Religious persecution and issues – Bimonthly Digest September 16-30


29.09.2023 – In the Tver region, a priest was forced to repent for praying for peace

Sova Center – On September 25, 2023, it became known that in the Tver region parishioners complained about the rector of the Church of Elijah the Prophet in the village of Pogoreloe Gorodishche, priest Ilya Gavryshkiv. The reason for the complaint was that he refused to read the “Prayer for Holy Rus’” prescribed by the patriarch, prayed for peace and signed a letter from the clergy in March 2022 against military actions in Ukraine.

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28.09.2023 – The Court of Cassation upheld the decisions of the Lower Courts regarding five believers from the City of Blagoveshchensk

JW – On September 26, a panel of judges of the Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction in Vladivostok upheld the verdict of Sergey Afanasiyev, Anton Olshevskiy, Sergey Kardakov, Adam Svarichevskiy and Sergey Yermilov. Each of them received more than six years in a penal colony for their faith.

It was noted in one of the court of cassation’s appeals, that “Even in Soviet times, during the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, believers were not always sentenced to imprisonment, especially for such a long period as in the present case”.

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25.09.2023 – Appeal Court in Novosibirsk upheld the sentence for Dmitriy Dolzhikov — 2 years of forced labor for his faith in Jehovah God

JW- On September 22, 2023, the Novosibirsk Regional Court upheld the verdict against Dmitriy Dolzhikov. Earlier, the court of the first instance sentenced him to 3 years in a penal colony, but replaced the term with forced labor. Taking into account the time spent under arrest, he will only have to serve 2 years of forced labor.

The court of appeal ignored the arguments of Dolzhikov, who stated: “The law does not consider practising, including together with others, the religion to which the liquidated religious associations belonged as a sign of extremism.” In his appeal, Dmitriy stated: “The court did not establish the presence of motives of religious hatred or enmity in my actions; It has not been established against which specific social group I acted. All my actions were completely peaceful. I did not do anything that would indicate the continuation of the activities of any extremist organization.”

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25.09.2023 – Based on the results of the hearings, the Voronezh authorities did not approve the construction of an Old Believer temple

Sova – On August 8, 2023, it became known that public hearings were being held in Voronezh on the issue of providing a plot of land in the city center, on Letchika Zamkina Street, 14, for the construction of a temple. All three participants in the hearing spoke out against the allocation of land.

The documents do not indicate what kind of temple was supposed to be built on this site, however, meetings of believers of the Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church are held in the vicinity of the indicated address.

Participants in the hearings suggested that this was specifically about the construction of an Old Believer temple. Among the arguments expressed by opponents of the construction is the lack of parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church in the microdistrict.

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21.09.2023 – The Court in the Amur Region handed down suspended sentences of two to three years to three women for reading the Bible

JW – On September 21, 2023, the Judge, Ivan Moiseyenko of the Zeya District Court of the Amur Region, found Margarita Moiseyenko, 44, Yelena Yatsyk, 51, and Galina Yatsik, 72, guilty of participating in the activities of an extremist organization and sentenced them to suspended sentences.

The prosecutor asked to send the believers to a penal colony for terms of two and a half to three years, but the court gave Margarita Moiseyenko, three years suspended sentence with deprivation of the right to engage in activities related to leadership and participation in the work of public organizations for three years and restriction of liberty for ten months with a probationary period of three years. Galina Yatsik received a two years of suspended sentence with deprivation of the right to engage in activities related to leadership and participation in the work of public organizations for three years, restriction of liberty for six months with a probationary period of two years.

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21.09.2023- New searches and a Criminal Case in Moscow and Moscow Region.

JW – On September 19, 2023, the homes of at least nine families of Jehovah’s Witnesses were searched in several districts of Moscow and in the Moscow Region (the towns of Solnechnogorsk, Fryazino, Dmitrov, and Chekhov). Aleksandr Serebryakov, who is serving a suspended sentence, was sent to a detention center based on a new accusation.

