25 June 2021
Courts have handed suspended sentences of between two and seven years on "extremism"-related charges to 70 Jehovah's Witnesses as a result of the 2017 Supreme Court ban on their activity. A Muslim who reads Said Nursi's works has completed a two-year suspended sentence. Courts have fined 11 Jehovah's Witnesses and two Muslims on the same "extremism"-related charges. While 29 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1 Muslim have been given jail terms, suspended sentences are now the most common form of punishment.
23 June 2021
While 28 Jehovah's Witnesses have been jailed since the Supreme Court's 2017 ban, 69 have received suspended sentences. This includes the oldest person convicted of "extremism" for exercising freedom of religion and belief: 80-year-old Boris Burylov, with a suspended sentence of two years and six months. Igor Turik, sentenced with him, received the longest suspended sentence: seven years. "A suspended sentence means that you need to live under stress for many years, and the sentence can be changed to a real one," a Jehovah's Witness lawyer noted.
9 June 2021
As of 9 June, 20 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1 Muslim convicted on extremism-related criminal charges are in jail or in detention awaiting appeals. Another Jehovah's Witness is under house arrest and will be jailed if her appeal fails. Another Muslim who met with others to study Nursi's works is in detention awaiting deportation after serving his jail term. Twice as many prisoners of conscience are serving sentences or are in detention awaiting appeals for exercising freedom of religion or belief as in November 2020.
7 June 2021
In July 2020, Valentina Baranovskaya suffered a stroke. In February 2021, Abakan City Court jailed the 70-year-old for two years to punish her for meeting fellow Jehovah's Witnesses for worship, a verdict her lawyer described as "devoid of all sympathy and compassion". Her son was jailed for six years. Baranovskaya is the oldest - and first female - Jehovah's Witness to be jailed since Russia banned all their activity. Two in their sixties - Yury Savelyov and Aleksandr Ivshin – are serving long jail terms.
17 May 2021
Religion Law amendments – which come into force in October – ban those the state considers to be "extremists" from participating in religious groups. They also ban commercial entities (such as bookshops) from including a religious affiliation in their name unless they were founded by a centralised religious organisation (or, for NGOs, get their approval). Olga Sibiryova of the Moscow-based SOVA Center warns that "the wording of the amendments is very imprecise and leaves room for interpretation" by police and prosecutors.
12 May 2021
From October, when new Religion Law amendments come into force, all clergy, religious teachers and missionaries working for registered religious organisations who have trained abroad will need to undertake a course in "state-confessional relations in the Russian Federation". They will then need to be re-certified by a centralised religious organisation before being permitted to begin work for the first time. How the amendments will be applied in practice "is a big question", commented Stanislav Kulov of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice.
13 April 2021
The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria's Theological Institute lost its higher education licence on 6 April, the third flagship Protestant educational institution to lose the right to conduct formal religious education. Another Lutheran seminary is fighting against the stripping of its licence through the courts. "The issue has been serious and has caused a lot of extra work and expense," a staff member of one of the institutions told Forum 18. State education inspectorate Rosobrnadzor has not replied to Forum 18's questions. Religion Law changes will from October make extra training of foreign-educated clergy compulsory, but if a religious community has no educational institutions in Russia it is unclear where or how such extra training is possible.
17 February 2021
Six Jehovah's Witnesses jailed on "extremism"-related charges applied for early release after serving half their jail terms, but have been unsuccessful. Prison administrations opposed the applications with what Jehovah's Witnesses describe as "fabricated evidence" of violations of prison rules. Four of the prisoners were accused of smoking in the wrong place, but Jehovah's Witnesses do not smoke. Another Jehovah's Witness jailed since 2018 and a Muslim reader of Nursi's works jailed since 2017 should both become eligible to apply in summer 2021.
16 February 2021
All the more than 60 Jehovah's Witnesses brought to criminal trial on "extremism"-related charges since the 2017 nationwide ban have been convicted, with several being jailed. Appeals have not overturned any convictions. In a few cases, appeal courts increased or reduced the punishment. Muslims who met to read the works of Said Nursi similarly convicted on "extremism"-related charges have also tended to be unsuccessful at appeal. Raids, house searches, criminal cases, prosecutions and convictions continue.
29 January 2021
After serving sentences as "extremists" for meeting to study and worship, three former prisoners of conscience face expulsion. One was deported, one may be expelled later in 2021, and one remains in detention as he is now stateless and no country has agreed to take him. "I think that the authorities – that is, de facto, the security services – perceive this measure not as an additional punishment, but as a way to get rid of the problem," says Aleksandr Verkhovsky.
