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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

RUSSIA: Church to be demolished as place where crime "repeatedly committed"?

On 18 June, Slavyansk City Court in Krasnodar Region will resume hearing the city administration suit for independent Orthodox Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov to demolish Holy Intercession Tikhonite Church as an "unauthorised structure". The Investigative Department informed the administration he had been charged with "discrediting" the Armed Forces for criticising Russia's war against Ukraine. It said the church was "a public place, with a large number of visitors, where a crime has been repeatedly committed against the basis of the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation".

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.

RUSSIA: "Extremism" prosecutions of elderly Jehovah's Witnesses

Courts have convicted 467 Jehovah's Witnesses from 2017 up to 18 March 2024, and ultimately acquitted none. Over a quarter of the Jehovah's Witnesses prosecuted have been aged 60 or older, with 12 individuals aged at least 80. The sentences imposed have ranged from heavy fines to some of the longest prison terms – of 7 years or more – handed down to Jehovah's Witnesses. On 15 March, 72-year-old Sergey Vasilyev became the oldest Jehovah's Witness currently imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of religion and belief after he was sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment.

RUSSIA: Religious freedom survey, March 2024

Freedom of religion and belief, with interlinked freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and other fundamental freedoms remain seriously restricted in Russia. Forum 18's survey analysis ahead of the forthcoming presidential election documents freedom of religion or belief violations including: "extremism"-related criminal prosecutions and jailings of Jehovah's Witnesses and of Muslims who meet to study the works of Said Nursi; torture, and impunity for torture; prisoners of conscience deprived of Russian citizenship and deported after their sentence; and prosecuting, fining, and jailing Russians who protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine from a religious perspective.

RUSSIA: 42 on Federal Wanted List for exercising freedom of religion or belief

Russia's Interior Ministry Federal Wanted List includes: 3 opponents of Russia's war against Ukraine on religious grounds; 6 Muslim Nursi readers from Russia; 16 Jehovah's Witnesses from Russia, 4 from Russian-occupied Crimea; 3 people wanted by Belarus; 3 wanted by Kazakhstan; 2 wanted by Tajikistan; 5 wanted by Uzbekistan. The Interior Ministry did not respond to Forum 18's question why it includes people who peacefully exercised their right to freedom of religion or belief. Interpol would not say for how many of them Russia had sought Red Notices.

RUSSIA: Another trial of Muslims meeting to study Nursi's works

Seven months after a Moscow court handed prison terms to six Muslims who met to study their faith using the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi, the same court is hearing the case of two more. 45-year-old Zurab Dzhabrailov and 53-year-old Dzheykhun Rustamov have so far made two court appearances. The two have been held at Butyrka prison since August 2023. Investigative Committee and FSB security service documents seen by Forum 18 reveal the investigation – which has involved covert surveillance - has been ongoing since 2017.

RUSSIA: Criminal case for repeat "discreditation"

Investigators are working on a criminal case against 86-year-old independent Orthodox Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov for repeat "discreditation" of the Armed Forces. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for five years. He condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the conduct of the war as "Satanic". The Federal Investigative Committee and Krasnodar Region branches of the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service did not answer questions on the case. Armed personnel raided his church in October 2023, torturing a fellow priest. The community is "very intimidated", with parishioners "afraid to attend services".

RUSSIA: "Faith forbids him to take up arms, kill, or take oaths"

Military officials rejected the alternative civilian service applications of four young Baptists in Siberia and the Far East. The four men had all set out their pacifist religious convictions. Brothers Daniil and German Strelkov are preparing to appeal after a court ruled the refusals lawful. Courts twice declined to uphold Zakhar Asmalovsky's lawsuit against the military authorities. Timofey Reznichenko successfully challenged his refusal in court, gaining the right to have his application re-examined. A higher-level Conscription Commission granted a fifth, Sergey Myalik, the right to undertake alternative service.

RUSSIA: Fourth post-prison Jehovah's Witness deportation

Despite living half his life in Russia and marriage to a Russian citizen, 46-year-old Jehovah's Witness Rustam Seidkuliyev was deported to his native Turkmenistan in September after completing his jail term for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Officials did not explain to Forum 18 why his Russian citizenship had been annulled in 2022, given his long residence in Russia, that there were no victims in his criminal case, and that his family had had to leave Turkmenistan because of their exercise of freedom of religion or belief.

RUSSIA: Armed raid on Krasnodar Region church

In early October, 10 unidentified armed men raided a non-Moscow Patriarchate Russian Orthodox Church in the southern Krasnodar Region whose clergy have repeatedly spoken out against Russia's war in Ukraine. A priest was physically tortured, detained, and charged with "disobeying a police officer" and "discrediting the Russian Armed Forces". "At least five searches took place simultaneously", Fr Iona told Forum 18. The Krasnodar Region branches of the Investigative Committee, Federal Security Service (FSB), Interior Ministry, and National Guard failed to respond to Forum 18's questions about the raid.

RUSSIA: Four now jailed for refusing to fight in Ukraine on religious grounds

Military courts have now jailed four men for refusing on religious grounds to go to fight in Ukraine. In Vladivostok, Baptist Vyacheslav Reznichenko entered the prison colony-settlement on 18 September to start his 2 year, 6 month term. In Murmansk, a court handed long-serving contract soldier Maksim Makushin, a Pentecostal Christian, a term of 2 years and 8 months "for refusing to kill Ukrainians". He is awaiting his appeal. Neither courts nor prosecutors answered Forum 18's questions why they were not allowed to do alternative civilian service.

RUSSIA: Second jail term for opposing Russia's war in Ukraine on religious grounds

On 31 August, a St Petersburg court jailed 55-year-old Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov for 3 years and banned him from posting on the internet for 2 years for distributing "false information about the Russian Armed Forces". His is the second known prison term for opposing Russia's war against Ukraine from a religious perspective. In March, a Moscow court jailed Mikhail Simonov for 7 years. Fr Ioann pleaded guilty, telling the court: "I undertake in the future not to touch upon the topic of the conduct of special military operations by our troops."