Religious persecution and issues – Bimonthly Digest Aug. 16-31

31.08.2023 – Former priest Ioann Kurmoyarov sentenced for “fakes” about the army

Sova Center – On August 31, 2023, the Kalininsky District Court of St. Petersburg delivered a guilty verdict in the case of former priest John Kurmoyarov.

The court found him guilty under s. “g” and “d” part 2 of Art. 207.3 of the Criminal Code (public dissemination under the guise of reliable messages of knowingly false information containing data on the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation for mercenary motives, motivated by political, ideological hatred) and sentenced to three years in prison in a penal colony with a ban on administering websites for two of the year.

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29.08.2023- In Moscow, a foreign citizen fined for namaz

Sova – On July 26, 2023, the Lyublinsky District Court of Moscow fined a foreign citizen, Saijon Vohidov, for “illegal missionary work.”

The court found him guilty under Part 5 of Art. 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (carrying out missionary activities in violation of the requirements of legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and religious associations, committed by a foreign citizen) and sentenced him to a fine without administrative expulsion from the country.

The reason for bringing to responsibility was his holding a prayer near the multi-level parking lot on the occasion of Eid al-Adha. He, having gathered a group of Muslims, read a prayer, while he called himself an imam.

In court, Vohidov pleaded guilty, noting that “he has no special education and authority to conduct missionary activities as a foreign citizen ,” and he proclaimed himself an imam.


29.08.2023 – A Court in Orenburg equated friendly meetings in a cafe with extremism. 

JW – On August 28, 2023, Diana Sudorgina, judge of the Promyshlenniy District Court of Orenburg, found five Jehovah’s Witnesses guilty of participating in the activity of an extremist organization and gave them from 2.5 to 3.5 years suspended sentences. The prosecutor had requested for them the same lenghths of terms, but in a general regime penal colony. The believers plead not guilty of extremism.


Sergey Logunov, 60, was given a 2.5-year suspended sentence with restriction of liberty for 8 months and a probation period of 2 years. The court gave 30-year-old Vladislav Kolbanov a 3.5-year suspended with restriction of liberty for 10 months and a probation period of 3 years. Vladimir Kochnev, 42, was given a suspended sentence of 2 years and 8 months with restriction of freedom for 10 months and a probation period of 2 years and 2 months. The judge gave 42-year-old Pavel Lekontsev a 3-year suspended sentence with restriction of liberty for 10 months and a probation period of 2.5 years. 47-year-old Nikolay Zhugin, 47, was given a 2.5-year suspended sentence with restriction of liberty for 8 months and a probation period of 2 years. The judge placed all believers under a recognizance agreement.

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25.08.2023 – Biysk Baptists filed a lawsuit against the mayor’s office

Sova Center – On August 24, 2023, it became known that the Biysk Evangelical Christian Baptist Church filed a lawsuit with the Altai Territory Arbitration Court against the city administration. The essence of the claim is unknown, the amount of claims is 1.5 million rubles.

In 2020, the church has already gone to court, trying to obtain recognition of the religious organization’s ownership of the prayer house it built on the street. Dostoevsky, 34 a. The court then dismissed the claim.

It can be assumed that now the church is again trying to legitimize the building. As third parties, the architectural committee of the mayor’s office, the Moscow Municipal Institution “Management of municipal property of the administration of Biysk”, the department of the Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre and Cartography in the Altai Territory and several citizens were involved in the dispute.


24.08.2023 – Freedom of religion and belief monitoring group to be liquidated

Forum 18 – Russia’s leading freedom of religion and belief monitoring group ceases to exist as a legal entity. On 17 August, a Moscow Appeal Court rejected SOVA Center for Information and Analysis’s appeal against its liquidation. Moscow’s Justice Department claimed it committed “gross violations” of the law by holding events outside Moscow. SOVA’s director Aleksandr Verkhovsky notes the “obvious and extreme selectivity” of the Justice Department’s claims against human rights groups “but not to hundreds of others”. The Non-Governmental Organisations Department at Moscow’s Justice Department refused comment.

The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis is to be dissolved after an appeal judge in Moscow upheld the liquidation order imposed by a lower court four months ago. SOVA, Russia’s leading human rights organisation monitoring freedom of religion and belief, as well as nationalism and xenophobia, will now cease to exist as a legal entity, but its staff insist that their work will continue.

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23.08.2023 – Russian persecution of evangelicals exceeding that of Soviet era, Mission Eurasia president says

Baptistpress – The raid by secret police of Russian evangelical leader Yuri Sipko’s home will not silence the former Baptist Union president’s “uncompromised” stance.

Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia, promised as much in comments he shared with Baptist Press. (See related story.)

“I have personally known Yuri Sipko for a long time,” Rakhuba said. “He is an uncompromised, powerful leader and preacher of the Gospel for whom truth is the most important thing.”

Sipko’s home was one of many among prominent evangelical leaders that was raided by the FSB, Russia’s secret police, Mission Eurasia reported on Aug. 8.

A critic of his home country’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, Sipko was accused of spreading false information about the Russian government and its army’s actions in Ukraine. He fled his home prior to the raid and is now in a safe location, reported Mission Eurasia.

