15 May 2015
Organisations in Russia - including religious communities - charged with distributing banned "extremist" texts face sharply increased fines after May changes to Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code. Confiscations of religious texts from both Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses, mostly during raids or detentions, frequently result in prosecutions of people, Forum 18 News Service notes. Convictions have led to liquidation, or threats of liquidation, against Jehovah's Witness or Muslim communities they belong to. This has most recently happened in April, after a Jehovah's Witness was convicted of distributing texts on the street. Tikhoretsk Inter-District Prosecutor's Office warned the local Jehovah's Witness congregation about the "inadmissibility of extremist activity" and stated that if it is not heeded "the question of liquidating the above organisation may be considered". In March a Perm Region resident was jailed for five days for posting a banned video on the VKontakte social network, entitled "The Wonders of the Koran". Other recent convictions have taken place after the Islamic texts concerned have been ordered to be taken off the Federal List.
1 May 2015
Baptist pastor Pavel Pilipchuk was imprisoned for five days in Orel in mid-April for refusing to pay a fine for allegedly organising an open-air meeting for worship without informing the city administration beforehand, church members told Forum 18 News Service. "Christian songs and conversations with people cannot be classified as rallies, pickets, marches and demonstrations," they insist. Religious communities whose beliefs require them to share their beliefs in public, beyond the confines of a place of worship, are particularly vulnerable to prosecution in Russia. Public processions with chanting constitute "one of the main forms of expression of the right of believers to act in accordance with their beliefs and the right to disseminate them", Hare Krishna lawyer Mikhail Frolov explained to Forum 18. Nine Jehovah's Witnesses and four Muslims are known to have been fined since the beginning of 2015 for holding public religious events.
31 March 2015
A total of 65 individuals and religious communities are known to have been prosecuted in 2014 across Russia for possession of allegedly "extremist" banned religious literature which does not appear to incite violence or hatred, Forum 18 News Service notes. Of these, 56 ended up with punishments. The cases were brought under Administrative Code Article 20.29 ("Production and distribution of extremist materials"), and all the cases related to the alleged possession of Muslim or Jehovah's Witness literature by individuals, religious communities, shopkeepers or stall holders. Courts continue in 2015 to rule Muslim and Jehovah's Witness literature "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions. In 16 of the 65 known 2014 cases, courts ordered the religious literature to be destroyed. Prosecutors may use Article 20.29 convictions to seek to have a religious community forcibly dissolved. These 65 literature-related "extremism" cases are part of a wider pattern of investigations and prosecutions of people exercising their freedom of religion or belief.
20 March 2015
A Russian court's 2012 ban of 65 Islamic books, one issue of the Muslim journal Novie Grani (New Boundaries), and two short articles as allegedly "extremist" has been partially overturned, Forum 18 News Service notes. However, 18 of the 68 texts in the original ruling remain banned. Appeals are being prepared against these bans. However, courts continue to rule literature "extremist", opening the way for more prosecutions for their possession or "mass distribution". These include the Google Translate Russian version of a collection of sayings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, and a video commenting on the attempted seizure by bailiffs of saints' relics from the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. Also banned as "extremist" have been two Jehovah's Witness texts, with the community being forced to pay for the state's "expert analysis" which contributed to the ban. Analyses and testimony by Jehovah's Witnesses themselves were refused. Despite the term "mass distribution", prosecutors have often brought charges even if only one copy of a text is discovered. No state agency has answered Forum 18's questions on whether it is right that people should be punished for their possession and whether such prosecutions are a sensible use of police and prosecutors' time.
6 March 2015
A 31-year-old Muslim from Ulyanovsk, Bagir Kazikhanov, is preparing to appeal against his sentence of three and a half years' imprisonment for "organisation of extremist activity". He is the first known person to be sentenced under the February 2014 lengthened Criminal Code Article 282.2, Part 1 terms of imprisonment, Forum 18 News Service notes. Two fellow Muslims who received suspended prison terms are also set to appeal, a fellow Muslim told Forum 18. A fourth man is wanted by police. The four met to discuss religion, watch football and study the works of the Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi. Many Russian translations of his works have been banned. The 15th hearing in the criminal trial of two leaders of a Muslim "women's cell" in Krasnoyarsk is due on 1 April. And the eighth hearing in the re-trial of 16 members of the banned Jehovah's Witness community in Taganrog for alleged "extremism" offences was adjourned today (6 March).
