TAJIKISTAN: Secret Supreme Court hearing bans Jehovah's Witnesses
A 2021 secret Supreme Court ban on Jehovah's Witnesses as allegedly "extremist" was not revealed until over a year later. "The participation of the organisation was not necessary," a Supreme Court official told Forum 18. Despite a 2022 UN Human Rights Committee View that the reasons to ban Jehovah's Witnesses were not lawful, appeals were rejected by a military court and on 31 August 2023 by the Supreme Court. A Court official refused to explain why the Court refused to heed the UN Human Rights
TURKMENISTAN: Raids, literature seizures, imam detained
Police in Turkmenbashi and other locations nearby raided homes of devout Muslims in mid-August. They seized religious literature, including books on sharia law and the hadith. They also seized Russian translations of the Koran, leaving only Turkmen-language Koran translations. The Ministry of State Security secret police detained an elderly imam for giving Islamic lessons to children. On 29 August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on the regime to end its ban o
BELARUS: Draft Religion Law "playing on formal appearance of legality"
The regime has published the text of a restrictive draft new Religion Law, due to be discussed by the non-freely elected Parliament in September, which it falsely claims "does not affect" international human rights obligations. Exiled human rights defender and Orthodox priest Fr Aleksandr Shramko described the aim as "to somehow extinguish any pockets of not only possible resistance, but also any uncontrolled life", saying the draft law is "playing on the formal appearance of legality".
KAZAKHSTAN: Prisoners of conscience refused conditional early release
At least 3 of the 8 current known prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief have had applications for conditional early release rejected on grounds their families regard as arbitrary. In June, a Kyzylorda court rejected Dadash Mazhenov's request, apparently citing his unpaid fees for the "expert analyses" used to convict him. "These fees were just an excuse," his family told Forum 18. The Head of Labour Camp No. 68, Kaiyrbek Ilyasov, refused to discuss why Mazhe
RUSSIA: Pacifist Christian musician fined, banned from internet posting
Musician and teacher Anna Chagina has been handed a fine and a ban on internet posting for opposing Russiaâs invasion of Ukraine. She stood accused of âdiscrediting" the Russian armed forces more than once in a year. âI also want to remind you of a simple ethical rule â do to others as you would have them do to you," Chagina said in her final statement. Elsewhere, Mikhail Simonov, the first person to be sentenced to jail for opposing the war from a religious perspective, has lost his app
KAZAKHSTAN: Prisoners of conscience still in jail, others under multiple long-term punishments
3 Muslim prisoners of conscience remain jailed 2 years after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for their release "immediately". 5 other Muslim men are in jail for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Also: 6 former prisoners of conscience are serving the rest of their sentences at home under restrictions; 5 other former prisoners of conscience have bans on unspecified or specified activities; 31 others who have completed jail terms or restricted freedom sentences still have
UKRAINE: Conscientious objector freed, new trial ordered
Ukraine's Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Christian conscientious objector Vitaly Alekseenko â 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 â still forcibly held in the army â continues.
RUSSIA: Freedom of religion and belief monitoring group to be liquidated
Russia's leading freedom of religion and belief monitoring group ceases to exist as a legal entity. On 17 August, a Moscow Appeal Court rejected SOVA Center for Information and Analysis's appeal against its liquidation. Moscow's Justice Department claimed it committed "gross violations" of the law by holding events outside Moscow. SOVA's director Aleksandr Verkhovsky notes the "obvious and extreme selectivity" of the Justice Department's claims against human rights groups "but not to hundreds of
BELARUS: Is regime planning to liquidate New Life Church?
The regime seized and demolished the place of worship of Minsk's New Life Pentecostal Church, banned it from meeting outdoors in its car park, jailed its Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko for 10 days and banned its website for six months. On 23 August, a closed court hearing declared two of its internet postings from 2020 "extremist". Asked if the regime is planning to strip the Church of its legal status, Deputy Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs Sergei Gerasimenya refused to say.