18 December 2020
Regional Investigative Committee branches, the FSB security service, and armed police have carried out at least 86 house searches between late October and mid-December alone across 16 regions of Russia as investigations and criminal prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses continue. Some raids involve violence. Three Muslims who met with others to study Islam with the writings of Said Nursi are known to be under criminal investigation in Tatarstan and Dagestan.
16 December 2020
During 24 November raids by Investigative Committee officials, Police, FSB and National Guard on Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow, armed officials hit Vardan Zakaryan in the head with a rifle butt, resulting in his two-day hospitalisation. Officers assaulted a neighbour before locating and hitting another targeted Jehovah's Witness. Officials in these and earlier torture cases refused to explain or failed to respond to Forum 18 why the suspected torturers have not been arrested and prosecuted.
25 November 2020
Of 21 Jehovah's Witnesses convicted of "extremism" charges since late July 2020, six were given jail terms and 13 suspended sentences. Receiving a suspended sentence means a convicted person must live under restrictions specified by the judge, regularly register with probation authorities, and avoid conviction for any other offence during the probationary period or risk being sent to prison. "A suspended sentence means that you need to live under stress for many years," Jehovah's Witnesses note.
23 November 2020
Eight Jehovah's Witnesses and one Muslim Nursi reader are serving labour camp terms as "extremists". Six more Jehovah's Witnesses received jail terms since July. Sergey Britvin, one of two awaiting appeals, is allowed a "disabled cell" where he can lie down, his wife Natalya told Forum 18. It is so cold he must wear two jumpers and trousers. She takes him fresh colostomy bags and medications "all the time". A further 14 received suspended sentences.
20 October 2020
98 prosecutions for not showing a full official name reached court between the beginning of January 2019 and the end of June 2020. These involved 76 registered religious organisations and 22 individuals. Most resulted in guilty verdicts and fines, and the largest increase in the number of prosecutions by religious community was of Muslims.
19 October 2020
Religious organisations continue to be prosecuted for not showing their full official names on literature, online, and most frequently on buildings. The conviction rate is 72.5 per cent. A Constitutional Court appeal may clarify the law on how and where names should be displayed. Charges are also sometimes brought against individuals, despite the Supreme Court in 2017 clarifying that this should not happen.
21 August 2020
Forum 18 has found 42 prosecutions in the first half of 2020 (2 of organisations and 40 of individuals) for violating Russia's July 2016 Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5, which punish "illegal missionary activity". 36 of the prosecutions resulted in initial convictions, all being punished with fines (though a few were overturned on appeal). The first half of 2020 saw a conviction rate of 92 per cent. Two foreigners were ordered deported.
20 August 2020
Forum 18 has found 100 prosecutions in all of 2019 (15 of organisations and 85 of individuals) for violating Russia's July 2016 Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5, which punish "illegal missionary activity". 76 of the 2019 prosecutions resulted in initial convictions, almost all being punished with fines. 2019 saw a conviction rate of 89 per cent. Eight foreigners were ordered deported.
19 August 2020
At least 17 organisations and 125 individuals faced prosecution in 2019 and the first half of 2020 for "missionary activity" under Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5. Over 90 per cent of cases ended with convictions. Nineteen of the 125 individuals were foreigners, 10 of whom were ordered deported. One such – Tajik citizen Fayzali Kholmurodov – is still in a detention centre in Tula Region six months after his conviction.
13 July 2020
18 months after officials secretly stripped Yevgeny Kim of Russian citizenship (his only citizenship) and 15 months after he completed his jail term for exercising freedom of religion or belief, the now-stateless 45-year-old Muslim remains in the foreigners' detention centre in Khabarovsk. Uzbekistan – where he was born – refuses to accept him. In June, he asked for identity documents enabling him to leave Russia voluntarily for Turkey.
10 July 2020
Russia is using Interpol Red Notices to try to get back at least three citizens now based abroad to prosecute them on extremism charges for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Two are Muslims who met to study their faith using the writings of Said Nursi. These Red Notices violate Interpol's rules, which ban their use in ways that violate individuals' human rights.
9 July 2020
Authorities have stripped Russian citizenship from three men jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief: Muslim Yevgeny Kim in January 2019, and Jehovah's Witnesses Feliks Makhammadiyev and Konstantin Bazhenov in April 2020. Kim and Makhammadiyev are now stateless. Russia has been trying to deport Kim since 2019, and might try to deport Makhammadiyev and Bazhenov when they complete their jail terms.
23 June 2020
Eleven people are serving prison terms and eight suspended sentences under the Extremism Law for exercising their freedom of religion and belief. A further seven have been fined. One man was sentenced to assigned labour, but this was changed on appeal. Of these, 25 are Jehovah's Witnesses, and two are Muslims who met with others to study the works of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi.
