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3 June 2015

CRIMEA: New punishments for "religious agitation in public places"?

A new draft Law on Administrative Offences in the Republic of Crimea would, if adopted in current form, prescribe fines for the undefined "offence" of "religious agitation in public places". The draft passed its first reading in the State Council (Crimea's parliament) in May. Although fines would be relatively small, they would rise for repeated "offences", Forum 18 News Service notes. "I don't understand what they envisage" by the term "religious agitation in public places", Chair of the State Council's Culture Committee Svetlana Savchenko told Forum 18. Asked if Orthodox Easter processions around churches might be punishable, she responded: "Processions are not agitation – giving out books or leaflets is." Meanwhile, a senior Crimean Muslim official was twice fined in April for failing to pay earlier fines because institutions under his authority had religious books the Russian authorities claim are "extremist".

2 June 2015

CRIMEA: Interrogated, photographed, fingerprinted, fined

Seven of nine Baptists who conducted an outdoor religious meeting in a village in central Crimea were fined in May, Forum 18 News Service notes. An eighth is due in court on 15 June. All rejected police and court insistence that their event required prior notification under Russia's Demonstrations Law. "This event did not disturb public order and did not threaten the safety of the participants themselves or of other citizens," church members insisted to Forum 18. The chair of the village council who halted the event, Aleksei Rusanov, and the head of the District Police, Colonel Aleksandr Venikov, both refused to discuss their actions with Forum 18. Since Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014, some religious communities have complained of state restrictions on public activities they had previously conducted when the peninsula was under Ukrainian rule. The fines came as proposed new punishments for "religious agitation in public places" are in Crimea's State Council (parliament). The United Nations has expressed concern about the consequences of a re-registration requirement on Crimea's religious communities.

27 March 2015

CRIMEA: Religious freedom survey, March 2015

One year after Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea, Forum 18 News Service notes the forced imposition of Russian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief. Individuals and religious communities have faced raids, fines, religious literature seizures, government surveillance, expulsions of invited foreign religious leaders, unilateral cancellation of property rental contracts and obstructions to regaining places of worship confiscated in the Soviet period. Only one percent of communities which had state registration under Ukrainian law have succeeded in gaining the compulsory Russian re-registration. Members of a wide range of religious communities are highly cautious about discussing anything that could be interpreted as criticism of Russian rule for fear of possible reprisals. This includes a reluctance to discuss restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.

26 March 2015

CRIMEA: Only one percent of religious organisations re-registered

All 150 re-registration applications submitted to Crimea's Justice Department ahead of the original 31 December 2014 deadline were initially rejected as they were "very bad", Irina Demetskaya of the Justice Department in the Crimean capital Simferopol told Forum 18 News Service. Even after the extended 1 March deadline, only two centralised religious organisations (one of the Orthodox dioceses and the Muftiate) have been re-registered and only 12 local communities. This represents about one percent of the number that had Ukrainian registration, Forum 18 notes. Two more are awaiting approval from the tax authorities, while 13 are being considered in Moscow. Her office is still considering about 150 more. Without registration under Russian law, religious communities can meet, but cannot enter into contracts to rent property, employ people or invite foreigners. Meanwhile, the Sevastopol authorities have reaffirmed their refusal to return the confiscated St Clement's Catholic Church. The parish has been seeking its return since the 1990s. Vladimir Ryabykh of Sevastopol's Culture Department claimed to Forum 18 that it cannot be returned as the parish has not asked for it back.

26 January 2015

CRIMEA: "Subject to action by the law-enforcement agencies"

Crimea's Russian-backed head of government Sergei Aksyonov "gave people the opportunity" to hand in religious and other literature the Russian authorities regard as "extremist" during a moratorium on prosecutions which expired at the end of 2014. "Those who didn't will be subject to action by the law-enforcement agencies," Aksyonov's spokesperson Yekaterina Polonchuk told Forum 18 News Service. Although raids, literature seizures and administrative fines for religious books the Russian authorities regard as "extremist" seem to have reduced during the moratorium, they did not stop. A mosque leader was fined, while administrative cases against two Jehovah's Witness communities in Dzhankoi began in court during the moratorium. Muslims and librarians are particular targets of administrative fines, while an attempt to fine Simferopol's Jehovah's Witness community was sent back in November 2014.

