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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

CRIMEA: Four already jailed, 12 more to follow?

A Sevastopol court jailed 49-year-old Jehovah's Witness Igor Schmidt for six years on "extremism"-related charges to be followed by a six-year ban on specific activities although the prosecution presented no victims of any wrongdoing in court. Schmidt is the fourth Crimean Jehovah's Witness handed a long jail term. Another is on trial in Kerch and at least 11 more face criminal cases. The widow of a man shot dead by Russian forces in disputed circumstances in May has lost her appeal against the denial of release of the body for an Islamic burial.

DONBAS: Donetsk: Three Protestant churches banned

The unrecognised Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, has this summer banned three Protestant churches. One of the churches appears still able to meet for worship as it tries to gain registration. The rebel entity's latest Religion Law change restricts registered religious associations' activities to "participants and/or members". In June the Culture Minister ordered musical and other artistic institutions to display lists of banned books and organisations.

CRIMEA: Family denied body for Islamic burial

The Russian Investigative Committee refuses to release the body of Nabi Rakhimov for burial. Investigator Aleksei Skorin refused to explain why. The Russian FSB shot Rakhimov dead on 11 May in disputed circumstances while allegedly trying to arrest him. "Under the norms of Islam, in any circumstances the deceased must be buried within 24 hours before the setting of the sun," the lawyer Lutfiye Zudiyeva notes. Russian law denies the return of bodies of those killed in "terrorist" operations. In 2007, Russian Constitutional Court Judge Anatoly Kononov described this provision as "absolutely immoral, reflecting the most uncivilised, barbaric and base views of previous generations".

DONBAS: Luhansk: More Christian texts "extremist", Catholic priests banned

After officials in the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic apparently seized Christian literature from local Baptists, Sverdlovsk court declared four Protestant books "extremist". Acting Deputy General Prosecutor Roman Gubaydulin put the phone down when asked why he lodged the suit. The books are among 18 Protestant and 6 Jehovah's Witness publications on the "State List of Extremist Materials". "Parishioners in Luhansk are very sad and pained that they have no priest," says Catholic priest Grzegorz Rapa, still unable to return. Officials at the Stanitsa Luhanska crossing point refused entry to the new bishop of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine’s local diocese.

DONBAS: Luhansk: "The last Mass was in April 2020"

Catholics in the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic have been denied a priest and the possibility to receive communion since April 2020, officials giving contradictory reasons for banning the return of Fr Grzegorz Rapa. An Orthodox Church of Ukraine chapel has been ordered closed, and its bishop denied entry. Among religious texts banned as "extremist" are John's Gospel in the Synodal translation and the Jehovah's Witness New World Bible. Officials refuse to explain why. Despite a ban on Protestant meetings for worship, small meetings continue under threat of criminal prosecution.

CRIMEA: Longest jail term so far

Of the four jail terms handed down in Crimea to punish the exercise of freedom of religion or belief, 54-year-old Jehovah's Witness Viktor Stashevsky received the longest so far. A Sevastopol court jailed him on 29 March for six and a half years, with a further seven years under restrictions, which are due to end in 2034. Seven more Crimean Jehovah's Witnesses are facing "extremism"-related prosecutions. Two were transferred in March from Investigation Prison to house arrest after nearly six months.

CRIMEA: Muslim meetings for worship main target of "anti-missionary" prosecutions

Of the 13 individuals fined under Russia's "anti-missionary" laws in 2020 in Russian-occupied Crimea, 10 were imams leading meetings for worship in mosques outside the framework of the Russian-backed Crimean Muslim Board. "What will the state's next step be?" Seitosman Karaliyev asked in November 2020, after another imam was fined for not having documents approving his role leading the community. "Without an original certificate, will we no longer be allowed to conduct dua (prayer service) or jenazah (burial service)?"

CRIMEA: Fined after prosecutor "told us we'd get a warning"

Of 20 known cases in 2020 to punish Crimean religious communities which fail to use their full legal name on websites or on meeting places, 13 related to websites (mostly the VKontakte site). Ten of these were fined one month's average wages. "We were saddened and in shock," said a member of one fined community. "The prosecutor told us we'd get a warning."

CRIMEA: "My husband does not admit any guilt"

"My husband does not admit any guilt," says Svetlana Sakada, wife of one of four Jehovah's Witnesses in pre-trial detention after 1 October raids in Sevastopol. She insists that Vladimir Sakada "has conducted no crimes against the foundations of the state". The four face up to ten years' imprisonment if convicted on "extremism"-related charges. Already on trial in Sevastopol facing the same charges is fellow Jehovah's Witness Viktor Stashevsky.

CRIMEA: Ten months in Russian "prison within a prison"

Prisoners of conscience Jehovah's Witnesses Sergei Filatov and Artyom Gerasimov are being denied letters sent to them. Muslim prisoner of conscience Renat Suleimanov is being denied letters sent in his own language of Crimean Tatar. He has been held for ten months in Kamenka Labour Camp's closed zone, in a cell holding 10 prisoners, but may be released in December. All were transferred illegally to jails in Russia.

CRIMEA: Mosque closed as "There is no community there"?

Officials have closed the mosque in Zavetnoye in Sovetsky District of eastern Crimea, which was handed to the community in 2004. Police and plain clothes officers raided it in March. In April, a court fined Imam Dilyaver Khalilov for leading Friday prayers. Asked how the Muslim community should worship now the authorities are seizing their place of worship, Emil Velilyayev, deputy head of Sovetsky District, responded: "There is no community there."

CRIMEA: Third jailing as second Jehovah's Witness jailed

In the third jailing in Russian-occupied Crimea on "extremism" charges to punish the exercise of freedom of religion and belief, Jehovah's Witness Artyom Gerasimov was jailed for six years after a prosecutor appealed against an earlier fine. Jailed earlier were Muslim Renat Suleimanov for four years and Jehovah's Witness Sergei Filatov for six years. Like Suleimanov and Filatov, Gerasimov expects to be sent to a prison in Russia.