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RUSSIA: Pacifist Christian musician fined, banned from internet posting

Musician and teacher Anna Chagina has been handed a fine and a ban on internet posting for opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She stood accused of "discrediting" the Russian armed forces more than once in a year. "I also want to remind you of a simple ethical rule – do to others as you would have them do to you," Chagina said in her final statement. Elsewhere, Mikhail Simonov, the first person to be sentenced to jail for opposing the war from a religious perspective, has lost his appeal against his 7-year jail term.

RUSSIA: Jailed for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience

Called up in September 2022, Pentecostal Andrey Kapatsyna refused to fight in Ukraine, telling commanders that "in accordance with his religious beliefs, he could not take up arms and use them against other people". A Vladivostok court sentenced him to 2 years, 10 months' imprisonment under new legislation punishing non-fulfilment of orders in a period of combat operations. A Murmansk Region military court jailed Dmitry Vasilets for 2 years, 2 months for refusing on grounds of his new Buddhist faith to return to Ukraine after five months on the frontlines.

RUSSIA: Long jail terms for Moscow Nursi readers

Arrested in October 2021, six Muslims who met to study the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi finally went on trial in September 2022. On 27 June 2023, a Moscow court jailed four of the six for 6 years or more, with the others receiving lesser terms. The judge ordered the destruction of books by Nursi taken during the investigation. On 20 June, a Taganrog court jailed Jehovah's Witness Aleksandr Skvortsov for 7 years. All were convicted on "extremism" charges, which all denied.

RUSSIA: Judges "ignore completely" amended Supreme Court guidance on Extremism Law application

Hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses and dozens of Muslims who read theologian Said Nursi's works have been jailed or given suspended sentences on "extremism" charges. October 2021 Supreme Court revised guidance for extremism trials directed judges to ascertain defendants' "specific actions" and "motivation". Courts have now overturned all eight acquittals resulting from the revised guidance, with one acquitted earlier jailed for 8 years. Early hope has now "completely gone", Jehovah's Witness lawyers say. The defence "of course" refers to the Supreme Court guidance in every case, but "the judges ignore it completely".

RUSSIA: "Would Jesus Christ have gone to kill in Ukraine?"

Eduard Charov criticised Russia's invasion of Ukraine on social media, asking "Would Jesus Christ have gone to kill in Ukraine?". The FSB alerted the Prosecutor's Office. A Sverdlovsk Region court fined him for "discrediting" the Armed Forces and "inciting hatred" towards state authorities. A Moscow court fined Mariya Kunchenko for an Orthodox Easter Sunday protest, while a Kareliya court fined Yekaterina Kukharskaya for putting up stickers bearing the Sixth Commandment ("Thou shalt not kill"). Police, prosecutors' offices, and courts did not respond to Forum 18's questions.

RUSSIA: Freedom of religion and belief monitoring group ordered closed

Following a media campaign, a complaint from the Veterans of Russia organisation, a Prosecutor General's Office demand, a Moscow Justice Department inspection and court suit, a Judge has ordered the liquidation of the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, Russia's leading organisation monitoring freedom of religion or belief violations. "Organisations like SOVA or Memorial conducting subversive activity in Russia must be liquidated and brought to criminal responsibility," Ildar Rezyapov, who lodged the complaint, told Forum 18. The head of the Non-Governmental Organisations Department at Moscow's Justice Department refused to comment.

RUSSIA: Jailed for meetings "to understand the Koran [and] strengthen his faith"

Khunar Agayev testified to Naberezhnyye Chelny City Court that he had read Muslim theologian Said Nursi's books "to understand the Koran [and] strengthen his faith". When others were interested, he explained Nursi's works to them. The court in March jailed him and another Muslim who met others to study Nursi's works for 2 and a half years for "organising the activities of a banned extremist organisation" and ordered their religious books destroyed. The court gave a third Muslim a suspended sentence. Elsewhere, a Kazan court handed suspended sentences to three Muslims who also met to study Nursi's works.

RUSSIA: First jail term for religious-based opposition to war

On 30 March, a Moscow court jailed 63-year-old Orthodox Christian Mikhail Simonov for 7 years for disseminating "false information" about the Russian armed forces on the basis of "political hatred". He had made two short social media posts condemning Russia's war against Ukraine, including: "We, Russia, have become godless. Forgive us, Lord!" The Investigative Committee and Prosecutor's Office did not respond on why they sought a long jail term for Simonov, who suffers from health problems. A Krasnodar Region court fined 86-year-old independent Orthodox Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov two months' average pension for a sermon.

RUSSIA: Two criminal trials to resume in April

The criminal trial of Tomsk musician Anna Chagina on charges of again "discrediting" the Armed Forces resumes on 11 April. She was fined in 2022 for a poster reading "Blessed are the peacemakers". "Many times after [the arrest for the poster], I inwardly turned to these words of Christ and realised that peacemaking begins with what is in a person's heart," Chagina says. In St Petersburg, Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov's trial resumes on 10 April. He says he has been denied medical attention in prison, including from a cardiologist. New penalties for "false information" and "discreditation", also applying these actions to criticism of mercenaries, are due to come into force on 28 March.

RUSSIA: "Thou shalt not kill" leads to fines

A Moscow court fined Rostislav Charushin for his poster quoting three of the Bible's Ten Commandments which police said "clearly expresses a negative attitude towards the use of the Armed Forces". A Petrozavodsk court is due to hear a case on 20 March against yoga teacher Yekaterina Kukharskaya for putting stickers around the city bearing the Commandment "Thou shalt not kill". Buddhist former leader Telo Tulku Rinpoche – who left Russia in 2022 - became the first religious leader to be declared a "foreign agent" by the Justice Ministry.

RUSSIA: Tomsk musician's criminal trial to begin 15 March

The criminal trial of Tomsk musician Anna Chagina on charges of repeatedly "discrediting" the Armed Forces is due to begin on 15 March. She is being tried for social media posts opposing Russia's war in Ukraine, based on her Christian beliefs, having already received a fine in 2022 for her poster at an anti-war protest which read "Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)". Tomsk Region Investigative Committee refused to discuss the case. The criminal trial of St Petersburg Orthodox priest Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov is due to resume on 10 April.

RUSSIA: Fled fearing prosecution for preaching that war is "terrible"

Moscow Patriarchate priest Aleksandr Dombrovsky fled Russia in January, shortly after police told him the FSB had opened a criminal case against him. He had repeatedly preached against the war in Ukraine. "Everything related to my anti-war position was recorded in a most thorough manner," he told Forum 18. The criminal trial of Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov is due to resume in St Petersburg on 13 February. Fr Gleb Krivoshein became the first known person punished for signing an Orthodox open letter against the war.