FCO Human Rights Report 2019

The persecution of religious minorities including Jehovah’s Witnesses intensified, with 489 house searches in 2019 and over 300 Jehovah’s Witnesses facing criminal charges by the end of the year, according to The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 2019 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses received jail sentences, with Denis Christensen receiving a six year term for practicing his faith.

APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019

Russia’s population is about 142 million people. Many Russians describe themselves as Orthodox Christian but the percentage attending services is at most about 3 per cent. There are also centuries-old communities of Buddhists, non-Orthodox Christians, Jews, indigenous pagans and Muslims, as well as atheists and followers of many other beliefs.

Serious systemic violations of many human rights take place. Long-running “anti-extremism” campaigns against Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslim readers of works by theologian Said Nursi have led to, among other things, nationwide literature bans with the possessors of such texts being liable to criminal prosecution.

The most high-profile escalation was the April 2017 total ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, making any Jehovah’s Witnesses who exercise freedom of religion and belief liable to criminal prosecution. Jehovah’s Witnesses are increasingly being detained for long periods of a year or more. As of the end of May 2019, 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses (aged between 19 and 84) are known to have been charged or named as suspects for “extremism”-related “crimes” such as meeting together to study their beliefs. Of these, 30 were in detention, 28 under house arrest and 76 under travel restrictions. On 23 May the appeal of one, Dennis Christensen, was rejected and he began a six-year jail sentence.
In what appears to be a first for Russia, Muslim Yevgeny Kim was, after his April 2019 release from a labour camp (where he had been jailed for meeting with other Muslims to study his faith) deprived of his Russian citizenship. The excuse given by the court which made him stateless, fined him, and ordered him to be deported was that he did not have a Russian internal passport. He did not have this as officials confiscated it the day before.

There can also be impunity for torturers in Russia. Contrary to the country’s international legal obligations, no official responsible for the torture of either Muslim prisoner of conscience Yevgeny Kim following his 2015 arrest, or seven Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2019, has been arrested or put on criminal trial. One of the victims was re-arrested after reporting the torture, and two of the officials implicated have been given awards.

In July 2016, “anti-terrorism” restrictions were introduced for, among other things, sharing beliefs. Only people with permission from state-registered belief organisations can now share beliefs, and the restrictions also: restrict the beliefs that can be shared; restrict the places where beliefs may be shared; and ban any beliefs from being shared in residential buildings. Converting residential property to religious use – something which very many belief groups do across Russia – is also banned. In 2018, at least 56 organisations and 103 individuals were prosecuted under these restrictions. Lawyer Mikhail Frolov told Forum 18 that “believers don’t understand what they can and can’t do, and because of heavy fines they don’t want to take the risk and therefore significantly reduce their activity, especially in public”. Complex, contradictory, and often inconsistently applied laws can also result in religious communities losing places of worship.

In the UK Parliament, 2020

No questions asked.

USCIRF report 2020

US State Department International Religious Freedom report 2019


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