27 March 2015
One year after Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea, Forum 18 News Service notes the forced imposition of Russian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief. Individuals and religious communities have faced raids, fines, religious literature seizures, government surveillance, expulsions of invited foreign religious leaders, unilateral cancellation of property rental contracts and obstructions to regaining places of worship confiscated in the Soviet period. Only one percent of communities which had state registration under Ukrainian law have succeeded in gaining the compulsory Russian re-registration. Members of a wide range of religious communities are highly cautious about discussing anything that could be interpreted as criticism of Russian rule for fear of possible reprisals. This includes a reluctance to discuss restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.
26 March 2015
All 150 re-registration applications submitted to Crimea's Justice Department ahead of the original 31 December 2014 deadline were initially rejected as they were "very bad", Irina Demetskaya of the Justice Department in the Crimean capital Simferopol told Forum 18 News Service. Even after the extended 1 March deadline, only two centralised religious organisations (one of the Orthodox dioceses and the Muftiate) have been re-registered and only 12 local communities. This represents about one percent of the number that had Ukrainian registration, Forum 18 notes. Two more are awaiting approval from the tax authorities, while 13 are being considered in Moscow. Her office is still considering about 150 more. Without registration under Russian law, religious communities can meet, but cannot enter into contracts to rent property, employ people or invite foreigners. Meanwhile, the Sevastopol authorities have reaffirmed their refusal to return the confiscated St Clement's Catholic Church. The parish has been seeking its return since the 1990s. Vladimir Ryabykh of Sevastopol's Culture Department claimed to Forum 18 that it cannot be returned as the parish has not asked for it back.
26 January 2015
Crimea's Russian-backed head of government Sergei Aksyonov "gave people the opportunity" to hand in religious and other literature the Russian authorities regard as "extremist" during a moratorium on prosecutions which expired at the end of 2014. "Those who didn't will be subject to action by state agencies," Aksyonov's spokesperson Yekaterina Polonchuk told Forum 18 News Service. Although raids, literature seizures and administrative fines for religious books the Russian authorities regard as "extremist" seem to have reduced during the moratorium, they did not stop. A mosque leader was fined, while administrative cases against two Jehovah's Witness communities in Dzhankoi began in court during the moratorium. Muslims and librarians are particular targets of administrative fines, while an attempt to fine Simferopol's Jehovah's Witness community was sent back in November 2014.
20 January 2015
Nearly 18 years after the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary established a small convent in the Crimean capital Simferopol to help in pastoral work in the city's Roman Catholic parish, it has had to close. The three nuns – who are from elsewhere in Ukraine and Poland – were refused extensions to their residence permits and had to leave in November 2014, a month after the parish priest was similarly forced to leave. "Just one priest remains in Simferopol to serve the Catholic parish," diocesan chancellor Fr Krzysztof Kontek lamented to Forum 18 News Service. "He has to do everything now by himself." December 2014 saw the last of the 23 Turkish imams and religious teachers forced to leave Crimea, bringing to an end a 20-year-old programme. Officials of Russia's Federal Migration Service insisted to Forum 18 that only registered religious communities are able to invite foreign citizens. No religious organisations in Crimea currently have legal status under Russian law and thus none are able to invite foreign citizens.
3 November 2014
Russia's Federal Migration Service is not extending residence permits for foreign citizens who have been working for Crimean religious communities, leaving Simferopol's Roman Catholic parish without its senior priest, Polish citizen Fr Piotr Rosochacki, who had worked in Crimea for 5 years. All other Catholic priests and nuns will have to leave by the end of 2014. Similarly, almost all Turkish Muslim imams and religious teachers have been forced to leave Crimea. The Federal Migration Service in Crimea told Forum 18 News Service that only registered religious communities can invite foreign citizens. No Crimean religious communities have registration, and under a Russian law which entered into force on 1 July all religious communities must apply for re-registration by 1 January 2015. There is uncertainty about what will happen to applications from communities under bodies outside Crimea or Russia – including Crimea's Armenian Apostolic, Old Believer, Moscow Patriarchate, Roman Catholic and Kiev Patriarchate parishes.
29 October 2014
Crimea's acting Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov has ordered a moratorium on raids, searches and literature confiscations until 1 January 2015. Before it there were many raids on libraries, schools, political organisations, Muslim homes, mosques and madrassahs, and Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Halls, Forum 18 News Service notes. Fines for possession of Islamic and Jehovah's Witness literature were also imposed. There do not seem to have been any raids and religious literature seizures since the moratorium. The government-appointed human rights Ombudsperson's office told Forum 18 that no action would be taken on the raids and literature seizures. Crimea's Education, Science and Youth Ministry has ordered education departments and educational institutions to remove and destroy any such literature. The Ministry official who drafted the order told Forum 18 that officials "should recycle them, use the paper again". Asked why some Islamic and Jehovah's Witness books should be destroyed, she replied: "I understand you, but the law is the law. I will answer for my role before God."
