Religious persecution and issues – Bimonthly Digest January 01-15


16.01.2024 – Criminal case for repeat “discreditation”

Forum 18 – Investigators are working on a criminal case against 86-year-old independent Orthodox Archbishop Viktor Pivovarov for repeat “discreditation” of the Armed Forces. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for five years. He condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the conduct of the war as “Satanic”. The Federal Investigative Committee and Krasnodar Region branches of the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service did not answer questions on the case. Armed personnel raided his church in October 2023, torturing a fellow priest. The community is “very intimidated”, with parishioners “afraid to attend services”.

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13.01.2024 – Russian Orthodox priest faces expulsion for refusing to pray for war victory

Reuters – A prominent liberal priest faces expulsion from the Russian Orthodox Church for refusing to read out a prayer asking God to guide Russia to victory over Ukraine.

In a verdict published on Saturday, a church court said Aleksiy Uminsky should be “expelled from holy orders” for violating his priestly oath. The decision was forwarded for approval to Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian church who strongly backs President Vladimir Putin.

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12.01.2024 – The second appeal overturned the sentence of Andrey Sazonov, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Uray. The case is sent back for the third retrial

JW – On January 11, 2024, the Judicial Collegium of the Court of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area — Yugra, chaired by Judge Lyudmila Blashkova, overturned the verdict against Andrey Sazonov and sent the case for a new trial to the Uray City Court with a new panel of judges.


In the winter of 2021, the Uray City Court found Andrey Sazonov guilty of organizing the activities of an extremist organization and its financing and sentenced him to a fine of 450,000 rubles. The court considered Sazonov’s peaceful religious activities, as well as participation in fundraising to help his fellow believers, to be a crime. The verdict was appealed. The appellate instance overturned the verdict, sending the case for a new trial.

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12.01.2024 – Russia: TV Channel of an Orthodox Oligarch under EU sanctions

Bitter Winter – Konstantin Malofeev’s Tsargrad TV spread Russian disinformation and the anti-cult hate speech of the notorious Alexander Dvorkin.

On 18 December 2023, the Council of the European Union imposed restrictive measures on Tsargrad TV Channel belonging to and financed by the so-called “Orthodox oligarch” Konstantin Malofeev, as part of the 12th Package of Sanctions targeting an additional group of 61 individuals and 86 entities in Russia responsible for actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine. On that occasion, the SPAS TV Channel of the Russian Orthodox Church was also put under EU sanctions.

Tsargrad TV Channel was created in 2015. In the fall of 2017, Malofeev created the “Two-Headed Eagle,” which he defined as the “society for the development of Russian Historical Enlightenment.” From the end of 2017, it stopped broadcasting and completely switched online.

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12.01.2024 – The court rejected Navalny’s complaint about the impossibility of having religious literature in his cell

Sova – The Supreme Court rejected two of Navalny’s claims on several points of internal regulations in the colonies. One of the lawsuits concerned restrictions on the number of books, including religious ones.

On January 11, 2024, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation considered two claims of Alexei Navalny against the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation.

The plaintiff demanded that several points of the internal regulations in the colonies be invalidated. The first claim concerned the ban on having more than one book, including religious ones, in punishment cells, PKT and EPKT.

Previously serving a sentence in a colony, Navalny complained that he was not allowed to have the New Testament and Psalter in his cell.

The second lawsuit related to the 15-minute meal limit.

The court rejected both claims.


12.01.2024 – The leader of Falun Gong in Irkutsk was fined under the article on “undesirable” organization

ovd – The Kirovsky District Court of Irkutsk fined the leader of the local Falun Gong association, Nadezhda Lai, 12 thousand rubles under the article on participation in the activities of an “undesirable” organization (Article 20.33 of the Administrative Code). A friend of hers told OVD-Info about this.

According to the security forces, Lai, a week before the picket she is charged with, which took place on October 29, agreed on the contents of the posters by telephone with one of the witnesses in the case. At the same time, her acquaintance noted, the details of the woman’s calls refuted the fact that she allegedly communicated with this man.

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12.01.2024 – “I was found guilty only for being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The appeal instance confirmed the suspended sentence for Valeriy Vyaznikov

JW – On January 11, 2023, the Primorye Territory Court upheld the conviction of Valeriy Vyaznikov, a 60-year-old resident of Luchegorsk, to 2.5 years suspended for participating in the “activities of a banned organization.” The believer considers this decision unjust.

The court considered the fact that Vyaznikov is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be evidence of extremism. The defendant noted: “I was convicted only for peacefully practicing my religion, which was reflected in the fact that I once talked about my beliefs and the teachings of the Bible with a young man who turned out to be a law enforcement officer.”

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09.01.2024 – Data on those who attended Christmas services in 2024 

SOVA – On January 7, 2024, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas. We provide statistical data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Rosgvardia on attending festive services in different regions.

In total, according to the official representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Irina Volk, festive divine services were held in 10.5 thousand churches and monasteries in six thousand settlements. More than 1.4 million people took part in them.

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08.01.2024 – Russian guard raids on Muslim facilities undermining patriotism of believers – OpEd

Eurasia review – Muslim leaders in the Russian Federation have long been alarmed by the propensity of many Russian officials and ordinary Russians as well to lump together Muslims who are Russian citizens and Muslim immigrants, something these leaders have long insisted is not only wrong but counterproductive.

Now, Mufti Ravil-Khazrat Pancheyev, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of St. Petersburg and North-West Russia, has taken the unusual step of complaining about this to the head of the Russian National Guard and warning just how dangerous its actions in this regard are.

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04.01.2024 – In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most persecuted religion, with 127 prisoners as of January 1, 2024

European Times – As of January 1, 2024, 127 Jehovah’s Witnesses were in prison in Russia for practising their faith in private homes, according to the last update of the database of religious prisoners of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

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