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1 March 2011

RUSSIA: European Court of Human Rights "obviously ignored"

Russian Jehovah's Witnesses and Armenian Catholics continue to struggle to gain registration – and so legal status – from the authorities of the capital Moscow, Forum 18 News Service has learned. A court has decided not to change a decision to close the Jehovah's Witnesses Moscow branch – despite a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling against this. Jehovah's Witnesses lawyer Artur Leontyev said this "obviously ignored the ruling of the European Court", and said an appeal will be made. ECtHR mandated damages and costs have also not been paid to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Also Moscow's Armenian Catholic congregation continues to be unable to gain registration. A court hearing was postponed until 11 April, when the authorities failed to appear. The Armenian Catholics' lawyer, Vladimir Ryakhovsky of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, told Forum 18 beforehand that a negative ruling "would give us the chance to take the issue to the Constitutional Court and challenge the Religion Law". His colleague Inna Zagrebina told Forum 18 that nationwide illegal state interference in communities' internal life is "an integral part of life for religious organisations".

11 February 2011

RUSSIA: 17 hearings already, more to come

When the criminal trial resumes in Gorno-Altaisk of Jehovah's Witness Aleksandr Kalistratov on extremism-related charges on 14 February, it will be the 18th hearing in the case, which began in October 2010. It is already the longest running case of its kind in the court, but a court spokesperson refused to explain to Forum 18 News Service why it is taking so long. Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Grigory Martynov told Forum 18 it is expensive for Kalistratov's lawyers to travel repeatedly from St. Petersburg to Gorno-Altaisk, but insisted "it is a material issue to fight this case". Other Jehovah's Witnesses are facing similar charges. Also due to resume on 16 February in Dagestan is the criminal trial of Ziyavdin Dapayev, a reader of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi. Further Jehovah's Witness publications were added in January to the Federal List of Extremist Materials, which already includes many of Nursi's writings.

4 February 2011

RUSSIA: "It is, in my opinion, religious persecution"

Russia continues to raid meetings of readers of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi in 2011, Forum 18 News Service has found. Azerbaijani national Rashid Abdulov was arrested in Ulyanovsk on 20 January and is still in detention awaiting charge. Other Muslims gathered in the same flat were briefly detained in a raid in which police reportedly used physical violence was used against them, including against children present. Abdulov's lawyer Vladimir Zavilinich told Forum 18 that: "It is, in my opinion, religious persecution, and fits in with the trend of arrests in Novosibirsk and Krasnodar". Abdulov was found to be in possession of materials listed on titles which feature on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, and his lawyer expects him to come to trial in "a maximum of six to nine months, during which time Abdulov will remain in prison". Fellow Nursi reader Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov from Uzbekistan also remains in prison in Russia. This follows an extradition request from his home country and a request he filed to receive refugee status in Russia. Jehovah's Witnesses are also subject to such raids.

26 January 2011

AZERBAIJAN: "There is no discrimination" ?

After Azerbaijan's deportation of a former leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Russian citizen Ivan Uzun, and the denial of re-entry to Moldovan citizen Gheorghiy Sobor, Adventists have told Forum 18 News Service they are trying to resolve problems with the government through dialogue. Sobor lives in the capital Baku with his Azerbaijani wife and their three young children. He thinks he may have been denied re-entry as he helped Adventists gain state permission to import books. His wife Aida told Forum 18 that: "Without any court decision and without the possibility for him to respond, they have separated Gheorghiy from his family and children. Such an action contradicts basic human rights and international law at the same time as Azerbaijan considers itself a democratic country". Yusif Askerov of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations claimed that "there is no discrimination". Adventists stress that they have been present in the country for more than a century. An Adventist told Forum 18 that: "We're working to build bridges with the government".

14 December 2010

RUSSIA: Orthodox can get Catholic and Lutheran churches – but Catholics and Lutherans can't

Seeking the return of the century-old Holy Family Catholic Church in Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad in vain over nearly two decades has been the local parish of the same name, which still worships in a temporary structure. However, the church – as well as former Lutheran churches and several castles – was suddenly handed to the Russian Orthodox, who have never owned them, under two local Laws. Catholic parish priest Fr Aleksandr Krevsky told Forum 18 News Service "there were hopes" earlier for the church's return, but now: "All lies in the hands of the Lord." Handing such property to the Orthodox is "fully justified", Inna Moreva of the Kaliningrad Government insisted to Forum 18. Asked why it was right that property confiscated during the Soviet period from Catholic and Lutherans was handed to another religious community, she responded: "You're not Russian, you won't understand." One Kaliningrad official told Forum 18 anonymously that the decision was unfair. "It was a surprise for us officials as well."

