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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

KAZAKHSTAN: Regime ignores UN alternative service recommendations

"The law does not directly recognise the right of an individual to refuse to carry out military service on religious or other grounds," Kazakhstan told the UN Human Rights Committee on 2 April in response to questions about progress on an alternative to compulsory military service. The regime did not explain why it does not recognise this right. The regime's Human Rights Commissioner Artur Lastayev did not answer Forum 18's questions. Conscription Offices often pressure young men who refuse to serve in the armed forces on grounds of conscience.

KAZAKHSTAN: Conscientious objector's 6 months in military detention

In autumn 2022, Jehovah's Witness Daniil Smal presented the Conscription Office a certificate from the Jehovah's Witness Centre that he is a "religious minister". This should have exempted him from conscription. He was summoned on 17 May 2023, and forcibly transferred to a military unit. He was freed only in November 2023 when Almaty Military Garrison Court ruled his conscription illegal. The Military Court rejected the military's appeal in April 2024. Smal's conscientious objection "may lead to mass negative consequences and wide public resonance", the military claimed.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Protestant woman on trial for Melitopol prayer meeting?

In early 2024, Russian occupation forces arrested a Protestant in her fifties for participating in a July 2023 prayer meeting in the occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol. Prosecutors handed her criminal case to Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Regional Court. In the same court is the criminal case against Ukrainian Orthodox Church priest Kostiantyn Maksimov for alleged "espionage". On 27 April, Krasnodon's Russian-controlled court fined Pastor Vladimir Rytikov 5,000 Russian Roubles on charges of "illegal missionary activity" for leading his unregistered Baptist congregation. "This is half my [monthly] pension," he noted.

KAZAKHSTAN: One district, 4 police raids, 7 fines

Police in Shu District of southern Kazakhstan raided four meetings for worship of three unregistered Protestant communities and issued six summary fines in March and April. A local court handed down another fine. The leader of one church, 76-year-old Pastor Andrei Boiprav, awaits a court hearing, despite his health condition. Church members say the situation is causing "a threat to his life and health". Forum 18 could not reach the police involved in the raids and fines. "The police are to blame," says regional religious affairs official Saule Baibatshayeva.

UKRAINE: Two new conscientious objector jail terms

In late March a Lviv Region court sentenced Protestant conscientious objector Serhy Stadnitsky to a 3-year jail term for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience. "I don't want to kill people," he told Forum 18, adding that "of course" he would be willing to perform alternative civilian service. Two days later, a Sumy Region court handed a Jehovah's Witness a similar sentence. Both are due to go to prison if their appeals fail. The one known prisoner, Dmytro Zelinsky, awaits a Supreme Court appeal on 13 June.

UZBEKISTAN: Regime continues repeated arbitrary blocking of registration

Regime officials have in 2023 and 2024 continued to, as in previous years, repeatedly use a variety of tactics to block state registration applications from Muslim and non-Muslim religious communities. Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, and Protestants have all experienced blocking of registration attempts, and in a Jehovah's Witness case courts have backed the regime's arbitrary use of its power. "The Religion Law gives the authorities unlimited powers to refuse our registration, to our regret," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Unregistered Protestant communities have also come under police and SSS secret police pressure, including attempts to recruit informers.

RUSSIA: Archbishop fined for criticising Russia's war in Ukraine

A Krasnodar Region court found 87-year-old Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov guilty on 8 April of repeatedly "discrediting" the Russian Armed Forces. The judge fined him 8 months' local average pension. Archbishop Viktor has repeatedly condemned Russia's war against Ukraine as "aggressive" and "Satanic". Many parishioners of Holy Intercession Tikhonite Church in Slavyansk "have been scared away by recent events", says a church member. Archbishop Viktor is the fifth person criminally convicted for criticising Russia's war from a religious perspective. Many more have been punished administratively.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Deported priests now in Ukraine

In February and March, Russia illegally deported two Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) priests - Fr Khristofor Khrimli and Fr Andri Chui – to Georgia. Both priests were arrested and fined by occupation forces in September 2023, and then illegally taken to Russia. Elsewhere in occupied Ukraine, after an armed raid on the Sunday morning worship meeting of Krasnodon's Council of Churches Baptist congregation, Baptist Pastor and Soviet-era prisoner of conscience Vladimir Rytikov faces illegal Russian charges of "conducting missionary activity".