Persecution against religious organizations and believers
HRWF (17.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/2AAyPs9
It became known in May 2020 that a criminal case under Article 205.5 Part 2 (participation in a terrorist organization) and Article 205.1 Part 1.1 (involving others in terrorist activities, including the activities of a terrorist organization, as well as financing of terrorism) was opened in the Chelyabinsk region against prisoner Asgat Khafizov from Tatarstan. As part of an eight-people group, Khafizov was sentenced to 19 years and two months in a maximum security penal colony under Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization) in 2017 for his involvement in the activities of the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hizb ut-Tahrir was recognized in Russia as a terrorist organization, despite the absence of information about its involvement in any terrorist activities. Therefore, we view charges under anti-terrorism articles levied against its followers merely on the grounds of their involvement in the party propaganda as inappropriate.
R. Bagautdinov, who had posted the “The Miracles of the Koran” video (banned in 2011) on his VKontakte page, was fined one thousand rubles under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination of extremist materials) in early May in the town of Uchaly (Bashkortostan). We couldn’t find calls for violence, incitement to hatred, or discriminatory statements in this educational history video; in our opinion, it speaks about other religions in an emphatically respectful tone. It was banned inappropriately, and, accordingly, administrative punishment for its distribution is inappropriate as well.
The “Charity Guesthouse Ak Umut – Bright Hope” Autonomous Non-Profit Organization was added to the Federal List of Extremist Organizations on May 19 as Entry No. 76. The organization was banned by two decisions of the Kirovsky District Court of Kazan back in 2014; the ban was upheld by the Judicial Collegium for Administrative Cases of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Tatarstan in 2015. As follows from the text of the Supreme Court decision the organization’s activities were banned as extremist because prosecutorial inspection had found on its premises Islamic literature included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The claim, seeking to ban the materials, was filed based on the results of the most recent inspection conducted in 2014 – at the end of 12 months after the organization had received a warning about the impermissibility of extremist activity. In our opinion, three religious books discovered in the Guesthouse’s library were banned without a sufficient reason. Therefore, we believe that the organization was recognized as extremist inappropriately.
We found out in May that the Supreme Court of Khakassia has been considering a claim by the Khakassia Prosecutor’s Office to liquidate and recognize as extremist unregistered Khakassian Regional Public Organization for Spiritual and Physical Self-Improvement of a Person under the Great Falun Law “Falun Dafa.” The claim reached the court in March, but its consideration was restarted in April, after the interested parties were brought into the process. The Prosecutor’s Office seeks to ban the organization on the grounds that its members distributed Zhuan Falun – a treatise by Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) founder Li Hongzhi banned in 2011 – and did not stop this activity after a warning was issued to the organization’s leader in 2016. Falun Dafa new religious movement is built around the practice of qigong gymnastics in combination with elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. It has been banned and persecuted in China, and its followers abroad sharply criticize the Chinese authorities. Zhuan Falun was recognized as extremist on the grounds that it allegedly advocated the superiority of the adherents of Falun Gong ideology over other people. In our opinion, propaganda of the truth of one’s own convictions cannot be regarded as incitement to hatred, and the book does not contain any calls for violence, therefore the ban against it is inappropriate. Since, according to the prosecutor’s office, the extremist activities of the Falun Dafa organization in Khakassia amounted only to the distribution of this book, we consider the request to ban this organization unfounded.
In May, we learned about the following law enforcement actions against Jehovah’s Witnesses in various Russian regions.
- In the Krasnodar Krai, a criminal case was opened under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code, and searches were conducted in the homes of believers from two villages, Pavlovskaya and Kholmskaya. 62-year-old Alexander Ivshin and a 43-year-old female resident of Pavlovskaya were placed under travel restrictions and formally named as suspects under Parts 1 and 1.1 of Article 282.2 for organizing the activities of a banned community and for involvement of others in it;
- In Lesozavodsk of Primorsky Krai, Yevgeny Grinenko was placed in pre-trial detention after a series of search raids; he became a suspect under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. The searches and interrogations in Lesozavodsk have continued;
- In the town of Maysky (Kabardino-Balkaria), searches were conducted in homes of six believers, who were interrogated as well;
- In Krasnoyarsk, a criminal case was opened against Vitaly Sukhov under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- Searches in four houses of Jehovah’s Witnesses were carried out in Kerch; a criminal case against Artyom Shabliy was opened under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code;
- In Komsomolsk-on-Amur, four people were searched, questioned and then released with no further preventive measures;
- In the town of Vyazemsky in the Khabarovsk Krai, at least seven searches were conducted in believers’ homes. 68-year-old Yen Sen Li is suspected of organizing the activities of the banned organization and involving others in its activities; he was released under travel restrictions. 19-year-old Yegor Baranov has been put under arrest for two months.
Two Jehovah’s Witnesses from Saratov – Felix Makhammadiev, a native of Uzbekistan, and Konstantin Bazhenov, who had lived in Ukraine for many years and returned to Russia in 2009 – had their Russian citizenship revoked. The citizenship was revoked because both of them had been convicted under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code. In accordance with Article 22 Part 2 of Federal Law “On Citizenship of the Russian Federation,” the verdict became the basis for overturning the decision to grant them Russian citizenship.
On May 21, the St. Petersburg City Court granted the appeal of the prosecutor’s office, overturned the prior decision of the Pushkinsky District Court and recognized the books and pamphlets by American preacher William Branham (1909–1965) as extremist. Earlier, in December 2018, the Pushkin District Court refused to ban these materials. We would like to remind that Evening Light, a charitable non-governmental organization that distributed these publications, became involved in the process as an interested party. According to the experts brought in by the prosecutor’s office, the author of the books uses neuro-linguistic programming techniques, puts his teaching above the teachings of other churches, and creates an “image of an enemy” with respect to the “Catholic (including also the Orthodox) and Protestant churches.” The writings in question insult the feelings “of the relevant groups of clergy and believers” by describing their opponents as sectarians and advocating the “ideas of a person’s inferiority based on his/her religious affiliation.” The Pushkinsky District Court ordered a new expert examination, reviewed its results and the materials of the case, and, after hearing the opinion of the process participants, decided to deny the prosecutorial request. The prosecutor’s office did not agree with the decision of the Pushkinsky District Court and appealed to the city court, which ordered a new expert examination in the case and, based on its results, recognized Branham’s works as extremist. In our opinion, there are no grounds for banning Branham’s texts, since statements about the truth of one creed and the fallacy of all others are typical of any religious teaching and should not be prosecuted.