KAZAKHSTAN: Still jailed despite 2021 UN "immediate" release call
In September 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for 9 Muslims jailed for participating in an online religious discussion group to be "immediately" freed and compensated for their imprisonment. Two years on, none has been freed or compensated. The General Prosecutor's Office, the Religious Affairs Committee, the Foreign Ministry and the government-controlled National Human Rights Centre all failed to explain why. Officials say they regard such UN opinions as "rec
RUSSIA: Second jail term for opposing Russia's war in Ukraine on religious grounds
On 31 August, a St Petersburg court jailed 55-year-old Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov for 3 years and banned him from posting on the internet for 2 years for distributing "false information about the Russian Armed Forces". His is the second known prison term for opposing Russia's war against Ukraine from a religious perspective. In March, a Moscow court jailed Mikhail Simonov for 7 years. Fr Ioann pleaded guilty, telling the court: "I undertake in the future not to touch upon the topic of the conduct of sp
BELARUS: Threatened with criminal prosecution for sharing faith in public
Prosecutor Fyodor Mikhovich refused to explain why he threatened Baptist Vladimir Burshtyn with criminal prosecution if he continues to share his faith in public. "I do not know who you are," he told Forum 18. The threat came after a court fined Burshtyn a month's average pension for sharing his faith. Border guards detained Greek Catholic Boris Khamaida as he travelled to a pilgrimage. A jail term prevented him from attending. A draft new Religion Law is set to reach Parliament in September.
RUSSIA: "Would Jesus Christ have gone to kill in Ukraine?"
Eduard Charov criticised Russia's invasion of Ukraine on social media, asking "Would Jesus Christ have gone to kill in Ukraine?". The FSB alerted the Prosecutor's Office. A Sverdlovsk Region court fined him for "discrediting" the Armed Forces and "inciting hatred" towards state authorities. A Moscow court fined Mariya Kunchenko for an Orthodox Easter Sunday protest, while a Kareliya court fined Yekaterina Kukharskaya for putting up stickers bearing the Sixth Commandment ("Thou shalt not kill").
AZERBAIJAN: Yet another conscientious objector case set for Strasbourg?
On 8 June, Azerbaijan's Supreme Court rejected Jehovah's Witness Seymur Mammadov's final appeal against his conviction for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. Initially jailed, he is now halfway through a one-year suspended sentence. He is considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which found in favour of seven conscientious objectors jailed or given suspended sentences earlier. The ECtHR judgments "called for legislative action on civilian service a
RUSSIA: Jailed for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience
Called up in September 2022, Pentecostal Andrey Kapatsyna refused to fight in Ukraine, telling commanders that "in accordance with his religious beliefs, he could not take up arms and use them against other people". A Vladivostok court sentenced him to 2 years, 10 months' imprisonment under new legislation punishing non-fulfilment of orders in a period of combat operations. A Murmansk Region military court jailed Dmitry Vasilets for 2 years, 2 months for refusing on grounds of his new Buddhist f
RUSSIA: Long jail terms for Moscow Nursi readers
<div>Arrested in October 2021, six Muslims who met to study the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi finally went on trial in September 2022. On 27 June 2023, a Moscow court jailed four of the six for 6 years or more, with the others receiving lesser terms. The judge ordered the destruction of books by Nursi taken during the investigation. On 20 June, a Taganrog court jailed Jehovah's Witness Aleksandr Skvortsov for 7 years. All were convicted on "extremism" charges, which all denied.</div>
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
AZERBAIJAN: Will State Committee return religious books seized in 2007?
Shukran Mammadov is still waiting for the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations to return books by Muslim theologian Said Nursi seized in a police raid in 2007. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favour in 2020, and on 1 March 2023 Baku Appeal Court ordered the books to be returned. "The government should have ensured that Shukran's property was returned, but few European Court of Human Rights decisions are fully carried out," Mammadov's lawyer Asabali Mustafayev tol
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 al
KAZAKHSTAN: Fined, as "he had no basis for conducting a religious event"
Zakirzhan Rozmetov was fined for leading evening prayers during Ramadan in a Shymkent mosque stripped of registration in 2021. "Rozmetov broke the law â he had no basis for conducting a religious event," said Alzhan Tuyakbayev, head of Shymkent's Religious Affairs Department. Courts fined other individuals up to one month's average wage in the first half of 2023 for prayer rooms in a cafe, roadside restaurant and shopping centre. Astana Police anti-extremism officers inspected "illegal" prayer