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1 May 2014

RUSSIA: "They'll punish you .. whether or not you committed a crime"

Russian law enforcement agencies continue to conduct inspections of premises and vehicles owned by Muslims and Jehovah's Witness, often targeting religious literature banned as "extremist", Forum 18 News Service notes. Prosecution often follows on charges of "mass distribution" of "extremist" material – even if only one copy of a text is found. In the 15 known prosecutions so far in 2014 all have led to convictions. In one example, the Mufti of a Mosque in Saransk was tried for possession of one copy of Turkish theologian Said Nursi's "Guidebook for Women". Mosque staff think the book was planted, and Mufti Zyaki Aizatullin stated that the first time he had seen it was during an inspection by the Prosecutor. On appeal on 5 March, the defence pointed out among other things that there were discrepancies in who the prosecution stated had found the book. But the appeal was dismissed. The Mosque spokeswoman commented to Forum 18 that "it turns out the law exists only on paper, and in practice they'll punish you regardless of whether or not you committed a crime. It's enough just to be a Muslim."

15 April 2014

RUSSIA: European Court request enough to protect Uzbek asylum seeker?

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has told the Russian government that Uzbek asylum seeker Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov "should not be expelled or otherwise involuntarily removed from Russia to Uzbekistan or another country" while his case there is considered, according to court documents seen by Forum 18 News Service. The Uzbek government has been seeking his return since 2010 to face criminal charges for participating in an unregistered Muslim community. Although he succeeded in having an extradition order overturned in 2011, his status as a temporary refugee in Russia was not extended in 2013. His challenge failed in a Moscow court in March 2014. "The European Court measures should be enough to protect Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov, as Russia usually abides by such measures," his lawyer Eleonora Davidyan told Forum 18. However, she points to cases when security service officers have abducted asylum seekers in Russia. Irina Blazheyeva of Novosibirsk Region Federal Migration Service dismisses such concerns. "This is in the realm of fantasy," she told Forum 18.

10 April 2014

RUSSIA: "Tired of the unjust treatment of the books, ourselves, and our loved ones"

Amid a crackdown on readers of the late Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi in Naberezhnyye Chelny in Tatarstan, two more were fined for involvement in an "extremist" organisation, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Nakiya Sharifullina and Laura Khapinova are now appealing against their criminal convictions. Naberezhnyye Chelny Court is also hearing a Prosecutor's Office suit to have 17 more of Nursi's books – plus a biography of him – seized during police raids banned as "extremist". The Prosecutor's Office refused to discuss the suit with Forum 18. On 21 March, the Russian government defended its 2010 ban on another Nursi publication in a case brought to the European Court of Human Rights by Krasnoyarsk Spiritual Administration of Muslims. The government response – seen by Forum 18 - insists that the ruling was "necessary". However, Jehovah's Witnesses have finally succeeded in having two of their brochures removed from the Federal List of Extremist Materials.

26 March 2014

RUSSIA: St Petersburg church liquidated, Rostov and Chelyabinsk drug and alcohol rehabilitation targeted

A St Petersburg Pentecostal church has been liquidated this month for alleged illegal educational activity. Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres in Rostov and Chelyabinsk regions of Russia are also been targeted for closure by the authorities, Forum 18 News Service has found. Harvest Church lawyer Sergei Chugunov of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice stated that the St Petersburg Prosecutor "could simply have demanded an end to the activities they deemed illegal, and taken action in the event of disobedience". But, he told Forum 18, "it was decided to resort immediately to the most extreme measure – liquidation. We pointed out this disparity in court, but the court decided otherwise." The Church continues to meet for worship and intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The three Rostov cases and single Chelyabinsk case have so far followed the same pattern – claims of illegal detention of addicts, an inspection by law enforcement agents, and the removal of residents.

12 March 2014

RUSSIA: Two fines, two more sentences imminent, court-ordered book destructions

Two readers of Islamic theologian Said Nursi - Ilnur Khafizov and Fidail Salimzyanov – have appealed against fines handed down in Tatarstan in February for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. The verdict – seen by Forum 18 News Service – also orders religious books confiscated from them to be destroyed. Sentences in the criminal trial of two female Nursi readers are expected on 19 March. Although a criminal trial in Kaliningrad ended without a verdict after the two-year deadline, the court ordered Nursi reader Amir Abuev's books destroyed, a decision he described to Forum 18 as "a gross violation".

