Conservative Party Human Rights Commission: Russia and FoRB

The report POISON, TORTURE, LIES AND REPRESSION: HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA TODAY has been launched by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

The following extracts relate specifically to issues around Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB):

Freedom of religion or belief is also under pressure. In particular, Jehovah’s Witnesses are facing a serious crackdown, but so too are small, mainly Protestant, churches. People suspected of supporting the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir have also been jailed and while the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission would have grave concerns about the ideology espoused by Hizb ut-Tahrir, we would have serious questions about the justification for jailing people simply for their ideological beliefs, with no evidence of involvement in violence or terrorist activity. Furthermore, the Commission received evidence that the counter-terrorism legislation known as the ‘Yarovaya laws’ signed by President Putin in 2016 are so draconian that even pro-government legislators hesitated to approve them. These laws are used as a pretext for a severe onslaught on human rights, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, freedom of expression and the right to privacy. (p11)

Freedom of religion or belief
Religious minority groups continue to face harassment in Russia, according to Amnesty International, with the authorities banning organisations, blocking religious websites and prohibiting publications on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Religious groups other than the Russian Orthodox Church face increasing restrictions. According to Vladimir Ashurkov, the Russian government has adopted a very clear policy favouring the Russian Orthodox Church, and in turn the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed support for the government. The Russian Patriarch has spoken regularly in support of Vladimir Putin’s actions and against “Western values”.

The Commission received a detailed submission from the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia recently, as detailed below, and the Commission also received reports from Human Rights Without Frontiers. On 20 April 2017, the Supreme Court banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ central organisation and all its affiliates in Russia, ruling that Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have 395 local organisations and over 170,000 followers, constitute an “extremist” organisation. Jehovah’s Witnesses who continue to practice their faith risk being prosecuted and jailed for up to ten years, under Article 282 of the Criminal Code. A report submitted to the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission by the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, produced by the Office of General Counsel at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses and titled Russia’s Attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses: Persecution of the Religious Community of 175,000 in Russia, details Russia’s violations of freedom of religion or belief against their community, accusing Russia of “extreme religious intolerance”.

On 25 May 2017 a Danish citizen, Dennis Christensen, was arrested at a Jehovah’s Witness religious service, and jailed in pre-trial detention in Oryol. On 31 January 2018, the Deputy Prosecutor of the Oryol Region filed a 76-page indictment against Mr Christensen.

On 16 and 17 May 2018 homes of people suspected of being Jehovah’s Witnesses were raided and searched in Orenburg, Buzuluk and Birobidzhan, and photographs, bank cards, money and all electronic equipment were seized, according to the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Human Rights Without Frontiers reported that “one of the operatives participating in the searches said that a total of 150 law enforcement officers are participating in this operation, which has the code name ‘Judgment Day’”.

In July 2018, heavily armed police raided the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in several cities throughout the country. After detaining numerous Jehovah’s Witnesses for interrogation, the police arrested six individuals who are currently in pretrial detention. After a home raid on 22 July 2018, police and Federal Security Services (FSB) officers in the city of Berezovskiy arrested Vadim Levchuk and Sergey Britvin, who is disabled. Two days later the court ordered to keep both men in pretrial detention until 19 September.

On 3 July FSB officers arrested Andrey Stupnikov while he was checking in for a flight at an airport in Krasnoyarsk. The following day, the Zheleznodorozhniy District Court in Krasnoyarsk ruled to keep Mr Stupnikov in pretrial detention for two months, until 2 September. He has been criminally charged under Article 282.2(1) of the Criminal Code for “organizing the activity of an extremist organization”.

On 4 July masked and heavily armed police in Omsk broke down the door and burst into the home of Sergey and Anastasia Polyakov. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “they hit Mr Polyakov in the face several times and threw him to the floor. While he was down, one of the officers kneed him in the head even though Mr Polyakov never resisted”. After hours of searching the Polyakov’s home and car, the officers arrested them, placed both in detention, and charged them under Article 282.2(2) of the Criminal Code for “participating in extremist activity”. At an appeal hearing on 16 July, the court ruled to reduce the time of pre-trial detention by two weeks, until 20 August.

On 15 July, police in Penza searched the homes of several Jehovah’s Witnesses, confiscating all electronic devices and photographs. The police detained about 20 adults at the police station and subjected the women to strip searches.

On 17 July a local court ruled to keep Vladimir Alushkin in pre-trial detention until September 14, 2018.

As of August 2018, at least 29 Jehovah’s Witnesses are in pre-trial detention, according to Human Rights Without Frontiers. An open letter written by ten of the wives of 16 jailed Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Russian Federation Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights was published on 7 June 2018, in which the women expressed “a cry of desperation” that “our husbands, those who feed us, the fathers of our children, honest people who are always ready to help others, are being thrown behind bars for being suspected of reading Bible commandments and praying together with us and our children”. They argue that “under the guise of fighting extremism, many of us, and even our children, have been threatened with weapons by agents of the special forces and ordered to lie face down. Our homes have been raided and searched, our telephones and computers have been seized, so we can’t work or live a normal life.. They are trying to force us to live in fear and shake every time there’s a knock at the door or the sound of a siren on the street, as we await arrest merely for our faith”. They conclude that “fundamental rights are being trampled on: the right to freedom of worship and personal inviolability, the right to personal dignity, the right to privacy, the right to the inviolability of the home, to freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of worship, the right to private property. If the Russian government does not quickly put an end to this growing campaign of terror, the administration will be faced with a nation-wide human rights catastrophe.”