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23.08.2023 – Russia charges former Baptist leader with criminal slander

Baptistpress – The former president of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists – a critic of Russia’s war against Ukraine – recently fled his homeland when authorities pressed criminal charges against him. (See related story.)

Russian officials charged Yuri Sipko, a former vice president of the Baptist World Alliance, with slandering the Russian military and posting “fake news” online about Russian armed forces involved in the invasion of Ukraine.

“I am unquestionably innocent of the charges against me,” Sipko stated in an email to the Baptist Standard.

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23.08.2023 – The appeal upheld the verdict of two Jehovah’s Witnesses from the City of Taganrog.

JW – According to the decision of the panel of judges of the Rostov Regional Court, on August 22, 2023, the sentence for Aleksandr Skvortsov and Valeriy Tibiy came into force: seven years in prison and six years of suspended sentence, respectively. The believers continue to insist on their innocence and have the right to appeal the verdict in the court of cassation.

Skvortsov and Tibiy were convicted, in fact, for professing beliefs based on the Bible. The appeal drew attention to the fact that “singing songs praising God, turning to God in prayer, discussing the Bible together” – actions for which believers were accused of as continuing the activities of an extremist organization – are “a way of professing his religion, guaranteed by both national and international law” and “does not depend on the presence or absence of a legal entity.” The believers’ lawyer stressed that the court did not provide a single evidence that the defendants had a motive of religious enmity or hatred.

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21.08.2023 – 2 minutes for believers of all faiths in prison in Russia

European Times – At the end of July, the Court of Cassation upheld the 2 years and 6 months in prison sentence against Aleksandr Nikolaev.

The court had found him guilty of participating in the activities of an extremist organization, the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In fact, he was just reading the Bible and discussing religious issues in private with relatives and friends. The investigation considered it “a crime against the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the state”.

No evidence was presented in court that the convict had committed any unlawful acts or that his behaviour was of a socially dangerous nature.

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18.08.2023 – Case of six members of At-Takfir Wal-Hijra brought to court

Sova – On August 16, 2023, it became known that the indictment was approved in the case of six residents of the North Caucasus Federal District accused of collaborating with At-Takfir Wal-Hijra.

Depending on the role of each, they are charged with Part 1 of Art. 30, paragraph “a” part 2 of Art. 205 of the Criminal Code (preparation for a terrorist act), art. 205.1 of the Criminal Code (assistance to terrorist activities), art. 205.3 of the Criminal Code (undergoing training for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities), Part 2 of Art. 223.1 of the Criminal Code (illegal manufacture of explosives and explosive devices), Part 2 of Art. 222.1 of the Criminal Code (illegal possession of explosives and explosive devices), art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organization of the activities of an extremist organization), art. 228 of the Criminal Code (illegal possession of drugs).

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18.08.2023 – The Court of Appeal in Barnaul sentenced Pavel Kazadaev to penal colony for 3 years

JW – On August 18, 2023, the Altai Regional Court granted the prosecutor’s complaint against the sentence to Pavel Kazadaev, replacing 3 years of suspended sentence with 3 years in a penal colony for talking about the Bible. The believer was taken into custody in the courtroom. He pleaded not guilty and may appeal the verdict.

Before the ruling of appeal, Pavel said: “I did not continue the activity of a banned organization. I wanted and still want to peacefully confess my faith together with friends, worship God, praise him, learn his commandments and principles. If I stop doing this, then, in fact, I stop being a believer. I did not have extremist motives, I do not feel hatred and enmity towards other people, including people of other religions, therefore my actions could not harm them. There are no victims in my case, and all my friends and relatives described me favorably.”

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17.08.2023 – Pacifist Christian musician fined, banned from internet posting

Forum 18 – Musician and teacher Anna Chagina has been handed a fine and a ban on internet posting for opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She stood accused of “discrediting” the Russian armed forces more than once in a year. “I also want to remind you of a simple ethical rule – do to others as you would have them do to you,” Chagina said in her final statement. Elsewhere, Mikhail Simonov, the first person to be sentenced to jail for opposing the war from a religious perspective, has lost his appeal against his 7-year jail term.

A court in Siberia has handed musician and teacher Anna Chagina a fine and a ban on posting on the internet as punishment for her opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Chagina stood accused of “discrediting” the Russian armed forces more than once in a year – firstly, by displaying a poster reading “Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)” at an anti-war protest, and secondly, by making anti-war posts on social media, including reposts of texts by religious philosopher Nikolay Karpitsky.

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16.08.2023 – The court sentenced five Scientologists from St. Petersburg

Sova Center – The head of the Church of Scientology in St. Petersburg was sentenced to imprisonment and released, the court imposed heavy fines on the rest of the defendants in the case.

On August 24, 2023, the Nevsky District Court of St. Petersburg issued a verdict in the case of members of the local Church of Scientology. All defendants were found guilty and sentenced as follows:

church leader Ivan Matsitsky – six and a half years in prison to be served in a penal colony, as well as a two-year ban on activities in public associations and religious organizations under paragraph “c” of Part 2 of Art. 282 (inciting hatred or enmity by an organized group) and Part 1 of Art. 282.1 of the Criminal Code (creation of an extremist community), while the court set aside the period of Matsitsky’s stay in custody and under house arrest and released him after serving his sentence.

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