23 February 2022
Freedom of religion and belief is severely restricted in the rebel Luhansk People's Republic occupying currently (February 2022) about a third of Ukraine's Luhansk Region. Forum 18's survey analysis documents violations including: rendering illegal all Protestant and non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox communities; a climate of fear about discussing human rights violations; repeated denials of permission to a Roman Catholic priest to live in the region; and increasing numbers of banned allegedly "extremist" books, including an edition of the Gospel of John published in 1820.
22 February 2022
All 23 of the administrative prosecutions against individuals under Russia's "anti-missionary" laws in 2021 in Russian-occupied Crimea led to convictions and fines. Assistant Prosecutor Olga Kushnerova brought the case against Imam Said Akhmad Asadov, fined five days' average local wages for leading prayers in a Simferopol District mosque raided by Russian FSB security service officers and Prosecutor's Office officials. "I won't give any comments by phone," she told Forum 18. "Everything I did was within the parameters of the law and the duties assigned to me under the law." She refused to discuss why an individual should be punished for leading worship in a religious community.
22 December 2021
The first Christmas services in the Roman Catholic parishes in Luhansk and Stakhanov since 2019 are due to go ahead, thanks to a Greek Catholic priest from neighbouring Donetsk prepared to make the seven-hour round trip. Parish priest Grzegorz Rapa left in March 2020 expecting to return, but the authorities of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic repeatedly refused. The only two Masses in 2021 were both celebrated by the visiting Greek Catholic priest. Asked why Catholics have not been allowed a resident priest since 2020, Sergei Panteleyev of the Religious and Inter-Ethnic Relations Sector of the Culture Ministry said: "Our department doesn't take such a decision – it is decided at a higher level."
29 October 2021
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.
4 October 2021
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.
13 August 2021
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".
28 July 2021
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.
3 June 2021
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.
30 March 2021
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.
25 February 2021
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)?"
20 November 2020
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."
13 November 2020
"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.