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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

BELARUS: Religious freedom survey, January 2023

Forum 18's freedom of religion and belief survey analysis of Belarus notes continuing violations of this freedom and of interlinked freedoms. These include a web of "legal" restrictions on which communities can meet, where, who they are led by, and what literature they may use. These restrictions make the exercise of freedom of religion and belief dependent on state permission. Violations have worsened since fraudulent presidential elections in August 2020, and the regime's support for Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

RUSSIA: Two trials, nine long jail terms

Eight of nine Jehovah's Witnesses convicted on "extremism"-related charges in two trials in Russia's Far East in December 2022 received jail terms of 6 to 7 years. An Amur Region Prosecutor's Office official justified the jailings: "Any missionary activity of members of a religious organisation liquidated by a court in connection with repeated violations of the law on countering extremist activity will be illegal in nature and subject to liability established by law." The 9 were among 124 Jehovah's Witnesses criminally convicted in 2022. Trials continue.

KYRGYZSTAN: Violent attacks continue in 2022 and into 2023

Violent attacks against non-Muslims in regions outside the capital Bishkek have continued in 2022 and into 2023, local Protestants told Forum 18. Officials refused to explain why perpetrators are not prosecuted and punished, and what is being done to stop such attacks. When such attacks happen, Protestants stated, "local believers are afraid to complain to the authorities" as "they are afraid of reprisals from the authorities and local mobs for complaining". "These are only isolated cases," Kanatbek Midin uuly of the State Commission for Religious Affairs claimed.

UKRAINE: First known wartime conscientious objector jailing

46-year-old Christian Vitaly Alekseenko expects to be taken to begin his one-year jail term on 19 January. On 16 January, Ivano-Frankivsk Appeal Court rejected his appeal against his conviction for refusing call up to the military on conscientious grounds. His is the fifth known Ukrainian court conviction since Russia renewed its invasion – the other four men received suspended sentences. "I told the court I agree that I have broken the law of Ukraine," Alekseenko told Forum 18, "but I am not guilty under the law of God." [UPDATE: Written verdict now due 24 January.]

KAZAKHSTAN: Religious censorship at border

For the first known time since February 2020, courts in 2022 fined five individuals several weeks' average wages for trying to import religious literature. Border guards seized the books at Shymkent Airport and at a border crossing from Uzbekistan. A Shymkent Airport border guard insisted that his service had not imposed the two literature seizures at the airport and subsequent fines. "We didn't confiscate any books, we just took them away and handed them on to the police to be examined," he said.

BELARUS: Greek Catholic website among religious works banned as "extremist"

A Greek Catholic website and a YouTube interview with a Catholic priest are the latest religious items banned by courts as "extremist" and added to the Information Ministry's "Republican List of Extremist Materials". Deputy Information Minister Igor Buzovsky, who is also Deputy Chair of the "Republican Expert Commission for the Evaluation of Symbols, Attributes, and Information Products for the presence (or absence) in them of signs of Extremism", defended such bans. "This is done exclusively on the basis of the law," he insisted.

BELARUS: Polish priest forced to leave after 25 years

After his last Mass in Grodno's Holy Redeemer Church on 27 December, Polish citizen Fr Jozef Geza left Belarus after 25 years' service. Religious affairs official Aleksandr Rumak rejected his bishop’s request to extend the permission which foreign citizens need to conduct religious work. Rumak "won't comment" on his decision, his colleague Andrei Aryayev said. Last July, Rumak refused the latest request for permission for Fr Klemens Werth. A Russian citizen, he can therefore serve only in an administrative role in Vitebsk diocese.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: One Berdyansk pastor and two priests in Russian detention

Armed Russian soldiers seized Pastor Serhiy Karpenko of Berdyansk's Vefil Church on 12 December. Russia's National Guard seized Berdyansk's two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests on 16 November. No news has been heard of any since. "Keep demanding the urgent release of our priests because of the threat to their life and health," says the Donetsk Exarchate. Forum 18 asked the Russian-installed Berdyansk police what it is doing to locate the three and find those who seized them. "We only give answers in response to an official request," it responded.