20 January 2015

CRIMEA: Convent closed following nuns' enforced departure

Nearly 18 years after the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary established a small convent in the Crimean capital Simferopol to help in pastoral work in the city's Roman Catholic parish, it has had to close. The three nuns – who are from elsewhere in Ukraine and Poland – were refused extensions to their residence permits and had to leave in November 2014, a month after the parish priest was similarly forced to leave. "Just one priest remains in Simferopol to serve the Catholic parish," diocesan chancellor Fr Krzysztof Kontek lamented to Forum 18 News Service. "He has to do everything now by himself." December 2014 saw the last of the 23 Turkish imams and religious teachers forced to leave Crimea, bringing to an end a 20-year-old programme. Officials of Russia's Federal Migration Service insisted to Forum 18 that only registered religious communities are able to invite foreign citizens. No religious organisations in Crimea currently have legal status under Russian law and thus none are able to invite foreign citizens.

3 November 2014

CRIMEA: "All our priests and nuns will have to leave by the 2014 year end"

Russia's Federal Migration Service is not extending residence permits for foreign citizens who have been working for Crimean religious communities, leaving Simferopol's Roman Catholic parish without its senior priest, Polish citizen Fr Piotr Rosochacki, who had worked in Crimea for 5 years. All other Catholic priests and nuns will have to leave by the end of 2014. Similarly, almost all Turkish Muslim imams and religious teachers have been forced to leave Crimea. The Federal Migration Service in Crimea told Forum 18 News Service that only registered religious communities can invite foreign citizens. No Crimean religious communities have registration, and under a Russian law which entered into force on 1 July all religious communities must apply for re-registration by 1 January 2015. There is uncertainty about what will happen to applications from communities under bodies outside Crimea or Russia – including Crimea's Armenian Apostolic, Old Believer, Moscow Patriarchate, Roman Catholic and Kiev Patriarchate parishes.

29 October 2014

CRIMEA: Guns, weapons, drugs – and religious literature

Crimea's acting Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov has ordered a moratorium on raids, searches and literature confiscations until 1 January 2015. Before it there were many raids on libraries, schools, political organisations, Muslim homes, mosques and madrassahs, and Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Halls, Forum 18 News Service notes. Fines for possession of Islamic and Jehovah's Witness literature were also imposed. There do not seem to have been any raids and religious literature seizures since the moratorium. The government-appointed human rights Ombudsperson's office told Forum 18 that no action would be taken on the raids and literature seizures. Crimea's Education, Science and Youth Ministry has ordered education departments and educational institutions to remove and destroy any such literature. The Ministry official who drafted the order told Forum 18 that officials "should recycle them, use the paper again". Asked why some Islamic and Jehovah's Witness books should be destroyed, she replied: "I understand you, but the law is the law. I will answer for my role before God."

11 September 2014

CRIMEA: Six weeks until Catholic parish loses priest?

The Catholic parish in the Crimean capital Simferopol appears to be about to lose its parish priest, a Polish citizen, just as 18 of the Muftiate's invited Turkish imams have already been forced to leave. The residence permit of Fr Piotr Rosochacki – who has served in Crimea for more than five years – expires on 25 October and Russia's Federal Migration Service has verbally refused to extend it and that of a Polish Catholic nun which expires in December. Crimea's Chief Prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya, promised to investigate, though her assistant told Forum 18 that it is "too early" to expect results. Asked why Fr Rosochacki's residence permit was not simply extended as it had been on previous occasions, Yana Smolova of Russia's Federal Migration Service in Crimea responded: "That was under Ukrainian law. Now we are a different country."

10 September 2014

CRIMEA: The unbearable burden of re-registration?

All 1,546 religious communities in Crimea which had state registration with the Ukrainian authorities are being required to re-register under Russian law by 1 January 2015 if they wish to retain legal status. A wide range of communities have complained to Forum 18 News Service of the burden of having to prepare documentation and the lack of information about how to go about it. Communities that function throughout Crimea will have to register in Moscow, the rest in Crimea. Many communities which wish to remain part of Ukrainian religious organisations – including the Moscow Patriarchate and Kiev Patriarchate dioceses, the Greek Catholic Exarchate and Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Armenian Apostolic parishes – remain uncertain as to whether this will be allowed. Nikolai Barylyuk of the Crimean Department of the Russian Justice Ministry refused to tell Forum 18 whether religious communities' previous registration under Ukrainian law remains valid.

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