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6 September 2012

RUSSIA: Shock at Moscow church demolition

Unknown workers – backed by police and druzhinniki (civil volunteers) – began tearing down Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church on the eastern edge of Moscow soon after midnight today (6 September), the Church's Pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, told Forum 18 News Service from the Russian capital. By morning almost the entire three-storey building had been destroyed. "This is the Soviet approach – to come in the middle of the night with mechanical diggers," Mikhail Odintsov, an aide to Russia's Ombudsperson for Human Rights, told Forum 18. "This is unacceptable." The church has struggled to legalise the building it put up with its own money in 1995-6. Andrei Ivanov, spokesperson for the prefect of Moscow's Eastern Administrative District, defended the destruction. "Everything was done at the decision of the court," he told Forum 18.

30 August 2012

RUSSIA: One month in prison, another to follow

Jehovah's Witnesses Igor Yefimov and Aleksei Nikolaev, arrested in Chuvashia on 26 July, have been ordered held in continuing pre-trial detention until late September. "This is the first time in contemporary Russia that a court has ordered any of our people to be held in detention simply because they are Jehovah's Witnesses," Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Grigory Martynov told Forum 18 News Service. Prosecutors tried to have three others imprisoned as they await trial on "extremism"-related charges. "The accusation that he created an extremist group is absurd," Yefimov's wife Marina complained to Forum 18. In Chelyabinsk, three local Muslim women are due to go on trial on 6 September on "extremism"-related criminal charges. "We're not extremists – indeed, we're against extremism and against violence," one of the accused, Farida Ulmaskulova, insisted to Forum 18. "Islam bans the killing of oneself or others."

1 August 2012

RUSSIA: More "extremist" books to be banned?

In two separate cases Russia's FSB security service in Kostroma Region, north-east of the capital Moscow, and Prosecutors in Primorskiy Territory, on the Pacific west of Sakhalin Island, have confiscated religious literature, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In Primorskiye the Jehovah's Witness who had the literature has been fined, but it is unclear whether the Muslim in Kostroma will be fined. In both cases the literature has been sent for "expert analysis" to see if it should be declared "extremist" and banned throughout Russia. The FSB claimed in relation to the "voluntary" handover of works by Muslim theologian Said Nursi in Kostroma that it had conducted "warning/prophylactic measures among individuals inclined towards carrying out crimes of extremist orientation". Asked by Forum 18 what these "crimes" were, the FSB stated that "they were not planning explosions or murders" and would not elaborate more.

31 July 2012

RUSSIA: "A completely innocent person can be subjected to criminal prosecution"

"Extremism"-related criminal cases in Russia against Muslims who read the works of theologian Said Nursi and Jehovah's Witnesses are continuing. In the latest moves, two of four Jehovah's Witnesses facing prosecution in Chuvashia were on 30 July ordered to be detained until their trial. A further six community members are now also suspects in the criminal case. Also that day but in a separate case, prosecutors have appealed against the acquittal of another Jehovah's Witness on "extremism" charges. These moves follow the sentencing on 27 July of two Jehovah's Witnesses, Andrei and Lyutsia Raitin, to 200 hours community service each. Jehovah's Witnesses point out that "the verdict on the Raitins confirms the fact that anti-extremist laws are highly vague, which leads to the risk that a completely innocent person can be subjected to criminal prosecution".

30 July 2012

RUSSIA: "Absurd bans"

Russia's recent ban of more than 65 Islamic works has attracted many protests. Appeals against the bans will be presented on 6 August to Orenburg Regional Court, Forum 18 News Service has been told by a court official. On 18 July it became known that one of the 65 books, Elmir Kuliyev's Russian-language book "The Path to the Koran", had been banned for the second time by a court in Omsk. This second ban was, like the Orenburg banning decision, at the initiative of the FSB security service. Islamic scholar Rinat Mukhametov has stated that the Orenburg court ban was a "crucial turning point" for Russia's Muslims. He said the "absurd bans" had to be challenged.

