Special Weekly FORB Newsletter (26.07-03.08-2020)

03.08.20 – Ama Adhe, Tibetan Hero, dies at 88

She organized an underground network of women fighting for human rights and freedom, and was tortured for 27 years in the CCP jails.

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03.08.20- Only ‘politically correct’ religious venues allowed to reopen

Places of worship are issued strict prerequisites to open their doors after the coronavirus restrictions are lifted. The primary must—loyalty to the Communist Party.

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02.08.20 – Crosses toppled from two protestant venues in one village

 Amid the CCP’s nationwide cross removal campaign, a state-run and a house church in a Zhejiang Province village were attacked by government-hired security guards.

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01.08.20 – Uyghurs, CCP fake news exposed by new UHRP report

The Uyghur Human Rights Project reveals new details on Beijing’s massive campaign to persuade the world that there is no persecution in Xinjiang.

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31.07.20 – 52 Church of Almighty God members given long jail sentences

One of the sentenced believers will spend 15 years in prison merely for keeping at home CAG-related e-books and videos.

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30.07.20 – A popular Tibetan Buddhist Palace demolished in Hebei

 The Tushita Palace in the ancient Lingyan Temple was destroyed in November last year, after months of rectifications ordered by the local authorities.

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 30.07.20 – CCP offers high monetary awards to those who report on banned religious groups

To create an atmosphere where “every person participates and all population report” on xie jiao, the government offers up to 100,000 RMB (about $ 14,000) for delation.

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30.07.20 – Morally ensnared in Xinjiang: A young researcher reflects on genocides

 Xinjiang and other theaters of genocide may seem far away from us. They aren’t, as products of forced labor are in our shops.

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29.07.20 – Vatican-China deal: “The CCP hacked Vatican computers”

One of the largest international cybersecurity firms claims that the Chinese have hacked since May the Vatican agencies involved in the renewal of the agreement.

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27.07.20 – Ekrem Mehmet: No welcome, no goodbye

A young father dies before being allowed to see his newly born child. Another Uyghur victim of the transformation through education camps.

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27.07.20 – You can’t believe in God in China,’ police tell believers

Attacks on house churches across China intensified in the past few months, as police and government officials raid places of worship and intimidate congregations.

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27.07.20 – Numerous folk religion temples destroyed in Henan and Hebei

China’s folk religion venues, an integral part of rural life for generations, suffer severe crackdowns, as the communist regime aims to eradicate all religions.

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26.07.20 – Poverty alleviation in Xinjiang: slaving in jail-like plants

An ethnic Han manager at a garment factory in Xinjiang discloses disturbing details of local Uyghurs’ abuse, disguised as bogus projects to improve their lives.

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26.07.20 – Believers beaten and injured trying to protect their rights

As the CCP sends armed police to rectify or demolish places of worship, congregations resist them bravely defending the right to practice their faith.

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26.07.20 – A book trailer launched for Massimo Introvigne’s book on The Church of Almighty God

The volume published this year by Oxford University Press has now its own video introduction.

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Jehovah’s Witness in Russia convicted of extremism, concern over crackdown

– HRWF’s director interviewed by Newsweek

– By Brendan Cole

– Newsweek (28.07.2020) – https://www.newsweek.com/jehovahs-witnesses-russia-persecution-1521023 – A court in Russia has convicted and fined a Jehovah’s Witnesses follower amid growing global concern over a campaign of persecution in the country against adherents of the religion.

Russia’s Supreme Court ruled the religion as an extremist organization in April 2017 and since then, the group has complained that authorities have raided more than 1,000 properties of its followers. There are 372 believers under criminal investigation and 43 people are in prison—including 10 who have been convicted of extremism.

Yevgeniy Spirin, 34, had spent 160 days in pretrial detention and had been under house arrest from July 5, 2019, before his sentence was handed down on Tuesday on charges of organizing the activities of an extremist organization.

The Furmanovsky City Court in the Ivanovo Region convicted Spirin and fined him 500,000 Russian rubles ($6,920). Spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jarrod Lopes, said the conviction was “in complete disregard for the religious freedom enshrined in Russia’s Constitution.”

He said that raids had continued despite government assurances that followers were able to practice their religion at home. “The current state of religious freedom in Russia is reminiscent of Soviet times. It is well documented that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not renounce their faith during Soviet oppression,” Lopes said in a statement to Newsweek.

