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 Fr Feognost's YouTube video discussing how his views on patriotism based on Christian principles differed from those of three other Orthodox priests. Markivka District Court will hear the case on
RUSSIA: Armed raid on Krasnodar Region church
In early October, 10 unidentified armed men raided a non-Moscow Patriarchate Russian Orthodox Church in the southern Krasnodar Region whose clergy have repeatedly spoken out against Russia's war in Ukraine. A priest was physically tortured, detained, and charged with "disobeying a police officer" and "discrediting the Russian Armed Forces". "At least five searches took place simultaneously", Fr Iona told Forum 18. The Krasnodar Region branches of the Investigative Committee, Federal Security Ser
RUSSIA: Fourth post-prison Jehovah's Witness deportation
Despite living half his life in Russia and marriage to a Russian citizen, 46-year-old Jehovah's Witness Rustam Seidkuliyev was deported to his native Turkmenistan in September after completing his jail term for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Officials did not explain to Forum 18 why his Russian citizenship had been annulled in 2022, given his long residence in Russia, that there were no victims in his criminal case, and that his family had had to leave Turkmenistan because of their ex
BELARUS: New Life Church appeals against liquidation
On 17 October, Minsk City Court ordered the liquidation of New Life Full Gospel Church, Yekaterina Kaverina of Minsk City Executive Committee stating that some of the Church's online materials are "extremist". Kaverina refused to explain why she had sought the Church's liquidation after 31 years. The Church has appealed to the Supreme Court against the liquidation decision, which does not go into force until the appeal is heard. No date has yet been set for the hearing. "We are waiting," a churc
AZERBAIJAN: Fined for religious celebration, then arrested
At least seven Shia Muslims faced court cases for taking their children to a celebration in a shopping centre of the anniversary of the birth of Fatima, the daughter of the Islamic prophet Mohammad. Four were fined two months' average wage. One of those fined, Mail Karimov, was arrested at the court and is among hundreds of Shia Muslims in jail under investigation on drugs charges which human rights defenders say are fabricated. The criminal trial of Shia Imam Sardar Babayev continues in Baku.
UZBEKISTAN: Easter church raid, Baptists tortured, prison Ramadan fast ban
Police raided the Baptist Church in Karshi during worship on Easter Sunday, 9 April. They "damaged the door of the prayer house, behaved crudely, and arrested three church members", Baptists said. Police "brutally beat David Ibragimov and a few more church members in front of our fellow believers" and "used electric shock prods and other implements to incapacitate" church members. Police refused to explain why they raided the church and tortured church members. Open Prison No. 49 in Olmalyk bann
ARMENIA: Conscientious objector's two-year jail term
On 25 October, a Yerevan court handed Baptist conscientious objector Davit Nazaretyan a two-year jail sentence for "Avoidance of mandatory military or alternative service or conscription", despite his repeated requests for alternative civilian service. "Of course it's bad, but the law demands it," said religious affairs official Vardan Astsatryan. Nazaretyan plans to appeal, and is at home until it is heard. Multiple officials have not explained to Forum 18 why international human rights obligat
KYRGYZSTAN: Repressive draft new Religion Law out for public discussion
The Chair of the State Commission for Religious Affairs, Toygonbay Abdykarov, insisted to Forum 18 that the proposed new Religion Law it prepared "may be restrictive, but we have all the reasons for it to be so". It would continue to require all religious communities to gain state registration before being allowed to exercise freedom of religion or belief, but would require re-registration every 5 years. An Amending Law would impose Violations Code fines for a greater range of "offences". The pu
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
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
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".
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
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.
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