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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

ARMENIA: Conscientious objector "could be taken to jail at any time"

On 16 July, one week before his 21st birthday, Baptist conscientious objector Davit Nazaretyan received the Cassation Court's rejection of his final appeal against his two-year jail term. His application for alternative service had been rejected. "Davit could be taken to jail at any time," his pastor, Mikhail Shubin, told Forum 18 from Yerevan. "I am very disappointed by this decision," human rights defender Isabella Sargsyan of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation told Forum 18. "It is important to follow this particular case as well as the system more generally."

UZBEKISTAN: Planned new punishments for parents allowing children's religious education

The regime's non-freely-elected parliament has adopted in the first reading a draft law to allegedly "further strengthen the rights of children". The draft Law would ban and introduce punishments for parents or guardians who allow their children to receive "illegal" religious education before the age of 18. Many of the people the regime rules have expressed strong opposition to the draft Law. The regime is also planning to tighten the existing state censorship with a new Information Code.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: One arrest, one reported jail term, two releases

Russian occupation officials refuse to give any information about 44-year-old Ukrainian Orthodox Church priest Feognost Pushkov, arrested on 20 June. Officials have been investigating his social media posts and searched his home in Prosyanoe in occupied Luhansk Region. Fr Feognost was sole carer for his elderly mother. Unconfirmed reports say the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Regional Court sentenced a Protestant in her fifties to a 7-year jail term. She was prosecuted for comments at a home prayer meeting. Russia freed Greek Catholic priests Bohdan Heleta and Ivan Levytsky on 28 June after 19 months.

RUSSIA: Further jail term for answering fellow prisoners' questions about faith?

For the first time, a Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience is on trial in Kostroma for his exercise of freedom of religion or belief while imprisoned. Dmitry Terebilov answered questions about his faith from a fellow prisoner. Officials have not explained why answering questions constitutes involving another person in an "extremist" organisation. The camp administration has recordings of his conversations, but prison officials have not said whether and why they kept him under surveillance. If found guilty, he could receive a further sentence of several years, on top of his present 3-year term.

RUSSIA: Who ordered torture of Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience?

Fellow medical facility prisoners tortured prisoner of conscience Rinat Kiramov over four days in April after he refused to give names of fellow Jehovah's Witnesses in his home town. They punched, kicked, waterboarded, threatened with rape, and shocked him with a stun gun. It is unclear how the prisoners had access to a stun gun. Kiramov's lawyer lodged a complaint to the Prosecutor's Office, which passed it to police. Whether police investigators have decided to open a criminal case is unknown. The UN Convention against Torture obliges states to arrest and punish officials who commit, order or allow torture. There is a long-standing pattern of impunity for torturers.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Orthodox priest's "espionage" verdict due 2 August

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) priest Kostiantyn Maksimov faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted on Russian "espionage" charges. His trial began on 6 June, with the final presentation of arguments due on 31 July and the verdict on 2 August. Seized by occupation forces in May 2023, Fr Kostiantyn is in Investigation Prison No. 2 in the Crimean capital Simferopol. On 7 June, Russian FSB officers raided Fr Feognost Pushkov's home in occupied Luhansk Region with a court-ordered search. Officials questioned him on 11 June. He was summoned to be added to the military register.

KYRGYZSTAN: Greater financial controls on religious organisations?

Despite Parliament's rejection on 6 June of a Religion Law amendment that would have imposed tighter financial reporting by registered religious organisations, work on a similar amendment continues. Deputy Ulan Primov – who is promoting such tighter controls – has not answered Forum 18's question on why he believes they are needed. "Financial control measures for non-commercial organisations in general were incorporated into the Law in 2022," says Gulshayir Abdirasulova of human rights organisation Kylym Shamy. "Now the authorities want to adopt such measures for religious organisations."

GEORGIA: Government's "real purpose" not to ensure public transparency "but to exert control"

Despite massive protests, the ruling party's Foreign Influence Transparency (Foreign Agent) Law (called by many Georgians including President Salome Zourabichvili the "Russian Law") came into force on 3 June. All civil society organisations (including most religious organisations) receiving more than a fifth of income from abroad must by September enter a range of information on a public register as an "organisation serving the interests of a foreign power". Pastor Zaal Tkeshelashvili of the unregistered Evangelical Church likens the new Law to "the State installing surveillance cameras in every corner to control the religious or private lives of believers".