“Likewise, the persistent threat of arrest and imprisonment since the 2017 ban has not deterred our fellow believers in Russia today.”

Authorities in Russia have long been suspicious of the proselytizing nature of the religion. Executive director of Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF), Willie Fautré says it poses a challenge to the dominance of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“They are perceived as competitors by the extremist groups in the Russian Orthodox Church and also because they have their historical roots outside the country and culture and civilization,” he told Newsweek.

“That’s what those groups want to protect; the Slavic identity and Orthodox culture against the perceived invasion of Western values and religions coming from outside which are perceived as a threat to their Russian identity.”

A report earlier this month by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)—a bipartisan U.S. federal government commission—said that the campaign against the religion had been spearheaded by the Russian activist Alexander Dvorkin, who has fought against movements he deemed as “cults.”

In an interview with Russian state media after the religion’s ban, Dvorkin said he wanted to protect the rights of followers because the faith “maintains strict control over every aspect of its members’ lives,” which the religion rejects.

He also denies that they are Christians because he says they don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, according to NPR. While they do not believe in the Christian tenet of the Trinity, the Jehovah’s Witnesses say they follow the teachings of Christ and consider him the leader of their church.

Fautré said: “The Russian Orthodox Church, or part of it, is backing the crusade of Alexander Dvorkin against any group identifying itself as Christian and that is perceived as a competitor in the market of religion.

“Dvorkin represents a radical nationalist right wing part of the Russian Orthodox Church and he is supported by such groups, but not all. Intellectuals in the Orthodox Church disagree and say it is counterproductive to do what he was doing.

“Some branches of the church would be more open to dialog to that sort of competition of religious movements with historical roots outside the country,” Fautré told Newsweek.

More than 100 raids took place on July 13 in the Voronezh Region in a crackdown that got international attention. The OSCE said that the “repression against members of a peaceful religious minority group is truly shocking.” The raids were also criticized by the European Union and the British government.

One of those raided that day was Aleksandr Bokov, who told Newsweek about the fear he and his wife felt when Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) officers banged on his door at 6 a.m.

“They ordered my wife and me to lie down on the floor. At the same time, they hit me hard on the ribs and pushed me to the floor. The investigator began to read the search warrant to me. I had to listen to her lying on the floor,” he said in a message sent via the encrypted social media messaging app Telegram.

Bokov said that two officers took him to the kitchen, leaving his wife in another room and he was again ordered to lie on the floor. Officers demanded that he reveal the passwords for his electronic devices.




Orthodox fundamentalism threatens Russian Patriarchate and Kremlin

– Eurasia Daily Monitor (14.07.2020) – Radical Russian Orthodox fundamentalist Shiigumen Sergey, who controls a monastery in the Urals and has attracted a wide following across Russia, has demanded that Patriarch Kirill and President Vladimir Putin both leave their posts and hand their powers over to him (Ahilla.ru, July 13). That bold ultimatum, in its sheer outrageousness, spotlights an issue that has attracted remarkably little attention until now: Christian Orthodox fundamentalism and the threat it poses to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) as well as to the Kremlin. The danger comes not from the possibility that either Russian leader is about to accede to this wild insistence but because it shows that there are a growing number of Russian Orthodox hierarchs and laity who reject the slavish obedience of the Patriarchate to the state. And despite their often-reactionary views, these people are exploiting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to spread such ideology far more effectively than their opponents. As a result, it is becoming ever more difficult for the Kremlin to continue to rely on the ROC as a major ideological weapon both at home and abroad.

 

As in past cases, both the Patriarchate and the Kremlin have adopted a whack-a-mole approach, disciplining the priest involved first via church law and then by applying civil law, rather than addressing the larger problems the Urals region abbot represents. The key precedent for Moscow’s response to Shiigumen Sergey was its earlier response to another Orthodox fundamentalist, Bishop Diomid of Anadyr and Chukotka, a decade ago (Nr2.ru, Windowoneurasia.blogspot.com, June 30, 2008). Such a strategy may remove from the scene the individuals involved, but they do little to solve problems and may, in fact, make them worse for both the Church and the state.

 

Many analysts in Russia and the West are accustomed to speaking about fundamentalism in Islam, but fundamentalism exists in every religion, arising as it does out of a sense among some of its followers that they must turn away from leaders who have violated the basic provisions of the faith and go back to first principles. Now, in Russia at least, analysts are beginning to focus not just on how Orthodox fundamentalism is challenging the Church hierarchy but also how they are affecting relations between the ROC and the Russian state and demanding a voice in the formulation of state policy.