11 September 2014
The Catholic parish in the Crimean capital Simferopol appears to be about to lose its parish priest, a Polish citizen, just as 18 of the Muftiate's invited Turkish imams have already been forced to leave. The residence permit of Fr Piotr Rosochacki – who has served in Crimea for more than five years – expires on 25 October and Russia's Federal Migration Service has verbally refused to extend it and that of a Polish Catholic nun which expires in December. Crimea's Chief Prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya, promised to investigate, though her assistant told Forum 18 that it is "too early" to expect results. Asked why Fr Rosochacki's residence permit was not simply extended as it had been on previous occasions, Yana Smolova of Russia's Federal Migration Service in Crimea responded: "That was under Ukrainian law. Now we are a different country."
10 September 2014
All 1,546 religious communities in Crimea which had state registration with the Ukrainian authorities are being required to re-register under Russian law by 1 January 2015 if they wish to retain legal status. A wide range of communities have complained to Forum 18 News Service of the burden of having to prepare documentation and the lack of information about how to go about it. Communities that function throughout Crimea will have to register in Moscow, the rest in Crimea. Many communities which wish to remain part of Ukrainian religious organisations – including the Moscow Patriarchate and Kiev Patriarchate dioceses, the Greek Catholic Exarchate and Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Armenian Apostolic parishes – remain uncertain as to whether this will be allowed. Nikolai Barylyuk of the Crimean Department of the Russian Justice Ministry refused to tell Forum 18 whether religious communities' previous registration under Ukrainian law remains valid.
3 September 2014
All but five of 23 Turkish imams and religious teachers invited by the Crimean Muftiate under a 20-year-old programme have been forced to leave Crimea as Russia's Federal Migration Service refused to extend their residence permits. The rest will have to leave when their residence permits expire. "We can't invite anyone now as they say we have no legal status," Jemil Bibishev of the Muftiate lamented to Forum 18 News Service. "If they want to begin mission work in Crimea they will have to get a visa from the Russian embassy in Turkey in accordance with Russian law," Yana Smolova of the Federal Migration Service insisted to Forum 18. Representatives of a range of religious communities have told Forum 18 that they are under surveillance by the FSB security service. Greek Catholic priest Fr Bogdan Kostetsky has been summoned several times. Among the questions were some about his attitude to Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, who led the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church until his death in 1944. The duty officer at the Yevpatoriya FSB told Forum 18 he had never heard that Fr Kostetsky had been summoned.
26 August 2014
Esadullakh Bairov, a deputy head of Crimea's Muftiate, became the first individual since the Russian annexation of Crimea in March to be prosecuted for "extremist" religious literature seized during a raid on a madrassah (Islamic religious school). Dzhankoi District Court in northern Crimea today (26 August) fined him 2,000 Russian Roubles, the court told Forum 18 News Service. Prosecutor Andrei Oliyar, who brought the administrative case, described the raid on the madrassah as an "inspection". He refused to say what confiscated books had been the basis for the prosecution. "It was such a long list," he told Forum 18. "Just to read it would take 15 or 20 minutes." At least seven Crimean madrassahs, as well as mosques, private homes and the Muftiate itself have been raided in the hunt for religious literature controversially banned as "extremist" by Russian courts.
27 June 2014
Crimean officials deny that a decree which will lead to a substantial rise in the rent the Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church pays on its nearly 20-year-old cathedral in the Crimean capital Simferopol is a targeted move. "There is no discrimination in relation to this particular church," Lyudmila Khorozova of Crimea's Property Fund, which owns the building, claimed to Forum 18 News Service. She was unable to explain why no decrees have been adopted relating to other religious communities. Sevastopol's Roman Catholic community is less optimistic since March about being able to regain its historic church. It lodged a European Court of Human Rights case over earlier denials in 2001. Greek Catholic priests from elsewhere in Ukraine can serve in Crimea only for three months in any four. All 1,546 religious communities with Ukrainian registration will have to re-register under Russian law.
26 June 2014
About 30 armed Russian security agency officers raided a madrassah (Islamic religious school) near the Crimean capital Simferopol on 24 June, Forum 18 News Service notes. The staff and students were from the Crimean Tatar minority. Three weeks earlier, a mob attacked a Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its congregation on a military base in Perevalnoe. The mob then changed the locks on the building to prevent it being used by the congregation. Jehovah's Witnesses have noted "a significant increase in violence" against them since March. One such attack resulted in Nikolai Martsenyuk (who was peacefully sharing his beliefs on the street) being kicked unconscious and needing hospital treatment. "Despite repeated calls on the emergency number, no police officer came to the scene of the offence," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Crimean authorities, including the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor's Office, have refused to tell Forum 18 what action police have taken to protect victims from threats and violence, and to identify and punish attackers.