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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: 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".

RUSSIA: Government pressure on religious leaders to support Ukraine war

The government has pressured religious leaders to support Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine, and prosecuted and fined religious believers and leaders who publicly oppose the war. Lutheran Bishop Dietrich Brauer and Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt left Russia in March after resisting state pressure to support the war. The FSB security service warned local religious leaders, including at least three Protestant pastors individually in one region. "Such warnings don't take place now," a pastor told Forum 18 in July. "Those [March warnings] were enough for everyone."

RUSSIA: Administrative prosecutions for opposing Ukraine war

Police in Yekaterinburg detained artist Ivan Lyubimov for quoting on his anti-war poster John Donne's text "No man is an island" and UN figures for civilian casualties in Ukraine. He awaits charges. Police in Kaluga charged Aleksandr Ivanov for an anti-war statement on his online Orthodox encyclopaedia on the war's first day. For fear of prosecution, the site has been forced to remove its news section, which had reported the destruction of churches in Ukraine and reposted foreign Orthodox leaders' anti-war pronouncements.

RUSSIA: Second Orthodox priest facing criminal charges for opposing Ukraine war

Russian Orthodox priest Fr Nikandr Pinchuk faces a criminal case for opposing Russia's war against Ukraine. He opposed the war on religious grounds. He is under investigation under Criminal Code Article 280.3, which punishes a repeat offence of "discrediting" the Armed Forces. "But I have committed no crime," says Fr Nikandr. "I am a priest and have the right to denounce evil, regardless of who is involved and the political situation." He remains a suspect and has not been arrested.

RUSSIA: Orthodox priest detained for opposing war "outraged by absurdity of accusations"

Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov posted videos outlining his religious opposition to Russia's war against Ukraine. Arrested on 7 June, he is in St Petersburg's Kresty prison awaiting trial for the new criminal offence of disseminating "knowingly false information" about the military. St Petersburg Investigative Committee has not responded to Forum 18's questions. "He is aware that he may be sentenced to a long term of imprisonment – up to 10 years – but he does not intend to deviate from his convictions," says his lawyer Leonid Krikun.

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.