 

The fundamentalists’ challenge to the ROC is more immediate. But their challenge, both direct and indirect, to the Kremlin is likely to be more fateful.

 

The coronavirus pandemic has brought both challenges to the fore. Patriarch Kirill, afraid of the growing power of the fundamentalists, deferred to his bishops, many of whom have fundamentalist views themselves, on the question of whether churches would be closed or not. In Moscow, he closed them, but elsewhere each local bishop made his own decision. Both Kirill’s obvious fear of this decentralizing trend within the Church and the new ability of the bishops to act more independently are making the fundamentalists the most important threat to the patriarch and a unified Russian Orthodox Church. Some are now even talking about splits, regional autocephaly or a Russian reformation, Sergey Chaplin, a close observer of the Orthodox Church, says (Carnegie.ru, June 29).

 

Yet, the fundamentalists have not limited their challenges to the religious sphere. They are now presenting demands to the Kremlin as well, putting forward ideas very much at odds with those of Kirill. One of the most prominent lay Orthodox fundamentalists is Konstantin Malofeyev, a prominent businessman who owns the nationalist Tsargradtelevision network (see Hot Issue, August 8, 2014). He has assembled around himself people like Nikita Mikhalkov and Sergey Glazyev, and they regularly push their views on political issues via Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov, apparently an ally within the regime (Ura.news, July 8).

 

Encouraged by that, the group has taken the next step and presented to the Kremlin a 500-page program on how to change Russia’s course and promote development by means of blocking the export of capital, lowering interest rates, and promoting genuine protectionism so as to allow for the re-industrialization of the country, thereby reversing the direction set by more liberal figures like German Gref, Anatoly Chubais and Aleksei Kudrin. In many ways, Malofeyev is preaching to the choir. In particular, the “Orthodox oligarch” has suggested that, although Putin will likely remain after 2024, “anything can happen”; and if the Kremlin leader does go, the liberals will stage a comeback because there are so many of them in office—and only one in prison, where, he contends, they all belong. At the same time, however, Malofeyev highlights a problem that Putin has, so far, been unwilling to address (Ura.news, July 8).

 

The system of church administration Patriarch Kirill created is collapsing, in part because of the coronavirus but more importantly because of the increasing power of Orthodox fundamentalists across the country. “Orthodox fundamentalism […] has again appeared in the last five years,” Chaplin observed in May (Rosbalt, May 1). It now exists “throughout Russia,” and the health crisis is giving its adherents the chance to spread their views more publicly as they are actively using social networks and working with multimedia content far more often and effectively than do representatives of the established Church. Consequently, Putin cannot count on the Patriarchate to serve the Kremlin, either as an ideological arm within the Russian Federation or as an aid to his expansive ideas about the “Russian World” abroad (Politeia.ru, February 2020; Postimees.ee, July 8).

 

The Kremlin leader now faces a difficult choice between continuing to rely on an increasingly ineffective Patriarchate, trying to revive it with someone like his favorite Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov (Gorod 812, May 8), or rebuilding the ROC around the fundamentalists whose very enthusiasm would constitute both an opportunity and a threat. But either of these options could lead to schism—the very thing Putin most wants to avoid.




RUSSIA: Special Bimonthly FORB Digest (01-16.07.2020)

