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RUSSIA: FORB Bimonthly Digest: religious persecutions and issues (16-31 July)

31.07.2023 – Debates on the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses took place in Yugorsk

SOVA – Andrei Zhukov and Ivan Sorokin are accused of organizing the activities of a banned community and involving others in it. The prosecutor asks to appoint them long terms of imprisonment.

On July 27, 2023, during the debate on  the case of two Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Yugorsky District Court of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug-Yugra, the prosecutor asked to sentence Ivan Sorokin to nine years in prison in a penal colony, and Andrey Zhukov to eight and a half years in prison

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28.07.2023 – One of Jehovah’s Witnesses Anton Virich was arrested in the Krasnoyarsk Territory.

JW – On July 11, 2023, a believer Anton Virich, 43, was detained in the city of Uzhur (Krasnoyarsk Territory). For 9 days, his location remained unknown. Friends found a man in the Spassk-Dalniy pre-trial detention center. He was accused of organizing the activities of an extremist organization.

The car in which Anton and his wife were traveling was stopped by the traffic police. The man was taken to the police station. There, Virich was told that since February 11, 2022, he had been under recognizance agreement, about which he knew nothing and had not received any notifications about it to his address.

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28.07.2023 – In Krasnodar, the appeal finalized the sentence of six Jehovah’s Witnesses from Gukovo: from 6.5 to 7 years in prison for their faith

JW – On July 25, 2023, the panel of judges of the Fourth General Jurisdiction Court of Cassation, chaired by Igor Konyaev, upheld the verdict against six believers from the city of Gukovo and the appeal ruling against it. All of them are already serving their terms in the penal colonies.

Aleksey Goreliy, Oleg Shidlovskiy, Nikita Moiseyev, Aleksey Dyadkin, Vladimir Popov and Yevgeniy Razumov were sentenced to 6.5 to 7 years in prison. Such a harsh sentence was handed down to Jehovah’s Witnesses by Judge Natalya Batura of the Gukovsky City Court in September 2022. The believers ended up behind bars in August 2020, immediately after investigators opened a criminal case against them and searched their homes.

The appeal upheld the verdict of the court of first instance, and the believers filed a complaint with the court of cassation. It says: “Law enforcement agencies have not established a single fact of illegal activities committed by believers. Even . . . [during surveillance] nothing was recorded to assert that . . . Jehovah’s Witnesses commit or call for illegal acts. Also, not a single person has been identified who suffered from the activities of believers.”

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27.07.2023 – In Tver, the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were searched, a Criminal Case for faith was initiated

JW – On July 24, 2023, searches were carried out in Tver in three houses of local residents who practise the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A criminal case under an article for extremism was initiated against 40-year-old Maksim Barbazyuk, 50-year-old Aleksandr Kostyuk and 68-year-old Valeriy Tolmazov.

The law enforcement officers began the raid at 6 a.m. Electronic devices were seized during the searches. According to the believers, the law enforcement officers behaved appropriately.

By 3 p.m., the three men were taken for interrogation to the investigative department of the Investigative Committee for the Tver Region, where they were told that on June 29, 2023, a criminal case had been initiated against them. Investigator Maksim Prusakov questioned the believers about their religious views. The interrogations continued until 11 p.m.

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26.07.2023 – Sergey Klimov released from the Penal Colony in the City of Astrakhan; he has served his sentence

JW – On July 26, 2023, Sergey Klimov was released from the penal colony where he served a sentence for his belief in Jehovah God. Sergey’s relatives and many friends met him with flowers and signs. The believer spent a total of five years behind bars.

Sergey was detained and placed in a pre-trial detention center back in June 2018 after searches in the city of Tomsk. In April 2020, when the appellate court upheld the sentence—six years in a general regime penal colony—Klimov was transferred to Astrakhan Penal Colony No. 8 after the announcement of the verdict. Since one day in pre-trial detention counted as a day and a half in the general regime penal colony, Sergey spent three and a half years in the penal colony after the verdict was announced.

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21.07.2023 – Jailed for refusing mobilisation on grounds of conscience

Forum 18 – 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 faith to return to Ukraine after five months on the frontlines.

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20.07.2023 – Raids of security forces in mosques near Moscow

SOVA – The security forces conducted anti-migrant raids in the mosques of Kotelniki and Dzerzhinsky near Moscow, disrupting Friday prayers.

On July 7, 2023, OMON officers disrupted Friday prayers in Kotelniki near Moscow. Under the pretext of identifying illegal migrants, they broke into the house of worship during worship, were indoors in shoes, detained believers, using physical force and insulting the audience. More than 60 people were detained during the raid.

A week later, on July 14, a similar raid took place in the Dzerzhinsky mosque near Moscow, also during a service. Some believers were laid face down on the floor.

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19.07.2023 – Sixty-nine-year-old Yuriy Savelyev was released from a penal colony in the City of Rubtsovsk

JW – On July 19, 2023, Yuriy Savelyev was released from Penal Colony No. 5 in the Altai Territory; he has fully served his sentence. Dozens of friends came to meet the believer.

Sixty-nine-year-old Yuriy Savelyev is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia whose criminal prosecution for his faith has been dragging on since 2017. The elderly believer was under covert video surveillance. In November 2018, a criminal case was initiated against Yuriy, and in the same month, he ended up in a pre-trial detention center, where he stayed for more than two years until the verdict was announced. In December 2020, the court sentenced Savelyev to six years in a penal colony. Since one day of pre-trial detention counts as one and a half days in a general regime colony, Yuriy actually spent 760 days in a correctional facility after the verdict.

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18.07.2023 – The Court of Appeal commuted the sentence of Jehovah’s Witness from Sovetskaya Gavan

SOVA – The court appointed Alexei Ukhov six and a half years in prison under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code. The Court of Appeal decided that a suspended sentence would be a sufficient punishment.

On July 18, 2023, the Khabarovsk Regional Court considered the appeal of Jehovah’s Witness Alexei Ukhov. On March 27, 2023, the Sovetsko-Gavansky City Court sentenced him to six and a half years in a general regime colony under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organization of the activities of an extremist organization). The regional court decided to consider this term conditional.

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17.07.2023 – Russians oppress uncontrolled denominations

Risu – In the Russian model, the church is only a method of conveying the necessary information to control the population, while the church works in connection with the Kremlin. The latter provides controlled denominations with a monopoly on captured territories.

Currently, the Russians are subjecting a number of organizations on the TOT to repression, in particular, searches were conducted in the parishes of the OCU, GKTU and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some members of religious communities were detained.

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17.07.2023 – Two Ukrainians face long sentences for Bible studies in Russian-occupied Crimea

khpg.org – 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 faith to return to Ukraine after five months on the frontlines.

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