According to several submissions received by the Commission, particularly evidence provided by the Sova Centre for Information and Analysis, in 2016 restrictions on missionary activities were introduced as part of the ‘Yarovaya’ counter-terrorism amendments, and have been indiscriminately applied to a variety of groups, including many Protestant denominations, Hare Krishna adherents and others. Examples include the attempted prosecution of a yoga instructor in St Petersburg in 2017 for giving a public lecture, and the confiscation of copies of the Salvation Army’s Bible in Vladivostock as they did not feature the prescribed official approval mark for

According to reports received by the Commission from Human Rights Without Frontiers, on 16 May 2018, Nosisa Shiba, a student from Swaziland at the Nizhny Novgorod Medical Academy was charged under article 18.8 of section four of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the Russian Federation, and sentenced to immediate deportation. This was then revised to a fine of 7,000 rubles and deportation upon completion of her studies. Nosisa had been attending an evangelical church in Nizhny Novgorod, and on one occasion she sang a song about God and his love for people in the church. A video of this was found by Russia’s intelligence services on Youtube, and she was accused of unauthorised missionary activity.

Daniel Lipin, a human rights lawyer, detailed in his evidence to the Commission other violations of freedom of religion or belief, including the banning of the Chinese Buddha-school spiritual movement, Falun Gong.

The case of Protestant evangelical missionary Donald Ossewaarde, and his wife Ruth, illustrates the increasing repression of freedom of religion or belief. Mr Ossewaarde and his wife had lived in the city of Oryol, 300 kilometres south of Moscow, since 2005, and for ten years they had, as Baptist missionaries, hosted regular gatherings for prayer, worship and Bible study in their home.

According to a testimony provided by ADF International, on 14 August 2016 during a regular Sunday gathering, three policemen arrived at the home of Mr and Mrs Ossewaarde unannounced. They entered “without knocking or ringing the doorbell”, interrupting the gathering and insisting on questioning Mr Ossewaarde. The police were asked to remain until the gathering was over, which they did, but after the meeting they proceeded to question Donald and Ruth Ossewaarde for 45 minutes. They were then taken to the police station for fingerprinting, although they were assured no complaints or charges were being made. After fingerprinting at the police station, Mr and Mrs Osserwaarde were informed that a complaint had been made, and Mr Ossewaarde was then charged with two administrative offences against Federal Law No 125-FZ, on the freedom of conscience and religious associations. They were
charged with disseminating information about religion among people who were not from the same religion, and conducting missionary activity without notification. A court case then ensued, and Mr Ossewaarde was convicted of breaching the Federal Law, and fined 40,000 roubles (£460). He was encouraged to leave the country, but decided instead for his wife to return to the United States and for him to remain in Russia to appeal. According to the submission to this Commission, he appealed on 23 August 2017 to the Oryol Regional Court and his appeal failed.

On 7 October 2016, he appealed for review to the Oryol Regional Court, and again to the Supreme Court on 25 November 2016, but was again unsuccessful. On 29 December 2016 Mr Ossewaarde appealed to the Constitutional Court of Russia, claiming that his right to freedom of religion or belief had been violated. This final appeal was dismissed on 27 February 2017 and he was left with no choice but to leave Russia and return to the United States. In March 2017, an application to the European Court of Human Rights was filed, arguing that Russia had violated article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and article 11 (the right to freedom of assembly) of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre publishes a regular list of political prisoners and prisoners jailed for their religious beliefs. We have published the most up-to-date list in full in the Appendix to this report. The majority of these are Muslims, accused of supporting the radical Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir. Muslim followers of Tablighi Jamaat and Turkish theologian Bediüzzaman Said Nursî have also been jailed. While this Commission would have very grave concerns about the ideology of Hizb ut-Tahrir, it is also important to recognise that Hizb ut-Tahrir, while espousing radical Islamism, does not engage in acts of violence or terrorism and to imprison people solely on the grounds of suspected support for Hizb ut-Tahrir is an injustice.