15.07.20 – In the Tomsk Region, there were five searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/16.html
In the morning of 14 July 2020, the Investigation Committee and FSB conducted searches in the town of Seversk. Ten men and women were taken to the security services for interrogation.
Continue reading…
14.07.20- Caution, the doors are about to be kicked in! More and more house searches of believers.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/14.html
The number of searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia continues to increase after the April 2017 Supreme Court decision. By mid-July 2020, more than 1000 home invasions of these law-abiding citizens had already been recorded.
Continue reading…
13.07.20 – In the Moscow region, law enforcers searched the apartment of a 70-year-old woman after her grandson told the military committee about his faith.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/12.html
July 7, 2020 in the city of Likino-Dulevo, Moscow region law enforcement officers invaded the apartment of 20-year-old Kirill Leonov and his grandmother. After the search, Kirill was interrogated for 2 hours at the police department about his faith.
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13.07.20 – In Kaliningrad, the FSB detained at least 12 people for interrogation.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/11.html
On July 11th in Kaliningrad, armed security services conducted a series of searches of believers. At least 12 people were taken to the FSB department in Kaliningrad for interrogation. A criminal case has been initiated against Mikhail Kopytov, 52. Whether anyone remains in custody is still unknown.
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13.07.20 – A wave of searches of believers in the Kemerovo Region. At least one person with disability was detained for 48 hours
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/9.html
On July 12, 2020, FSB officers conducted searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Prokopievsk. Andrei Vlasov, 51, who has a disability, was detained for 2 days and is in an isolation ward in Kemerovo. The news is being updated.
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11.07.20 – Dennis Christensen has been released from a special punishment block after being held there for 15 days.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/8.html
On July 11, 2020, the 15-day arrest period of Dennis Christensen, who was sent to a punishment cell on fabricated charges, came to an end. He is in good spirits. His defense team plans to appeal his fine and hope to achieve commutation of the sanctions imposed on him.
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9.07.20 – The prosecutor’s request includes seven years of corrective penal colony for Yevgeniy Spirin, despite an obvious fabrication of charges.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/7.html
On July 9, 2020, the prosecutor demanded to sentence 34-year-old Yevgeny Spirin to 7 years of colony, baselessly considering religious conversations extremist.
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08.07.20 – Vladimir Alushkin may be placed under arrest for the third time. Cassation Court will review the appeal decision to overturn the sentence.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/5.html
On July 9, 2020, the First Cassation Court of the Saratov Jurisdiction will be holding a hearing to review a complaint from the Prosecutor’s Office. The complaint objects to the Appeals Court’s overturned conviction of Vladimir Alushkin, a worshiper from the city of Penza. Depending on the Cassation Court’s decision, Alushkin may be placed into custody once again.
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06.07.20 – In Krasnodar Region two more local residents prosecuted for their faith. They are accused of preaching.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/4.html
Almost 2 months after the searches in the village of Pavlovskaya, officers of the Federal Security Service of Russia in Krasnodar region initiated criminal proceedings against two more believers: 58-year-old Vladimir Skachidub and 39-year-old Maxim Beltikov.
Continue reading…
02.07.20 – A new wave of searches in the District of Primorye, where 12 cases against worshipers are underway.
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/3.html
On July 2, 2020, starting at 8 a.m., searches began in at least six families of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the village of Tavrichanka. Three believers were known to have been taken away for questioning. The searches were authorized by Marina Gerasimova, judge of the Nadezhda district court.
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02.07.20 – What did the prison and prosecutor’s office do to prevent the Danish believer Dennis Christenen from going free?
Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2020/07/2.html
On June 26, 2020, the Lgov prison authorities illegally placed Dennis Christensen in a cell of a special punishment block (EPKT), typically used for malicious offenders.
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RUSSIA: JW Dennis Christensen’s release blocked by the Prosecutor

HRWF (03.07.2020) – Danish Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen’s early release has been halted because a prosecutor, Mr. Aleksei Shatunov, has filed to appeal the June 23 ruling allowing his liberation.

 

Dennis Christensen’s alleged “crimes” were participating in discussions about a religious publication, helping organize worshippers to maintain the upkeep of their Kingdom Hall, and persuade people to take part on religious services.

 

In 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations, 395 in all, and confiscated all their properties. The ruling declared Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in St Petersburg an extremist organization, and banned all the activities of the group and its members.

 

Dennis Christensen was the first person to be sentenced to a prison term after the ban.

It appears the prosecutor’s office is using new trumped-up charges against Dennis to appeal the decision that the prosecutor’s office originally supported. It will likely take weeks before a court hearing is scheduled.

 

Jarrod Lopes, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states: “This is very upsetting news for Dennis, Irina, and the millions around the world who have been following his three-year legal battle in the international media. Dennis has applied for early release four times. The prison administration has persisted in sabotaging Dennis’ parole applications by falsely accusing him of misconduct. This latest move by the prosecutor’s office and prison authorities is nothing short of ruthless.”

 

Dennis has already served more than half of his six-year prison sentence. For over a year, he has been eligible for parole or a mitigation of his sentence. After submitting three applications, all of which were ignored, his fourth request finally went to court. On June 23, 2020, the Lgov District Court ordered the remaining part of his sentence to be replaced with a fine. A prosecutor who took part in the parole hearing, Mr. Artem Kofanov, supported the mitigation of the punishment.