1 December 2010

RUSSIA: City administration considered liquidation of religious community "necessary"

Intensive work by the city administration over many years against the Jehovah's Witness community in Gorno-Altaisk in southern Siberia was revealed by city official Irina Moshkareva in the criminal trial of local Jehovah's Witness leader Aleksandr Kalistratov. Despite a lack of written complaints against the organisation, administrative or criminal convictions or any official warnings to the Jehovah's Witness community, she told the court that she had prepared a January 2008 appeal from Mayor Viktor Oblogin to Altai Republic Supreme Court calling for the activity of the community to be halted and its organisation to be liquidated, a transcript of the hearing seen by Forum 18 News Service reveals. Asked by Kalistratov's defence why the move to halt the community's activity had been initiated, Moshkareva responded: "Because our leadership considered it necessary." No official was prepared to explain to Forum 18 why such a move – which the Altai Republic Supreme Court rejected – was initiated, and why officials then used Russia's 2002 Extremism Law to pursue the same aim.

30 November 2010

RUSSIA: First post-Soviet criminal trial of Jehovah's Witness "ludicrous"

The first post-Soviet criminal trial in Russia of a Jehovah's Witness for sharing beliefs with others – which may conclude as soon as 17 December – is causing increasing alarm, Forum 18 News Service notes. Aleksandr Kalistratov is accused under the Criminal Code's Article 282, which the Prosecutor in defending the trial has described as "amorphous and so does not require concretisation". Mikhail Odintsov of the Office of Russia's Ombudsperson for Human Rights said he had read the charges and attentively listened to the evidence presented by the Public Prosecutor, but had "failed to find a single convincing conclusion". He described the trial's expert analysis as "unscientific" and concluded that relying on it "is fraught with further miscarriages of justice and may prove a detonator of mass violations of human rights". Prosecutors in other regions who have launched similar criminal extremism cases against Jehovah's Witnesses are awaiting the outcome of the Gorno-Altaisk trial before proceeding. Exactly the same extremism-related charges that Kalistratov is facing were used to convict Ilham Islamli, the first reader of the works of the late Muslim theologian Said Nursi to have been convicted under the Criminal Code.

29 October 2010

RUSSIA: Presenting Islam as "the true faith" = extremism?

Muslims in Russia's Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk are challenging a court's designation as "extremist" another work by the Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The verdict also declares the work liable to confiscation wherever it is found. However, the 2002 Extremism Law only permits the confiscation of material if it is published, distributed or stored with the aim of distribution. Krasnoyarsk's Zheleznodorozhny District Court declared that the Russian translation of "Tenth Word on the Resurrection of the Dead" is "extremist", after Krasnoyarsk Muftiate had published 500 copies of the book. A proof copy was sent by the FSB security service to the Rector of Viktor Astafyev University for analysis. The Court based its judgment on that analysis – but refused to accept another analysis refuting extremism claims by three experts in psychology and philosophy from Moscow State University. An appeal brought by the Muftiate is due to be heard by Krasnoyarsk Regional Court on 29 November.

22 September 2010

RUSSIA: Will Russia extradite reader of Muslim theologian to Uzbekistan?

Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov, an Uzbek reader of the works of Muslim theologian Said Nursi, has been arrested in Russia after a request from Uzbekistan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. He fled Uzbekistan after being warned his arrest was likely, after his brother, another reader of Nursi's works, was given a six year jail sentence. A prosecution official told Forum 18 that the extradition decision will be taken by the General Prosecutor's Office in Moscow. Yelena Ryabinina of the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute told Forum 18 that "people are being sought and prosecuted not because of any extremist actions, but because of what they read. The Uzbek authorities regard any religious or political dissidence or independent activity as a threat that must be crushed", she told Forum 18. "There is an international ban on extraditing individuals to countries where torture is practised – and Russia should abide by this. We are ready to take this case as far as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if we have to," she added.

7 September 2010

RUSSIA: Congresses disrupted, website blocked

Police and local officials who disrupted a Jehovah's Witness congress in southern Russia in July used cars, dustcarts and power cuts to prevent it from going ahead, before sealing off the building on alleged security grounds, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Other congresses elsewhere were disrupted or blocked. "Everywhere the pattern's the same," Jehovah's Witness Grigory Martynov told Forum 18. "The police seal the building saying they're looking for a suspicious item. When nothing is found, it doesn't matter – the main point is to disrupt the congress." Meanwhile, as part of a crackdown on websites with "extremist content", a court in the Russian far east has – for the first time - ordered an internet service provider to block local access to the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower website. Other sites – including YouTube – have also been ordered blocked on prosecutors' suits, but Valentina Glazova of Khabarovsk Regional Prosecutor's Office denies that these represent censorship. "Our office supervises the implementation of the law," she told Forum 18. "Access to extremist material on websites should be blocked." As of 7 September, the Russian Federation had not challenged a European Court of Human Right ruling in favour of Moscow's Jehovah's Witness community, which becomes final on 10 September.

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