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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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UKRAINE: Three years' jail for Adventist conscientious objector to mobilisation

45-year-old Seventh-day Adventist Dmytro Zelinsky is serving his 3-year jail term for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience, and is due to arrive soon in a Kolomyia prison. On 28 August, Ternopil Appeal Court acceded to Prosecutor Roman Harmatiuk's request to overturn his June acquittal. Harmatiuk did not respond to Forum 18 to say why he appealed against the acquittal. Zelinsky is preparing a Supreme Court appeal. Courts have handed conscientious objectors 3 prison sentences (2 of them later overturned), 10 suspended prison terms, and 2 acquittals (which prosecutors are challenging). Seven criminal trials continue.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Detained, fined, ordered "deported"

On 22 September, a court in Russian-occupied Donetsk Region found Fr Khristofor Khrimli and Fr Andri Chui of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) guilty of violating Russian law on missionary activity. The Judge punished each with a fine of 30,000 Russian Roubles and "deportation beyond the bounds of the Russian Federation". Fr Andri has appealed. Russian occupation officials earlier tried to pressure the priests to transfer to the Russian Orthodox Church. Armed men raided two Baptist churches in Zaporizhzhia Region and ordered a third to close.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Russian occupation forces continue to disappear religious leaders

Russian occupation forces continue to disappear and in some cases torture many people in occupied Ukrainian territory, including religious leaders. Greek Catholic priests Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta were disappeared in November 2022, and Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) priest Fr Kostiantyn Maksimov in May 2023. Occupation forces repeatedly refused to answer Forum 18's questions about where they are being held, and what their state of health is. Russian-controlled Tokmak Police said it had no information about Fr Kostiantyn. "Even if we had, we wouldn't give it by phone."

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Russian occupation forces close more churches, broadcast disinformation

Russian occupation forces have closed and seized more churches, the latest known being an Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) church in Basan and a Baptist Union church in Zaporizhzia Region, and the Catholic Church in Skadovsk in Kherson Region. Occupation forces broke the Catholic church's windows and door during a raid, claiming they were looking for explosives and drugs. Artyom Sharlay of the Russian occupiers' Religious Organisations Department claimed to Forum 18 that "law-abiding" religious communities "face no restrictions, but those that break the law are banned".

UKRAINE: Conscientious objector freed, new trial ordered

Ukraine's Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Christian conscientious objector Vitaly Alekseenko – the first jailed conscientious objector since Russia's renewed invasion - and ordered his release from prison. However, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial in the original court, and his requests to perform an alternative civilian service have been ignored. A Supreme Court case lodged by Christian conscientious objector Andrii Vyshnevetsky – still forcibly held in the army – continues. He argues that failure to determine a procedure for dismissal from military service on the basis of conscientious objection is illegal.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: First known "discreditation" case in Russian-annexed territory

In the first known case in parts of Ukraine Russia illegally claimed to have annexed in 2022, Fr Feognost (Timofei Pushkov) is facing prosecution under Russia's Administrative Code for "discrediting" Russia's armed forces. Russia's FSB security service appear to have notified colleagues in Luhansk about Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) priest Fr Feognost's YouTube video discussing how his views on patriotism based on Christian principles differed from those of three pro-war Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) (ROC) priests. Markivka District Court is due to hear the case on 30 May. Judge Roman Shulga was unavailable when Forum 18 called the court.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "Disappeared" clergy still "disappeared" after six months

On 16 November 2022, troops of Russia's National Guard seized two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests, Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta, in Berdyansk. Six months later, there is no information about where they are, their state of health – or if they are still alive. Asked why they had been seized, the Russian Berdyansk Police responded: "That's all rubbish. Ask [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky's special services – they're responsible." An Orthodox Church of Ukraine parish's Easter service was banned because the priest refused to transfer to the Moscow Patriarchate.

UKRAINE: Army rejects conscientious objector alternative service transfer

Christian conscientious objector Andrii Vyshnevetsky has been refused transfer to alternative civilian service, despite from his mobilisation onwards asking for this. On 22 May the Supreme Court will hear his case that the President must lay down a procedure to allow individual conscientious objection to military service. Viktor Yelensky, head of the State Service for Ethnic Policy and Freedom of Conscience, told Forum 18 he has been pushing for all conscientious objectors to be allowed to do alternative civilian service, but "my efforts have been rejected".

UKRAINE: Second conscientious objector jail sentence

Mykhailo Yavorsky, a 39-year-old Christian, is appealing against a one-year jail term handed down on 6 April for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience. If he loses his planned appeal he will be sent to prison. "I would not carry weapons and would not put on a uniform, as I can't kill a person," Yavorsky told Forum 18. "They offered me no alternative service." He is the second known conscientious objector sentenced to jail in Ukraine since Russia's renewed invasion, despite asking to do alternative civilian service.

UKRAINE: Kyiv Pechersk Lavra conflict, draft law, impact on freedom of religion or belief

The government revoked the 10-year-old 2013 agreement for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate) to rent the state-owned Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves), claiming some constructions had been built on the site illegally. The UOC did not fully comply with the 29 March deadline to leave. The Lavra's UOC abbot faces a criminal case and a court placed him under house arrest. The government backs a rival Orthodox jurisdiction. "In Ukraine, there will be only the Orthodox Church of Ukraine," a presidential aide declared.

OCCUPIED UKRAINE: After 4 months, are "disappeared" Greek Catholic priests still alive?

Four months after Russia's Rosgvardiya in Berdyansk seized two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests, Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta, their diocese has no information on them or even if they are still alive. The Russian Military Command in Melitopol refused to discuss their enforced disappearance. "This is not a question for us," the duty officer told Forum 18. Orthodox Church of Ukraine priest Platon Danyshchuk was held from late January to early February. Russia's Kherson Region police raided the fourth empty Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall, seizing religious literature.

CRIMEA: Five further criminal investigations, two on wanted list

With 12 Crimean Jehovah's Witnesses serving jail terms of at least six years and two serving suspended jail terms, investigators are pursuing criminal cases against a further five. Two more who have left Crimea are on Russia's wanted list and Russia may illegally have sought Interpol Red Notices for them, as it has done for others. Yuliya Burenina of the National Central Bureau for Interpol of Russia's Interior Ministry refused to explain why Russia has sought Red Notices for individuals wanted for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.