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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
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RUSSIA: China-led restrictions on Falun Gong

Russia's small community of followers of the Chinese spiritual practice of Falun Gong face increasing state pressure, Forum 18 News Service notes. In 2005, officials refused to register a newspaper, citing provisions of the 2001 China-Russia treaty "On Neighbourly Relations, Friendship and Co-operation". The movement's core spiritual text "Zhuan Falun" has been included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials and courts have blocked access to websites containing the text. Four practitioners were detained in Vladivostok in July, while "anti-extremism" police summoned three local leaders in southern European Russia. In the latest deportations, two Ukrainian Falun Gong practitioners were barred from Russia in September when they tried to attend the movement's annual conference near Moscow. One had to move his wedding from Russia to Ukraine, as he told Forum 18. A similar Russian desire not to alienate the Chinese lies behind repeated denials of a Russian visa to the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

MOLDOVA: Government repeatedly acts against ECtHR judgements

Moldova continues to refuse legal status to religious communities of a variety of faiths, despite European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg judgements that it must do this, Forum 18 News Service has found. The state has repeatedly refused registration to Muslim and Protestant communities, individual parishes of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, and the Falun Gong movement. Without legal status, a community cannot seek land from the local authorities to place of worship, cannot run a bank account and cannot have an official stamp for legal documents. There are also great difficulties in burying members of unregistered communities. Asked why registrations are denied, Boris Galan, the Justice Ministry official responsible told Forum 18 that he had "a lot of work to do" and refused to answer more enquiries. Anatolie Munteanu, the official Parliamentary Human Rights Advocate, claimed to Forum 18 that "this is the first time" - despite the ECtHR judgements - he had heard about registration denials.

MOLDOVA: Controversial new penalties for religious activity

Moldova's new Administrative Code replaces an article condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg with an almost identical article, Forum 18 News Service notes. Article 54 Part 3, which came into force on 31 May, less than three weeks after the article it replaces was condemned by the ECtHR, punishes unregistered religious activity "which contradicts the Law on Religious Denominations and its constituent parts." The only change from the condemned former Article 200 Part 3 is the replacement of the last phrase, which read "which contradicts the current legislation." The ECtHR condemned the Article, as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, in a May judgement in the case of local Muslim Talgat Masaev who was punished for conducting unregistered religious worship. Christian, Muslim and Jehovah's Witness religious communities are also concerned at other parts of the Administrative Code, including a ban on "violating the exclusive rights of religious denominations to the publication, printing, preparation, sale or distribution by other means of cult objects."

TRANSDNIESTER: Still banned from worshipping in church

A Pentecostal church in the internationally unrecognised entity of Transdniester is still banned from worshipping in its church building, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Pastor Yuri Semenyuk told Forum 18 that he is also now facing criminal prosecution for alleged forgery of documents, although he has not been given a copy of the charges. Prosecutor Vasily Tarnukov categorically denied this to Forum 18, but an independent legal source confirmed that state Commissioner for Religious Affairs Pyotr Zalozhkov had instigated the charges. Jehovah's Witnesses in the entity are also facing sustained harassment and refusals to register some of their congregations. However, after the entity's President Igor Smirnov received "many appeals" from local unregistered Baptists about harassment and fines against them, a presidential official told church leaders that they could meet and that officials "didn't have the power to ban them." The entity's parliament is considering drafts of a restrictive Religion Law and a National Security Concept, which are likely to hit hardest independent Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Bessarabian Orthodox Church.

MOLDOVA: Bureaucratic obstacles bar religious volunteers

The expulsions of four Romanian Orthodox priests from Moldova are being overturned on appeal and the priests are returning to their parishes, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. However, the lawyer for the Bessarabian Orthodox Patriarchate warned that it was likely that there may be yet another case against a Bessarabian priest brought at the end of February. Also, visa renewals for foreign Jehovah's Witness volunteers are now being refused. The government now refuses to allow the volunteers to work without a salary. "We don't want to draw up such contracts and pretend to pay people," a Jehovah's Witness complained to Forum 18. "We want to be honest. Why should we be forced to lie?" The permits for two Italian volunteers expire on 27 February. Many religious communities – including all Muslim communities and some Protestant churches – do not have legal status and so cannot even apply to invite foreign citizens to work with them.

MOLDOVA: President attacks freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Brussels and Moscow

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has attacked the Bessarabian Metropolitanate's religious freedom on visits to Brussels and Moscow, Forum 18 News Service notes. During a press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on 14 January, Voronin stated that he had not ever threatened to revoke the registration of the Metropolitanate. He then claimed its existence could lead to a Kosovo-style conflict. Repeating his attacks after meeting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy, Voronin claimed that the Metropolitanate "is part of Romania's aggressive policy." Presidential spokesperson Natalia Visanu told Forum 18 that "he merely said that if there are problems it could come to the point of looking again at its registration," she told Forum 18. Asked about the Kosovo-style conflict claim, Visanu stated that "the President said (..) the government could look at the question of not fulfilling the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)." The Metropolitanate only achieved registration after a fine imposed on Moldova by the ECtHR, as also happened with the True Orthodox Church. A wide range of Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim communities are still denied registration.

