RUSSIA: Another trial of Muslims meeting to study Nursi's works
Seven months after a Moscow court handed prison terms to six Muslims who met to study their faith using the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi, the same court is hearing the case of two more. 45-year-old Zurab Dzhabrailov and 53-year-old Dzheykhun Rustamov have so far made two court appearances. The two have been held at Butyrka prison since August 2023. Investigative Committee and FSB security service documents seen by Forum 18 reveal the investigation â which has involved covert surveill
RUSSIA: First jail term for religious-based opposition to war
On 30 March, a Moscow court jailed 63-year-old Orthodox Christian Mikhail Simonov for 7 years for disseminating "false information" about the Russian armed forces on the basis of "political hatred". He had made two short social media posts condemning Russia's war against Ukraine, including: "We, Russia, have become godless. Forgive us, Lord!" The Investigative Committee and Prosecutor's Office did not respond on why they sought a long jail term for Simonov, who suffers from health problems. A Kr
TAJIKISTAN: Criminal cases against human rights defenders, relatives threatened
Exiled human rights defenders Anora Sarkorova and her husband Rustamjon Joniyev face criminal charges, and have been placed on Russia's Federal Wanted List. Officials have threatened relatives with arrests. Both have written about the regime's multiple serious violations of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, committed against Ismaili Muslims in Mountainous Badakhshan Region. "This will not break us, and we will continue reporting on human rights violations," Sarkorova told Fo
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Priest killed within two days of Russian detention
On 15 February, the bruised body (possibly with a bullet-wound to the head) of 59-year-old Fr Stepan Podolchak of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was found in the streets of Kalanchak in Russian-occupied Kherson Region. The morgue called his wife to identify him. The occupation forces, who seized him two days earlier, "tortured Fr Stepan to death", says Kherson Bishop Nikodim. Forum 18 asked Kalanchak's Russian police what action they will take following his killing. "For a long time this [commun
KAZAKHSTAN: "Harsh" Religion Law changes to reach parliament soon?
A draft Amending Law (seen by Forum 18) amending nine Codes and Laws on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief would, if adopted in its current form, impose new restrictions on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief. The head of the NSC secret police, Yermek Sagimbayev, has told deputies of the non-freely-elected parliament: "The initiative on the need to harshen legislation in the area of regulating religious activity has more than once been discussed at a government level."
RUSSIA: Criminal case for repeat "discreditation"
Investigators are working on a criminal case against 86-year-old independent Orthodox Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov for repeat "discreditation" of the Armed Forces. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for five years. He condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the conduct of the war as "Satanic". The Federal Investigative Committee and Krasnodar Region branches of the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service did not answer questions on the case. Armed personnel raided his church in Octobe
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
CRIMEA: Continuing Russian attempts to crush religious communities
After Russian occupation authorities seized all the Orthodox Church of Ukraine's places of worship in Crimea and its priests fled after at least some received summonses for mobilisation, Metropolitan Kliment says its Crimean Diocese "has effectively ceased to exist". The authorities are targeting independent mosques unaffiliated with the Crimean Muslim Board. The Russian Police's Centre for Countering Extremism and other agencies raid mosques and community members' homes. All 6 known 2023 prosec
BELARUS: Repressive new Religion Law imposes compulsory re-registration
Belarus' repressive new Religion Law â now signed and which comes into force on 5 July 2024 - continues to require all religious communities to gain state registration before they are allowed to exist and continues to ban the activity of unregistered religious organisations. "There's nothing new under the sun," one Baptist commented. All registered religious communities are required to seek re-registration between 5 July 2024 and 5 July 2025. Officials refused to put Forum 18 through to senior
RUSSIA: 42 on wanted list for exercising freedom of religion or belief
Russia's Interior Ministry wanted list includes: 3 opponents of Russia's war against Ukraine on religious grounds; 6 Muslim Nursi readers from Russia; 16 Jehovah's Witnesses from Russia, 4 from Russian-occupied Crimea; 3 people wanted by Belarus; 3 wanted by Kazakhstan; 2 wanted by Tajikistan; 5 wanted by Uzbekistan. The Interior Ministry did not respond to Forum 18's question why it includes people who peacefully exercised their right to freedom of religion or belief. Interpol would not say for
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: "If they took Russian citizenship, they could return to Donetsk"
In occupied Donetsk Region, Russian officials arrested two Orthodox Church of Ukraine priests, Fr Khristofor Khrimli and Fr Andri Chui, in September 2023. A court fined both for "missionary activity", ordering their deportation from Russia. Officials illegally took them to Russia, and are holding them in a Deportation Centre near Rostov-on-Don. Bailiff Aleksandr Nikolenko told Forum 18 the priests refused deportation via Latvia as they want to live in Donetsk. "If they took Russian citizenship,
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
OCCUPIED UKRAINE: Zaporizhzhia priests still "disappeared", 4 Churches banned
13 months after Russia's National Guard "disappeared" two Greek Catholic priests, Fr Ivan Levytsky and Fr Bohdan Heleta, and 7 months after Russian occupiers "disappeared" Ukrainian Orthodox priest Fr Kostiantyn Maksimov, no information is known on whether they are still alive and, if so, where and why they are being held. Investigation Prisons in Crimea and Donetsk refused to say if they are holding them. In December 2022, the Russian-installed Zaporizhzhia Region governor banned the Greek Cath
RUSSIA: "Faith forbids him to take up arms, kill, or take oaths"
Military officials rejected the alternative civilian service applications of four young Baptists in Siberia and the Far East. The four men had all set out their pacifist religious convictions. Brothers Daniil and German Strelkov are preparing to appeal after a court ruled the refusals lawful. Courts twice declined to uphold Zakhar Asmalovsky's lawsuit against the military authorities. Timofey Reznichenko successfully challenged his refusal in court, gaining the right to have his application re-e
BELARUS: Officials warn clergy not to violate strict state restrictions
Olga Chemodanova, Head of Minsk City Executive Committee's Ideology Department, warned a Minsk Orthodox Diocese clergy meeting not to violate the state's strict restrictions. "Her address contained open threats towards priests who are ideologically alien," Christian Vision noted. "Chemodanova gave them to understand that they should expect prison." Religious affairs official Aleksandr Rumak warned that there should be no politics in church and no "non-religious symbols". The warnings echo provis
TAJIKISTAN: Religious freedom survey, December 2023
Tajikistan restricts freedom of religion and belief, along with interlinked freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Forum 18's survey analyses violations including: ban on and punishments for all exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission (including among Ismailis in Mountainous Badakhshan); state control of Islam; severe limitations on numbers of mosques; jailing of Muslim prisoners of conscience on alleged "extremism" charges; impunity for torture; denial of a
KYRGYZSTAN: Raids, closures of mosques, madrassahs, Muslim critics arrested
After raids and closures of mosques and madrassahs in Osh Region, three members of the Al-Sarakhsi Mosque community who protested have been arrested and face criminal trial. The men have been held in Osh's Investigation Prison since 18 October. A Justice Ministry "expert analysis" claims the men "discredited the authorities' actions by saying that the 'law-enforcement agencies interfered in mosque matters and acted against Muslims'". One of the men's fathers commented: "If we live in a democrati
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.
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