List of individuals recognized as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre and persecuted in connection with their right to freedom of religion or belief

Adiyev, Azat Galimzyanovich
Aidarbekov, Aidar Albertovich
Akhmetov, Radik Mudarisovich,
Akhmetshin, Fanis Faritovich
Akhtakhanov, Tagir Tapayevich
Aliyev, Sakhib Yakub ogly
Alushkin, Vladimir Aleksandrovich
Asylov, Ruslan Denisovich
Balakadashev, Inyal Ibragimovich
Balakadashev, Nurmagomed Ibragimovich
Battalov, Ilshat Nelevich
Bazhenov, Konstantin Viktorovich
Britvin, Sergey Alekseyevich
Budenchuk, Alexey Vladimirovich
Cheprasov, Sergei Sergeyevich
Christensen, Dennis Ole
Dapayev, Ziyavdin Badirsoltanovich
Davletshin, Ruzim Rimovich
Dindarov, Marat Rafikovich
Esmurzayev, Khoso Gashimovich
Faizrakhmanov, Danis Mirratovich
Faizullin, Aidar Rifovich
Fattakhov, Rafael Raulevich
Fattakhov, Ruslan Vakilevich
Fazylov, Aramis Fanisovich
Gabdullin, Rustam Alfridovich
Galimkhanov, Rustam Rafitovich
Galiullin, Rinat Faizullovich
Gallyamov, Rustem Ravilevich
Garifyanov, Aidar Ralifovich
Gataullin, Ramil Irshatovich
Gataullin, Rishat Razitovich
Gimaletdinov, Ilgiz Failovich
Ibatullin, Rainur Anisovich
Imangulov, Radik Zufarovich
Inamov, Azizbek Khalikovich
Ironov, Sukhrob Rustamovich
Ismailov, Shamil Magomedrasulovich
Kaltuyev, Artur Abdulgamidovich
Kaltuyev, Sukhrab Abdulgamidovich
Karimov, Ilkham Shamilevich
Kayumov, Azamat Rinatovich
Khafizov, Asgat Khasanovich
Khakimullin, Amir Rinatovich
Khamadeyev, Alexei Alfritovich
Khamzin, Rustem Valeryevich
Khasanov, Azat Damirovich
Khevronin, Pavel Vladimirovich
Khodjayev, Naimdjon Mubinovich
Khusenov, Alisher Khasanovich
Khusniyarov, Shamil Faritovich
Kim, Yevgeny Lvovich
Klimov, Sergey Gennadyevich
Kochnev, Vladimir Yuryevich
Kolbanov, Vladislav Sergeyevich
Kornev, Alexander Valeryevich
Kulagin, Yevgeny Viktorovich
Kulyasov, Vladimir Aleksandrovich
Kurbanov, Saipula Djabrailovich
Kurbonov, Mirzobakhovaddin Abduakhadovich
Kutluyarov, Gazim Gafarovich
Latypov, Rustem Maratovich
Levchuk, Vadim Anatolyevich
Magliv, Andrey Aleksandrovich
Magomedov, Khiramagomed Gadzhiyevich
Magomedov, Magomednabi
Makhammadiyev, Felix Khasanovich
Makhmudov, Tazhib Taimirovich
Maksutov, Radmir Yusifovich
Mamayev, Rinat Mazitovich
Markin, Roman Nikolayevich
Maslakov, Artur Konstantinovich
Matrashov, Konstantin Viktorovich
Matsitsky, Ivan Valdimirovich
Mikhailov, Dmitry Vasilyevich
Miniakhmetov, Naïl Radikovich
Mustafayev, Farid Ramazanovich
Mustafin, Khalil Fanavievich
Myakushin, Vladimir Nikolayevich
Nasimova, Matlyuba Islomovna
Numonchonov, Akmalchon Numonchonovich
Nurlygayanov, Rinat Ranifovich
Osadchuk, Valentin Pavlovich
Petrov, Konstantin Nikolayevich
Polyakov, Sergey Valeryevich
Polyakova, Anastasia Andreyevna
Puida, Ivan Grigoryevich
Puigin, Maksim Viktorovich
Ramazanov, Islam Magamedkerimovich
Rakhmonkhodjayev, Zikrullokhon Faizullokhodjaevich
Saitov, Lenar Azatovich
Salakhov, Ilgiz Askhatovich
Salimov, Artur Raulevich
Salimov, Ilshat Maratovich
Salimzyanov, Arslan Talgatovich
Saraliyev, Ersmak Shagidovich
Satayev, Rasim Radikovich
Shafiyev, Albert Rimovich
Shakirov, Airat Ilgizarovich
Shaikhutdinov, Ildar Khamitovich
Sharipov, Shamil Khazhgalievich
Shavkatov, Ibrahim Mirkanovich
Shavkhalov, Adam Akhmedovich
Solovyov, Alexander Vasilyevich
Stupnikov, Andrei Garafetanovich
Suleimanov, Aslan Beslanovich
Suvorov, Alexander Gennadyevich
Tagirov, Irek Rishatovich
Tekilov, Anzor Mauletovich
Tekilov, Artur Mauletovich
Tekilov, Imran Mauletovich
Terentyeva, Anastasia Gennadiyevna
Timoshin, Denis Vladimirovich
Trofimov, Viktor Fyodorovich
Uzbekov, Timur Narimanovich
Vakhitov, Linar Munirovich
Valiullin, Albert Rafikovich
Velitov, Makhmud Abdulkhakovich
Vilitkevich, Anatoly Sergeyevich
Yakupov, Ural Gaifullovich
Yerkin, Sergey Liviyevich
Yesaulkova, Konstantsiya Valeriyevna
Yulmetyev, Aidar Maratovich
Yunusov, Naïl Vazhibovich
Zaripov, Radik Ramilovich
Zyablov, Yevgeny Anatolyevich