Six days earlier, Captain of Justice, Roman Ivanov, senior investigator of the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the city of Moscow, , initiated a criminal case against Serebryakov and unidentified persons under the article on financing the activities of an extremist organization. According to the lawyer, Aleksandr is accused of actions in the period from 2018 to 2019, when he was already accused under another article.

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21.09.2023 – Appeal in Krasnoyarsk upheld Ivan Shulyuk’s sentence: Seven years suspended sentence for his convictions

JW – On September 19, 2023, by the decision of a panel of judges of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Court chaired by Diana Davydenko, the sentence against Ivan Shulyuk, 47, a Jehovah’s Witness from Siberia, was enforced.

In May 2023, the court imposed a seven year suspended sentence on Shulyuk with a four year probationary period. They viewed the discussion of the Bible, prayers and singing religious songs with friends as organizing the activities of an extremist organization. The believer does not agree with the sentence that was enforced. In his final statement to the court of appeal, he said that the investigation is confusing the meaning of the law, as it “deliberately interprets legitimate religious activity as being the activity of a banned legal entity.”

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21.09.2023 – An imam from Mari El was fined for storing Said Nursi’s books in a mosque.

Sova – In September 2023, we learned that on March 30, the Zvenigovsky District Court fined two thousand rubles under Art. 20.29 Code of Administrative Offenses (storage of extremist materials for the purpose of mass distribution) by Rafail Safin . On June 5, 2023, this decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of Mari El.

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21.09.2023 – Rustam Seidkuliev, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was deported to Turkmenistan, although the Court allowed him to stay in Russia for another six months

JW – On September 17, 2023, employees of the Federal Migration Service, contrary to a court decision, deported Rustam Seidkuliev to Turkmenistan. Earlier, at the initiative of the FSB, his Russian citizenship was revoked due to criminal prosecution for his faith.

Seidkuliev was sentenced to two years and four months to penal colony for participating in worship services and talking about Bible topics. In total, Rustam spent a little more than a year and ten months behind bars. After Seidkuliev’s release from the colony, additional punishment came into force. It was not associated with imprisonment and allowed him to live with his wife and move freely around Saratov, and to communicate with friends and to work.

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20.09.2023 – Aleksandr Nikolayev, father of five, convicted for his faith, was released from the Colony

JW – On September 19, 2023, Aleksandr Nikolayev, a father of five, was released from a penal colony in Khadyzhensk, where he spent almost a year for his faith in Jehovah God. The believer was greeted by his wife and children, and mother-in-law. At the colony’s exit an FSB and police officers were on duty, and there were several police vans.

The verdict – two and a half years in prison – was handed down to Nikolayev in December 2021. Aleksandr was the first believer to be given a real prison sentence after the decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, explaining that participation in worship services is not a reason for conviction under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Despite this, the man was found guilty of extremism for reading a Bible passage via video conferencing.

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20.09.2023 – In the Smolensk region, it was decided to demolish an illegally built house of worship

Sova – On September 18, 2023, it became known that the administration of the Vyazemsky district of the Smolensk region filed a lawsuit against Alisher Ch. for the demolition of an illegally built prayer house. In September, the defendant admitted the claims in full and agreed to voluntarily demolish the building.

The building of the prayer house was built on the territory of the Druzhba-1 SNT. In 2022, the Committee on Architecture and Land Management and the prosecutor’s office began an investigation into the unauthorized seizure of municipal land, possible violation of building codes, and illegal religious activity.

The district administration confirmed that it had not issued a construction permit to Alisher Ch. and filed a lawsuit to declare the construction illegal and impose the obligation on the defendant to demolish it.

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20.09.2023 – Jehovah’s Witness arrested in Cherkessk

Sova – The 36-year-old believer is suspected of continuing the activities of the banned community.

On September 20, 2023, the investigative department of the Investigative Committee for the Karachay-Cherkess Republic reported that a criminal case had been opened in Cherkessk under Part 1 of Art. 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). A 36-year-old Jehovah’s Witness was detained and then sent to a pre-trial detention center .

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