MOLDOVA: Were check-ups aimed at congregations or migrants?

Moldova's expulsion of Romanian priests serving in the Bessarabian Orthodox Metropolitanate is part of a campaign of harassment of the Church, Forum 18 News Service has found. The Church also faces check-ups by the police and the Information and Security Service (SIS), as do Orthodox parishes under the Moscow and Kiev Patriarchates. One Jehovah's Witness congregation has also been checked. The authorities insist that the check-ups were to catch illegal immigrants, however leaders of religious communities state that officials were much more interested in the functioning of congregations. More than 60 Bessarabian parish priests have faced intrusive check-ups. Deacon Andrei Deleu of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate told Forum 18 that officers said "they have instructions from the Prime Minister." The Jehovah's Witness congregation asked police to put their reasons in writing. After police were shown their statute specifying that the congregation functions in the district, the police went away.

MOLDOVA: Christmas expulsions of four Romanian Orthodox priests

Four Romanian Orthodox Church priests are being expelled from Moldova as their Bessarabian Orthodox Metropolitanate prepares to celebrate Christmas on 7 January, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Two parishes have been deprived of priests as Fr Ion Bigea and Fr Constantin Dumitrascu were denied entry to Moldova when they tried to return to their parishes, in Fr Bigea's case after earlier being fined. Two more priests, Fr Iulian Budescu and Fr Ion Tivlea, also face expulsion. Fr Budescu has been told by the authorities that he must leave by 6 January. Fr Tivlea has been told that he must leave after a trial for administrative offences on 9 January. Human rights activist Ion Manole, of Promo-Lex, told Forum 18 that "this was specially done close to the Christmas holiday when non-governmental organisations and the media are not working. They [Moldovan authorities] chose this period deliberately."

TRANSDNIESTER: President initiates order to halt Pentecostal church's public worship

The authorities in the breakaway unrecognised entity of Transdniester have ordered a Pentecostal church to stop meeting for public worship, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Pastor Yuri Semenyuk halted his Pentecostal church's public worship after a warning from Transdniester's senior Prosecutor, which was initiated by the entity's President, Igor Smirnov. "We're trying to abide by the law," Pastor Semenyuk told Forum 18. "Our church meets in a building designated as a private home, and the Prosecutor said this was not allowed." He said the 300-strong congregation has now been forced to meet in small home groups. If the church were to defy the ban and continue to meet as one congregation, Pastor Semenyuk suspects that the authorities would strip the congregation of its legal status. The Deputy Prosecutor insisted to Forum 18 that "in no way is this persecution." Transdniester routinely makes religious activity outside state-approved places of worship difficult.

TRANSDNIESTER: Religious materials routinely confiscated at border

Protestants, Russian Orthodox and Jehovah's Witnesses have complained of continuing problems in bringing religious literature and objects through checkpoints operated by the unrecognised entity of Transdniester, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Religious material is routinely confiscated, the most recent known case being a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Oleg Cernat, whose car was impounded for four days as he did not declare church candles. After agreeing to take the candles home, Fr Cernat's car was stopped again and he was also accused of driving away from the checkpoint without authorisation. Religious communities such as Baptists complain that confiscated literature is frequently not returned, and only members of registered communities are allowed to import literature. Transdniester is considering a draft Religion Law, which proposes to - amongst other restrictions - stop religious communities which do not have legal status from producing and importing literature.

TRANSDNIESTER: Restrictive draft Religion Law proposed

A restrictive draft Religion Law is being proposed in the parliament of the unrecognised entity of Transdniester, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The new draft – if adopted – would stop any new religious communities, unaffiliated to existing registered denominations, from gaining legal status for ten years. This would deny them the right to produce and import literature, set up religious colleges, and invite religious workers from outside Transdniester. Independent Protestant congregations or faiths such as the Jehovah's Witnesses are likely to be most affected. But also hard hit is likely to be a newly-established diocese of the Bessarabian Orthodox Church. Local Russian Orthodox Church officials, as well as Transdniester state officials, have already signalled their strong opposition to the new Bessarabian diocese. Vyacheslav Tobukh, the Supreme Soviet deputy who wrote the draft Law, declined to discuss specific concerns with Forum 18 but defended his text.

TRANSDNIESTER: Car returned but not Christian magazines

As several Protestants were about to give out Christian magazines to students on 8 October in Tiraspol in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester republic, two State Security Ministry officers pounced. "It was all over in three minutes," Igor Velikanenko of New Life mission told Forum 18 News Service. The literature and his car were seized. "They must have known in advance that we would be coming, maybe through intercepted phone calls." After Velikanenko and two colleagues were interrogated and threatened over successive days, he was accused of bringing "contraband" material into Transdniester and fined. "Anyone would think I had smuggled in illegal cigarettes, alcohol or drugs." He received his car back on 17 October but State Security officials refuse to give back the literature. State Security and religious affairs officials refused to discuss the case with Forum 18. Jehovah's Witnesses say 200 copies of a magazine were seized in Bendery after a Witness tried to bring them into Transdniester from Moldova in early October.

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