16 June 2020
A Pskov court handed a six and a half year jail term to 61-year-old Jehovah's Witness Gennady Shpakovsky. This is the second-longest jail term yet on "extremism"-related charges for meeting with others to pray and study beliefs. Muslim Ilgar Aliyev received an eight-year prison term in 2018. Prosecutors claimed two jars of small donations Shpakovsky had were to finance building a "world theocratic state".
21 May 2020
Full list of 93 people currently on trial for exercising the right to freedom of religion and belief as Jehovah's Witnesses. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has adopted a wide-ranging Opinion condemning the "ever-growing number of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia who have been arrested, detained and charged with criminal activity on the basis of mere exercise of freedom of religion".
19 May 2020
For 93 people on trial in 43 cases for "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation" since the Supreme Court ban on Jehovah's Witnesses, court proceedings can be lengthy. As well as the strong possibility of conviction, bringing with it a criminal record and a heavy fine or prison sentence, prosecution and trial can have wider consequences, including blocking of bank accounts, dismissal from work and seizure of property.
18 May 2020
Of the 93 people on trial in 43 cases for "continuing the activities of a banned extremist organisation" for exercising freedom of religion or belief since the Supreme Court ban on Jehovah's Witnesses, 85-year-old Yelena Zayshchuk is the oldest. Five fellow defendants in her case are in their sixties or seventies. All face up to six years' imprisonment if convicted. Two defendants in their sixties died in April before trials began.
9 April 2020
Police raided 20 Muslim women's homes in Naberezhnyye Chelny in Tatarstan. One woman suffered a heart attack and was placed in intensive care. A court ordered two months' house arrest for 62-year-old Nakiya Sharifullina as she is investigated on criminal "extremism" charges for meeting to study theologian Said Nursi's works. A Dagestan court ordered two months' pre-trial detention for Ibragim Murtazaliyev as he is investigated on similar charges.
3 April 2020
On 1 April, Igor Ivashin became the 32nd Jehovah's Witness convicted of "continuing the activity of an extremist organisation" since the 2017 Supreme Court ban. A Siberian court handed him a six-year suspended sentence, requiring him to live under restrictions. Jehovah's Witness Vladimir Alushkin was freed from pre-trial detention after nearly ten months after a court overturned his six-year jail term. He and five others face a new trial.
13 March 2020
No officials accused in three cases of torture of individuals detained for exercising freedom of religion or belief appear to have been arrested or put on criminal trial. Prison officials in Blagoveshchensk between 2015 and 2017 oversaw the torture of Yevgeny Kim, which included broken ribs and attempted rape. Seven Jehovah's Witnesses were hooded, kicked, beaten and tortured with electric shocks at the Investigative Committee in Surgut in February 2019.
27 February 2020
Jehovah's Witnesses state that this month (February 2020), prison guards tortured five of their prisoners of conscience in the Urals city of Orenburg, and National Guard officers tortured two adherents in the Siberian city of Chita. The torture included beatings, choking and electric shocks. No officials have yet been arrested for the tortures.
11 February 2020
Kaluga's Word of Life Church and Oryol's Resurrection Church of God are battling, in court, official attempts to destroy their places of worship. "The City Administration received an order from the FSB to shut us down by any means," Oryol Pastor Pavel Abashin insists. Bailiffs closed the building of Nizhny Novgorod's Jesus Embassy Church. A court rejected a suit to demolish Samara's Good News Church.
6 February 2020
Bailiffs have closed the building of Jesus Embassy Church in Nizhny Novgorod due to alleged "fire safety" violations, but the changing number of violations claimed, and the apparent hostility of the FSB security service, raise doubts that the church building will be reopened soon. "Of course the FSB isn't interested in fire safety," Alexander Verkhovsky of SOVA Center commented.
24 January 2020
As criminal trials of people exercising freedom of religion continue, three more Jehovah's Witnesses have been convicted of "extremist activity". Grigory Bubnov was given a six-year suspended jail sentence while Roman Markin and Viktor Trofimov were each fined about a year's average local wages. The Judge ordered two of Bubnov's Bibles to be destroyed. The court has not explained why.
17 December 2019
A Constitutional Court ruling may reduce fines for using private homes for meetings for worship. This largely relies on officials, one Christian lawyer stating that when he and his colleagues attempt to resolve cases "some [inspectors] work with common sense, others do not".
