Religious issues and persecution – Bimonthly Digest May 01-15


15.05.2024 – The investigation into the case of a 27-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from Chelyabinsk has been completed


Sova – Believer Maxim Khamatshin is accused of organizing the activities of an extremist organization.


On May 15, 2024, the Directorate of the Investigative Committee for the Chelyabinsk Region reported on the completion of the investigation against the 27-year-old Jehovah’s Witness – he is accused under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). Judging by the message from the Investigative Committee, we are talking about believer Maxim Khamatshin.


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14.05.2024 – Court of Cassation in Vladivostok upheld the sentence of four believers from Tynda


JW- On May 14, 2024, the Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction in Vladivostok confirmed the sentence of four Jehovah’s Witnesses. Vladimir Bukin, Valeriy Slashchev and Sergey Yuferov will continue to serve their prison sentences of 6 years and 4 months, and Mikhail Burkov — 6 years and 2 months.


The case of the believers from Tynda was considered twice — the first verdict was overturned by the court of appeal, but later the Tyndinskiy District Court of the Amur Region nevertheless found them guilty and sentenced them to imprisonment. This decision was upheld by the court of appeal. In their cassation appeal, the believers drew attention to them being named as guilty in the verdict only for participating in meetings for worship, preaching the religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, engouraging others to continue following the beliefs and studying the religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses.


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13.05.2024 – Three Jehovah’s Witnesses from Izhevsk each received three years in a penal colony for their faith


JW – On May 13, 2024, Marina Khokhryakova, judge of the Pervomayskiy District Court of Izhevsk, found Maksim Derendyaev, Aleksandr Kutin and Sergey Ashikhmin guilty of extremism and sentenced each to 3 years imprisonment in a penal colony (the prosecutor had requested 7 years each). The believers were taken into custody in the courtroom. They intend to appeal the verdict.

As an additional punishment, the court banned each of them from carrying out any activity in public and religious associations for 4 years, and further restricted their freedom for 1 year.


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13.05.2024 – The US Commission on International Religious Freedom again noted egregious violations in Russia


Sova – On May 1, 2024, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published its annual report. The report’s authors once again ranked Russia among the countries with the most flagrant violations of religious freedom.


In particular, the report mentions the ongoing persecution of religious minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, followers of Falun Gong, Allah Ayat, Turkish theologian Said Nursi, believers of Protestant churches, and the Church of Scientology. In addition, the authors of the report noted the inclusion of new religious organizations in the list of undesirable organizations, and believers as foreign agents, as well as the ongoing persecution of citizens for insulting the religious feelings of believers.


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13.05.2024 – Convicted 61-year-old Jehovah’s Witness is regularly sent to the punishment cell despite serious health problems


Alam Aliyev, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to 6.5 years in a penal colony for his faith, spent 28 days in the punishment cell of Penal Colony No.8 in the Amur Region. The conditions of detention there are not suitable for Aliyev’s health – he has diabetes, kidney disease, heart problems and neurological disorders.


Simply put, a punishment cell (SHIZO) is a “prison within a prison”. The prisoner’s rights are significantly restricted, for example, he is forbidden to lie down during the day, visits and telephone conversations are prohibited and there are restrictions on receiving parcels.


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08.05.2024 – Krasnodar Territory Court upheld the sentence to Danil Suvorov from Sochi for his beliefs: 6 years in prison


JW – On May 7, 2024, the Court of Appeal considered the complaint of Jehovah’s Witness Danil Suvorov against the sentence for his faith. The panel of judges agreed that the 28-year-old believer is guilty of extremism and should serve his sentence of 6 years in a penal colony.


In June 2023, Yekaterina Ostapenko, judge of the Central District Court of Sochi, found Danil Suvorov guilty of committing crimes under Parts 1.1 and Part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. By that time, the believer had spent almost two years in jail. Then for about a year he was behind bars awaiting an appeal.


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07.05.2024 – In Moscow, Falun Gong followers were detained in a criminal case for cooperation with an undesirable organization


Sova – On May 3, 2024, four Falun Gong followers were detained in Moscow. Their homes were searched in connection with the case of collaboration with an undesirable organization.


Case under Part 3 of Art. 284.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (carrying out the activities of a foreign or international non-governmental organization in respect of which a decision was made to recognize its activities as undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation) was opened by the Tushino Interdistrict Investigation Department of the Investigative Directorate for the North-Western Administrative District of the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia in Moscow.


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06.05.2024 – How Putin humors Xi Jinping: Crackdown on Moscow’s Falun Gong


Bitter Winter – After the start of its war of aggression against Ukraine, Russia is often described as a satellite state of China, from which it increasingly depends for economic survival and military supplies.

One casualty of this state of affairs is Falun Gong. The movement poses no threats to Russia, and for years it has been depicted with benevolence by most Russian media, which even praised its Qigong practices as beneficial for the practitioners’ health. Even after, under Chinese pressure, key Falun Gong texts were declared “extremist” in 2008, activities in Russia continued.


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03.05.2024 – In the Primorsky Territory, a court imposed suspended prison sentences on four Jehovah’s Witnesses


Sova – Nikolai Dikhtyar and Andrei Lyakhov were found guilty of participating in the activities of a banned community, Yuri Ponomarenko and Oleg Sergeev – in its organization.


On May 2, 2024, the Pozharsky District Court of the Primorsky Territory found four Jehovah’s Witnesses from Luchegorsk guilty of continuing the activities of the banned community. The court sentenced Yuri Ponomarenko to six and a half years, and Oleg Sergeev to six years and four months of suspended imprisonment under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization), Andrey Lyakhov – two years and eight months, Nikolai Dikhtyar – two and a half years of suspended imprisonment under Part 2 of the same article (participation in the activities of an extremist organization). The believers were also given an additional punishment in the form of restriction of freedom for a period of one to one and a half years.


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02.05.2024 – The court acquitted a Jehovah’s Witness from Kabardino-Balkaria


Sova – Kirill Gushchin was accused of organizing the activities of a banned community and involving in it.


On May 2, 2024, the Maysky District Court of Kabardino-Balkaria sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Kirill Gushchin, who was accused under CC. 1 and 1.1 art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization and involvement in its activities). The court completely acquitted the believer.


During the debate between the parties, which took place on March 19, 2024, the state prosecutor asked to find Gushchin guilty and sentence him to seven years in prison to be served in a general regime colony. He also asked the court to send Gushchin into custody until sentencing, but this was denied, and the defendant remained under recognizance not to leave.


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01.05.2024 – Russia, anti-cultist scares children with a new Bogeyman


Bitter Winter – Be afraid. Be very afraid. A certain R.S., who claims to have been at the event, directed me to pictures of a lecture the notorious Russian anti-cultist Archpriest Alexander Novopashin gave to children of Suzun, in Novosibirsk Oblast, on April 24. Novopashin, who looks like a madman and increasingly also behaves like one, is Vice President of Russia’s main anti-cult association, which until March 2023 was part of FECRIS, the French-supported European umbrella anti-cult organization.


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