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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.

6 June 2012

RUSSIA: Many long "extremism" trials, few convictions

A trial date is about to be named for 25-year-old Muslim Ramil Latypov, a court official at Orenburg's Lenin District Court in the Russian Urals told Forum 18 News Service on 5 June. Like many readers of the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Latypov is facing prosecution on "extremism"-related criminal charges. Like many such prosecutions, the case was initiated by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the regional Prosecutor's Office told Forum 18. Of criminal trials of 15 religious believers on "extremism"-related charges known to have been completed, only five individuals (all Nursi readers) ended up with prison terms, despite investigations and trials often lasting several years and the insistence of prosecutors that the individuals are dangerous. Five more received suspended prison terms. One (a Jehovah's Witness) was ultimately acquitted. The trial of the other four failed to reach a verdict within the two-year trial period allowed.

29 May 2012

RUSSIA: Police raid and charge "people in strange clothes"

Police in Russia on 22 May raided a lecture for Izhevsk's Hare Krishna community, Forum 18 News Service has learned. "They were conducting a public event of the Hare Krishna Society – such events must be approved," police Captain Larisa Ignatyeva told Forum 18. A local Hare Krishna leader is now facing charges under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession, or picket"). Captain Ignatyeva told Forum 18 that the raid – involving herself – took place after local residents "with small children" had complained to the police that they had seen "people in strange clothes" in the Polyclinic. Asked if the Hare Krishna devotees had disturbed the work of the Clinic or caused any disruption or harm to any Clinic users, she said they had not. Jehovah's Witnesses regularly face raids followed by cases under Article 20.2, some of which are thrown out, but normally only after stress and preparation time for those who should never be brought to court in the first place. A controversial draft Law, introduced after protests at the election of President Vladimir Putin, may massively increase the currently small Article 20.2 fines.

16 May 2012

RUSSIA: "Suddenly this case comes and they are regarded as law-breakers"

At least 16 raids took place early on 4 May on Jehovah's Witness homes and places of worship in five towns in Russia's Orenburg Region, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The raids followed criminal investigation on "extremism"-related charges. Orenburg Region Investigation Committee press secretary Anzhelika Linkova told Forum 18 on 15 May that "there are no specific suspects at the moment, the facts are being established". Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Grigory Martynov commented to Forum 18 on 14 May that "they have legally existed there for some two decades, and suddenly this case comes and they are regarded as law-breakers – it is all nonsense". Elsewhere, in Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, the FSB security service is continuing its attempts to prosecute Amir Abuev, a Muslim who reads Said Nursi's works, and to subject him to psychiatric examination. Abuev told Forum 18 after the latest summons for psychiatric examination that "I don't intend to go". And in Dagestan in the North Caucasus, Nursi reader Ziyavdin Dapayev continues to challenge a court order that around 70 Muslim books confiscated from him should be destroyed.

11 April 2012

UZBEKISTAN: Continuing freedom of movement bans

Uzbekistan continues to impose bans on entry and exit from the country on people exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. The authorities also use the border crossing points for confiscating religious literature. Referring to bans on people taking part in the haj and umra pilgrimages, human rights defender Shaira Sadygbekova described the authorities, especially the Religious Affairs Committee, as "creating artificial barriers for ordinary Uzbeks". Khaitboy Yakubov of the Najot human rights organisation stating that such barriers are widespread. Among other violations are bans on exit visas for Muslims who have passed the stringent state approval procedures for going on state-organised pilgrimages, bans on Muslims joining waiting lists for these pilgrimages, bans on individual Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses leaving the country, and bans on Hare Krishna devotees and Christians entering the country. Officials have refused to discuss these human rights violations with Forum 18.

4 April 2012

RUSSIA: Regional targeting of religious "sects"

New amendments in Kostroma Region ban and punish "propaganda of religious sects among minors". An official order in Arkhangelsk Region banned Jehovah's Witnesses from renting municipally-owned property. A deputy Education Minister in Bashkortostan warned educational leaders – using FSB security service information – against "destructive religions", such as Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Health Department of Kurgan Region warned health institutions that Baptist leaders intend to "use the technology of hidden influence on the psychic state of citizens to increase the number of parishioners through the involvement of specialist doctors in the area of psychology and psychiatry". Although many of these official texts – seen by Forum 18 News Service – were subsequently revoked, religious communities say they reflect the attitudes of many local officials. "Such views are not just those of one official – many think like that," the regional Baptist presbyter in Bashkortostan told Forum 18.

28 March 2012

RUSSIA: "They broke the law and have to answer before the courts"

Fifteen named Jehovah's Witnesses and "unidentified" others in the southern Russian town of Taganrog are being investigated in two criminal cases on "extremism"-related charges carrying prison terms of up to three years, according to case documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. These are the largest criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses launched in Russia since 1991, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. "I'm not saying these people are dangerous," Investigator Vitaly Pustynnikov, who launched the two cases, told Forum 18 from Rostov-on-Don. "But they broke the law and have to answer before the courts." Taganrog's main Jehovah's Witness community was declared "extremist" through the courts in 2009 and forcibly liquidated. At least twelve community members have faced house searches since August 2011 for "banned 'jehovist' literature" and membership documents. An officer of the FSB security service in Taganrog – which contributed material for at least one of the cases - explained to Forum 18 that the FSB counters "terrorism and extremism". However, he refused to specify to which category he believes Jehovah's Witnesses belong.

26 March 2012

RUSSIA: Psychiatric examination, lawyer gagged, car tampering

Russia's FSB security service is seeking to have a Muslim being investigated on "extremism"-related criminal charges forcibly detained in a psychiatric facility for a psychiatric evaluation, after he refused to undergo one voluntarily, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Amir Abuev, a Muslim resident of the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, has been forced to sign a statement that he will not leave the city. "They're trying to prove he is mad, but he is a perfectly sane individual," his Moscow-based lawyer Sergei Sychev told Forum 18. Abuev's car has also been tampered with – despite his being under surveillance from the authorities - and Abuev's local lawyer has been obliged to sign an order banning them from discussing the case publicly until the investigation is completed. The FSB investigator has several times refused adamantly to discuss any aspect of the case with Forum 18. The 31-year-old Abuev - a reader of the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi - denies any wrongdoing.

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