 

Two days later, another prosecutor, Mr. Aleksei Shatunov, asserted that the court ruling was illegal, demanded that it be canceled, and called for a new trial at the same court but with a different judge. Mr. Shatunov based his request on negative reports by the Lgov prison administration that claimed Dennis lacked “a favorable record of work and public life at the correctional facility.”

 

During Dennis’ June 23 parole hearing, prison representatives had attempted to make similar arguments, but the judge determined that these arguments were invalid. The defense lawyer showed the court medical documents confirming that Dennis’ health limitations excluded him from physical labor in the prison. In turn, while testifying, a prison representative admitted that they had no work available that would accommodate Dennis’ physical limitations.

 

While the prosecutor’s office began seeking the appeal of Dennis’ early release, prison authorities filed two reports against him. The first claimed that he was in the dining hall at the wrong time, and the second claimed that he was in the barracks in a T-shirt without a jacket. For these reasons, prison authorities placed Dennis in the EPKT for ten days. According to Russian law, authorities can only take such measures when a prisoner repeatedly commits a serious violation of prison rules, and even then, only after the prisoner receives a medical examination. Since this criteria was never met in Dennis’ case, there was no basis for placing him in the EPKT.

 

Dennis and another prisoner share a cell measuring about three meters (10 ft) by two meters (7 ft). The room lacks proper ventilation and has mold, which further threatens Dennis’ poor health. He suffered from pneumonia just a few months ago and has been diagnosed with a serious spinal cord condition. Dennis’ lawyer revealed that “the administration of the penal colony is aware of this, but has placed him in conditions where he has to sleep on a hard bed, causing excruciating pain.”

 

Dennis told his lawyer that at the time of the alleged violations, there were other prisoners with him but only he was sent to the EPKT. Brother Christensen’s lawyer stated, “This leads us to believe that this was all part of a coordinated plan to prevent Dennis from being released by court order.”

 

Interview opportunities

Dennis’ lawyer, Anton Bogdanov: dbhukukcu@gmail.com; or call +7903-45-43-037

Dennis’ wife, Irina: +7 920 284-92-10 (via Telegram app)

Dennis is the first of over 170 Jehovah’s Witnesses who have spent time in prison or pretrial detention in modern Russia. See link to infographic.

 

Nationwide Persecution (Russia and Crimea)

353 under criminal investigation
35 in prison (10 convicted; 25 pretrial detention)
24 under house arrest
973 homes raided since 2017 Supreme Court ruling (176 raided in 2020—even during the COVID-19 pandemic)

Additional information: Human Rights Watch (https://bit.ly/3dSIzvn) – Amnesty International (https://bit.ly/2D9UTe5)

 




Russian human rights organizations filed a report with the UN Human Rights Committee

– Sova-Center (29.06.2020) – https://www.sova-center.ru/en/religion/publications/2020/06/d42595/ Twelve Russian NGOs, including SOVA Center, submitted a brief joint report to the UN Human Rights Committee for preliminary hearings at the upcoming session of the Committee on Russia’s next report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. SOVA Center has authored a section on abuses of anti-extremist policies.

 

A regular session of the UN Human Rights Committee opens on June 29, 2020. In the course of this session, the Committee will give preliminary consideration to the latest report submitted by Russia on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

In accordance with the procedure, during the session, the Committee will also consider alternative reports on the same topic from various public associations including those from Russia (they are all available on the UN website). After reviewing the country’s report and taking the alternative reports into account, the HR Committee will pose questions to the government once the session ends. The report along with Russia’s responses will be given final consideration in 2021.

 

The alternative reports also include a very concise report compiled by twelve Russian NGOs. SOVA Center presented a section on abuses ofanti-extremist policies, in particular as they relate to freedom of conscience.

 

We ask the HR Committee to pose the following questions to the Government of the Russian Federation:

 

  1. Does the Russian Federation plan to revise the definition of extremist activity, found in the law on countering such activity, in order to narrow down and clarify it, as recommended?
  2. What changes in the legislation or in related commentary are planned in order to ensure that statements or other acts that do not constitute a significant public danger are not punished as extremist crimes and offenses? This pertains primarily to the use of the Criminal Code articles that cover justification of terrorism, incitement to extremist activity and continuing the activities (including religious ones) of organizations banned as extremist.

 

The text of the report by the twelve NGOs can be downloaded on the website of the Human Rights Center “Memorial” in Russian and English.

 

On the UN website the report is available in English only.