25 July 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Two women deported for exercising religious freedom

Two long-term residents of Uzbekistan born in the country – both Jehovah's Witnesses - have been deported to punish them for discussing their faith with others, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Russian citizen Yelena Tsyngalova was deported on an Uzbek Airlines evening flight from Tashkent to Moscow today (25 July), after being detained since 2 July. Accompanying her were her two teenage children, one a Russian citizen, the other an Uzbek citizen. Her mother Galina Poligenko-Aleshkina – an Uzbek citizen who is a pensioner with disabilities and who shared the family flat – is now left to fend for herself. Kazakh citizen Oksana Shcherbeneva was deported on 16 June immediately after completing a 15-day prison term. Other Jehovah's Witnesses detained and tried with her were jailed and fined.

23 July 2012

RUSSIA: "Extremism" religious freedom survey, July 2012

Use of Russia's Extremism Law against those with views the authorities dislike – especially Muslims who study the works of Said Nursi, and Jehovah's Witnesses - has mushroomed under both Presidents Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev. This is the most threatening recent development for freedom of religion or belief in the Russian Federation, Forum 18 News Service notes in its survey of "extremism"-related violations. Other religious freedom issues, such as treatment of state-favoured organisations within the four faiths of Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism as the nation's privileged "traditional religions", are addressed in Forum 18's general religious freedom survey.

19 July 2012

RUSSIA: Religious freedom survey, July 2012

Despite his liberal image, President Dmitri Medvedev introduced discriminatory measures on the basis of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service finds in its general survey of religious freedom in the Russian Federation. So far, newly elected President Vladimir Putin has given mixed signals of his intentions in this area. The state's treatment of certain groups within Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism as the nation's privileged "traditional religions" – to the exclusion of others – is now routine. This is seen in school education, the military and the ability to meet for worship. Yet the most threatening development is use of the 2002 Extremism Law against those the authorities dislike, addressed in a separate Forum 18 "extremism" survey.

19 June 2012

RUSSIA: "An attempt to revive total ideological control"

Russia's Council of Muslims has expressed outrage over the banning in one court hearing in Orenburg of 65 Islamic texts as "extremist". The ban was imposed in a 20-minute hearing on 21 March and came into force on 27 April, but only became known when copies of the decision were handed to Islamic publishers at a book fair in Kazan in mid-June. The Council condemned such religious book bans as "an attempt to revive total ideological control". Damir Mukhetdinov, first deputy chair of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of European Russia, told Forum 18 that the organisation has already spoken to the Presidential Administration of its concerns. "We are already deciding on our next steps and preparing documents for an appeal." Fr Georgy Maksimov, now a Russian Orthodox deacon but then a layman, conducted one "expert analysis" of the Islamic books for the FSB security service. He told Forum 18 that "having my own views does not prevent me from fulfilling my public duty as a citizen. I have qualifications in religious studies and conducted this expert analysis in this capacity."

11 June 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Imminent expulsion for exercising religious freedom?

Despite being born, brought up and living in Uzbekistan, Jehovah's Witness Yelena Tsyngalova and her two teenage sons are facing imminent expulsion to Russia, in apparent punishment for exercising her freedom of religion or belief. As in similar previous cases, Uzbekistan is seeking to expel the family without formally deporting them. "Yelena knows no-one in Russia and has nowhere to go, plus she has a disabled mother here in Tashkent who would be left all alone," her fellow Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 News Service. "She wants to stay here." Uzbek officials refused to discuss the family's expulsion with Forum 18. When Tsyngalova attempted to find out the reasons for her deportation with the head of the Sergeli District Visa Department, Utkir Buzakov, he threatened her with 15 days' imprisonment. When she told officials she had two teenage children and a mother who is an invalid, officials said she would have to take the two children with her. Although tickets for a Tuesday 12 June expulsion have been withdrawn, officials subsequently stated she will still be deported and this will not be delayed. Also, Tereza Rusanova, a Baptist from Uzbekistan who has lived in Kyrgyzstan since 2009, is facing criminal prosecution after she returned to Uzbekistan to renew her passport.

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