2 March 2015
Communities who exercise freedom of religion or belief in public without Russian state permission may find their members facing five-figure Rouble fines if they do not inform the local authorities in advance, Forum 18 News Service notes. It is possible that changes to the Religion Law may have a positive effect on cases currently before the courts, such as that of a Sochi Protestant leader fined for holding prayers and a Bible study in a rented café. The FSB security service was behind that case, sending officials to attend the meeting. However, a new Criminal Code Article 212.1 ("Repeated infringement of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession, or picket") may have a chilling effect on exercising freedom of religion or belief in public. The Sochi Bible study group has ceased to meet fearing prosecution under this Article, their lawyer told Forum 18. However, Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis thinks the authorities may seek to avoid prosecuting religious or belief communities under this article. "Political protesters will go first", he thought.
29 January 2015
Held in prison in pre-trial detention for months in 2013 after a Police and FSB security service raid, six Muslims in Perm in the Urals were finally convicted in December 2014 and fined, court officials told Forum 18 News Service. They were convicted of "extremism"-related offences for meeting to study the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, many of whose books have been banned in Russian translation. Fined the same month was another Nursi reader in Rostov-on-Don. Two other criminal trials – in Ulyanovsk and Krasnoyarsk – are underway. One of the Ulyanovsk defendants, Bagir Kazikhanov, spent more than 6 months in pre-trial detention in 2014. The other two spent about three months in pre-trial detention. The re-trial of 16 members of Taganrog's Jehovah's Witness community – already banned as "extremist" - is due to begin on 5 February.
22 January 2015
In October 2014, Ramazan mosque in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg was fined 50,000 Roubles – equivalent to nine months' official minimum wage – for possessing religious literature which does not appear to incite violence or hatred. The mosque's imam Albert Bayazitov was formally warned about the inadmissibility of "extremist" activity. A court rejected the appeal against the fine in December 2014. This was among 18 administrative cases in 14 different regions of Russia in the last four months of 2014 identified by Forum 18 News Service in which individuals or organisations were punished for possessing religious literature the authorities deem "extremist". Forum 18 asked Russia's Justice Ministry in writing in September 2014 whether it is right that people should be punished for possessing religious texts which do not incite hatred. More than four months on, it has received no response.
16 December 2014
In Russia's capital Moscow Hare Krishna devotees are appealing against a unilaterally terminated land lease and the denial of building permission for a temple by the authorities. "We will pursue both cases through every level of the courts, to be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights", the community's lawyer told Forum 18 News Service. Long-standing official obstructions also continue in Moscow for other disfavoured faiths in the capital, such as Muslims and Protestants. Muslims in Kaliningrad have already appealed to the ECtHR in their efforts to overcome official obstructions and complete their mosque. "In Russia no hope remains of correcting this illegal judicial act", their lawyer told Forum 18 News Service. Kaliningrad's Jewish community, trying to reconstruct their synagogue destroyed in 1938 by the Nazis, is challenging the city administration's denial of a building permit in the Regional Arbitration Court. Local Jewish newspaper editor Sergey Sterlin told Forum 18 that the project is "historical justice..with respect to the victims of the Holocaust and the anti-fascist movement".
3 December 2014
Russian courts have banned more Muslim literature and a video on the ownership of Orthodox saints' relics as "extremist", Forum 18 News Service notes. They have also banned a US-based Russian language website with the text of a hadith collection held by Sunni Muslims to be the most important Islamic book after the Koran. Ravil Tugushev, a lawyer challenging the website ban, noted that "many native Muslims of the Russian Federation do not know Arabic and read Russian translations of the holy texts, including those on the internet". Also, Sakhalin prosecutors are trying to ban a book containing verses from the Koran. Mufti of Asiatic Russia Nafigulla Ashirov described the case as "complete insanity" for being based on verses of the Koran. Commenting on the banning by Artyomovo Municipal Court of 13 Islamic texts as "extremist", Mufti of Saratov Mukaddas Bibarsov stated that if the hadith collection is banned "you should ban books of all religions, without exception, because each of us believes his religion exceptional and the truth". Officials have refused to discuss any of the cases with Forum 18.