4 March 2014

RUSSIA: Still no mosque for Sochi, Protestants struggle to keep church

Acquiring and retaining places of worship in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi is difficult for some local residents, Forum 18 News Service notes. Sochi's Muslims are still without a mosque, despite repeated attempts to obtain land and permission to build since 1996. Despite repeated official promises of action, no concrete steps have yet been taken to enable a mosque to be built. In contrast, Krasnodar Region allocated more than 525 million Roubles for the construction of the vast Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Image of Christ at the Olympic Park, which was consecrated on 2 February 2014. Meanwhile, House of the Gospel Church is struggling to retain its Church building against city attempts to sell it off. In 2011 the Church asked for full ownership of the building it has used since 1993 (having had lesser ownership since 2007), as Russian law allows, but Sochi administration repeatedly failed to respond or give reasons for its lack of response. Two court hearings have failed to secure the Church's rights to the property, and it is now preparing a third appeal. The hearing date will be set on 25 March.

11 February 2014

RUSSIA: "We do not believe in the justice of our court"

The criminal trial of Ilnur Khafizov and Fidail Salimzyanov, both Muslim readers of the works of Islamic theologian Said Nursi, began again in a magistrates' court in Naberezhnyye Chelny in Russia on 29 January. Proceedings are due to re-start on 19 February, local Muslims told Forum 18 News Service. The criminal trial of two Muslim women, Nakiya Sharifullina and Laura Khapinova, began in a different magistrates' court in the town on 22 January. Their trial is due to resume on 12 February. In Krasnoyarsk, Andrei Dedkov has been accused of organising a cell of the banned "extremist" group "Nurdzhular", having been detained on 24 January when police searched the city's Cathedral Mosque after morning prayers. In the same city, Magomed Suleyman-ogly has been accused of being the leader of a "youth wing of Nurdzhular". Also, changes to "extremism"-related Articles of the Criminal Code, signed into law on 3 February, make it easier for the state to obtain legal permission for surveillance techniques such as phone tapping.

27 January 2014

RUSSIA: Two "extremism" bans overturned - but bans, fines continue

A Krasnodar court has overturned a ban on a popular Russian translation of the Koran (though the court has still not issued the written ruling), while a Tver court has overturned a ban in Russia on the main Jehovah's Witness international website. Yet bans on religious literature amid controversial "extremism" accusations continue, Forum 18 News Service notes. Four more Jehovah's Witness texts were ruled "extremist" in December 2013. And no moves have taken place to lift a less publicised "extremism" ban on 68 Islamic texts, Nirzhigit Dolubayev, a lawyer representing one of the publishers in the case, told Forum 18. Fines continue on mosques and individuals for possessing any of the 68 books – which include collections of hadiths [sayings of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed].

20 January 2014

RUSSIA: Religion, schools and the right to choose

Russian state schools offer sharply different interpretations of the religion and ethics course introduced in September 2012, Forum 18 News Service notes in a comprehensive analysis of the current situation. In one Siberian school, only the Orthodox Culture module was offered as a headteacher claimed "we live in an Orthodox country". Yet a teacher in a different school tried to convey to pupils that "we may believe in different religions but we should respect one another". This inconsistency on the ground could result in violations of freedom of religion or belief anywhere in Russia. Unlike the initial version proposed by the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), pupils may choose one module from six on Secular Ethics, Foundations of World Religious Cultures, Foundations of Orthodox, Islamic, Jewish or Buddhist Culture. Most parents and pupils do not favour instruction in the Russian Orthodoxy of the Patriarchate in state schools. (Orthodox Old Believer churches have recommended either Secular Ethics or Foundations of World Religious Cultures.) The most common module choice is Secular Ethics.

2 December 2013

RUSSIA: Alternatives to "extremism" charges to punish freedom of religion or belief

"Extremism" accusations are not at present routinely turning into "extremism" prosecutions against members of most religious communities exercising freedom of religion or belief. (Such charges continue to be used against Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslim readers of Said Nursi's works.) But other charges continue. Taganrog's Exodus Pentecostal Church has been forced to stop drug and alcohol rehabilitation work due to alleged fire and sanitation violations. In 2010 the church it is affiliated with was given a warning for "extremism". But this does not seem to feature in the current case, although Taganrog is a focus of a key "extremism" trial against Jehovah's Witnesses. Baptists continue to be prosecuted and fined for meeting without state permission. Forum 18 News Service has found state hostility to be highly localised, with some officials supportive of Protestants exercising freedom of religion or belief. In contrast, newly emerged documents from the Jewish Autonomous Region suggest co-ordination with Moscow during local officials' preparation of an "extremism" case against Jehovah's Witnesses.

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