow.

RUSSIA: "Retroactively depriving Russian citizens of the right to international protection"

Under June amendments, Russia will not enforce any European Court of Human Rights decision which came into force after 15 March, and will pay outstanding compensation in earlier cases only in Roubles and not to bank accounts in countries deemed "unfriendly". "Russia hasn't been the best in enforcing ECtHR judgments domestically, far from it," says a Jehovah's Witness lawyer, but added that positive judgments "generally slowed down the infringements". Moscow lawyer Sergey Okhotin described the amendments as "retroactively depriving Russian citizens of the right to international protection".