25 October 2019
32 Jehovah's Witnesses are now on criminal trial due to 2017 nationwide ban, with one more Jehovah's Witness on trial for alleged "public calls for extremist activity". "Extremism" trials of two Muslim readers of Said Nursi's works and two more Jehovah's Witnesses have been delayed.
11 October 2019
Full list of 245 Jehovah's Witnesses across Russia facing criminal prosecution on extremism-related charges for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Of these, 33 are in pre-trial detention. Trials of 25 are already underway. Eight more have already been convicted. Raids, arrests and interrogations continue.
4 October 2019
The jailing of six Jehovah's Witnesses in Saratov for up to three and a half years "equates peaceful believers with dangerous criminals", Jehovah's Witnesses complain. The Prosecutor's Office did not respond as to why it considered these men dangerous and should be jailed. A Khabarovsk court sentenced another man to assigned labour for discussing Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
17 September 2019
Officials repeatedly rebuffed attempts to legalise ownership of the land where Good News Pentecostal Church in Samara has worshipped for two decades. Officials want to demolish the church, at the congregation's expense. A court hearing is due on 25 September. In May, officials bulldozed a mosque built on farmland near Chernyakhovsk in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, claiming it violated planning regulations.
6 September 2019
Complex, sometimes contradictory, and often inconsistently applied legislation can lead religious communities to lose their places of worship. Officials barred a Baptist community in Novorossiysk from using its church "for religious purposes", despite the fact that it has worshipped on the same site for two decades. Local authorities are often unwilling to permit the construction of purpose-built churches and mosques.
12 July 2019
In the first conviction deriving from the Supreme Court ban on all Jehovah's Witness activity, Aleksandr Solovyov was fined nearly a year's average local wages, although prosecutors had sought to jail him. Six more trials – of 13 defendants – are underway or imminent.
28 June 2019
Contrary to Russia's international legal obligations, no official responsible for the torture of either a Muslim following his 2015 arrest or seven Jehovah's Witnesses in 2019 has been arrested or put on criminal trial. One of the victims was re-arrested after reporting the torture, and two of the officials implicated have been given awards.
31 May 2019
Full list of 200 Jehovah's Witnesses (aged between 19 and 84) known to have been charged or named as suspects for "extremism"-related "crimes" as of 31 May 2019. Of these, 30 are in detention, 28 under house arrest and 76 under travel restrictions. Cases against four were handed to court in late May.
27 May 2019
The appeal by Oryol Jehovah's Witness Sergei Skrynnikov against a fine of about 18 months' average local wages is due on 13 June at the same court which rejected Dennis Christensen's appeal. At least 189 Jehovah's Witnesses are facing criminal prosecution across Russia. Among them are seven men tortured in Surgut in February.
24 May 2019
An appeal court in Oryol upheld the six-year jail term on Jehovah's Witness Dennis Christensen on "extremism"-related charges. In his final address to the court he described the accusations as "ridiculous and absurd". His wife Irina told Forum 18 he will appeal directly to the European Court of Human Rights.
22 May 2019
The lawyer for Yevgeny Kim, stripped of Russian citizenship and left stateless on completing his nearly four-year jail term for meeting with other Muslims to study Said Nursi's works, says this is the first such case he knows of. Kim was fined and is awaiting deportation to Uzbekistan.
7 May 2019
Forum 18 has found 159 prosecutions in all of 2018 (56 of organisations and 103 of individuals) for violating Russia's July 2016 Administrative Code Article 5.26 "anti-missionary" restrictions. 132 of the 2018 prosecutions resulted in initial convictions (129 fines). 2018 saw a conviction rate of 90 per cent, compared with an 82 per cent conviction rate in the year from July 2016. Three foreigners were ordered deported, and one of the deportations was overturned on appeal).
6 May 2019
At least 56 organisations and 103 individuals faced prosecution in 2018 under the 2016 "anti-missionary" legal changes. Lawyer Mikhail Frolov warns prosecutions have a chilling effect. "Believers don't understand what they can and can't do, and because of heavy fines they don't want to take the risk and therefore significantly reduce their activity, especially in public."
25 March 2019
The Pentecostal Union's Eurasian Theological Seminary's licence was annulled in October 2018 after inspectors questioned its theology course. The Baptist Union's Moscow Theological Seminary was suspended for 60 days from January 2019, and banned from admitting new students. Pentecostal Union lawyer Vladimir Ozolin says these actions are "systemic, intentional".
19 February 2019
Full list of 116 Jehovah's Witnesses known to have been charged or named as suspects for "extremism"-related "crimes" as of 19 February 2019. Of these, 26 are in detention, 28 under house arrest and 42 under travel restrictions. When any of these cases might reach court is unknown.