USCIRF Report – US Religious Freedom Commission

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent body of the US government, established on a bipartisan basis in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The Commission monitors the observance of the universal right to freedom of religion and belief abroad. Using international standards to monitor violations of freedom of religion and belief abroad, the Commission develops policy recommendations for the president, secretary of state, and US Congress. The USCIRF is an independent body, independent and separate from the State Department. The 2017 Annual Report is a summary of the work of commissioners and professional staff throughout the year on the documentation of irregularities in the field and contains independent policy recommendations for the US government.

RUSSIA

Main conclusions

Russia is a unique case in the list of countries included in this report – it is the only state that has not only constantly tightened the suppression of religious freedom since the USCIRF began to monitor the situation in this area, but also extended its repressive policies to the territory of the neighboring state by military invasion and occupation. This policy, from administrative threats to arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings, is systematic, flagrant, and permanent. In the main territory of Russia in 2016, new laws essentially criminalized any religious speech of private individuals, not sanctioned by the state, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was on the verge of a widespread ban throughout the country, Muslims in no way guilty were tried on trumped-up charges of terrorism and extremism. In the North Caucasus, in particular, in Chechnya and Dagestan, the security services carried out with impunity arrests and kidnappings of people suspected of any links with “non-traditional” Islam. In the Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since 2014, the Russian authorities have co-opted the spiritual life of the Muslim Crimean Tatar minority and arrested or forced the expulsion of its public representatives. And in the self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine occupied by Russia, freedom of religion is dominated by illegal armed groups not subject to any legitimate authority. In addition, in 2016 Russia was merciless to critics of this policy; two of the most prominent domestic human rights organizations,

Recommendations for the US government

 Enroll Russia in the category of “countries of particular concern” (ALS), in accordance with the International Law on Religious Freedom (IRFA);

 Engage in the development of a binding contract with the Russian government in accordance with Section 405 (c) of the IRFA on what steps it can take to cancel the classification of the CDS; if negotiations fail, impose sanctions on the country in accordance with IRFA;

 To persuade the Russian government to reform the law on extremism in accordance with international human rights standards, in particular, to include criteria for human rights activities and the use of force, and to ensure that this law does not apply to members of peaceful religious associations or communities favored by the authorities;

 Put pressure on the Russian government to ensure that other laws, such as the law on religion and the law on foreign agents, are not used to restrict the religious activities of peaceful religious communities; and also to convince the Russian government to implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights related to freedom of opinion;

 Guided by Magnitsky’s law, continue to identify Russian government officials responsible for gross violations of religious freedom and human rights, freeze their bank assets and prohibit the issuance of visas for them to enter the United States;

 To raise the issue of violations of freedom of religion and belief in international organizations, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and to convince the Russian government to allow a visit to the country by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief and OSCE representatives on tolerance, and the presence of international observers in the occupied Crimea;

 Apply pressure at the highest level and work on the release of religious prisoners of conscience and pressure the Russian government to treat prisoners humanely and ensure that every prisoner has regular access to his family, human rights monitors, proper medical care and lawyers and provided an opportunity to practice their religion;

 Ensure that the US Embassy in Russia maintains appropriate contacts with human rights defenders, including at the ambassadorial level; and that the ambassador hold meetings with representatives of both religious minorities and the four “traditional” religions;

 To recommend an increase in funding for the Russian and Ukrainian Voice of America (VOA) services, as well as the Russian and Ukrainian Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty services (RFE / RL);

 To call on the Russian government to end the persecution of religious minorities in the occupied Crimea and Donbas, starting with the lifting of the ban on the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars and the repressive demands for registration of religious organizations; and

 Ensure that violations of freedom of religion and belief and related human rights are raised in all relevant discussions with the Russian government about the illegal annexation of Crimea and its support for Donbass separatists, and work closely with European countries and other allies in order to exert pressure through human rights activities, diplomacy and targeted sanctions.

History reference

By area, Russia is the largest country in the world. Its population is about 146 million people, of whom 81 percent are ethnic Russians, but officially there are more than 190 other ethnic groups in the country. According to a survey conducted in 2013, 68 percent of Russians consider themselves Orthodox Christians, and 7 percent consider themselves Muslims. Less than five percent are for Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Baha’i, Hare Krishnas, Gentiles, Tengrians, Scientologists and Falun Gong followers.

In March 2014, Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in the Black Sea region, arguing its actions by the need to save the ethnic Russian population from the allegedly “fascist policy” of the Ukrainian government. Almost all of the 30,000 Crimean Tatars, which constitute the indigenous Muslim ethnic group, negatively relate to the Russian occupation because of the dire fate they had been subjected to in the past, during the Soviet era; In 1944, Joseph Stalin deported their entire community to Central Asia, which led to the death of almost half of the entire population of the Crimean Tatars. In March 2014, Russian-backed separatist formations also began to take control of Lugansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine, fomenting a relentless military conflict that by the beginning of 2017 killed nearly 10,000 people.

The Russian government views independent religious activity as a significant threat to social and political stability, inheriting this approach from the Soviet period. It continues to comply with the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations adopted in 1997 (hereinafter the Law on Religion) and the Law on Countering Extremist Activities adopted in 2002 and which has undergone many changes and often introduces amendments to them. The religion law provides for burdensome registration requirements and gives authority to government officials to hinder their activities. In the preface to the Russian law on religion, which is not legally binding, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and, above all, Orthodox Christianity are distinguished as the four traditional religions of Russia. Religious associations that are not related to state-controlled organizations are viewed with suspicion. Over time, the Russian government actually granted the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (MPRPC) the status of the state church, giving the MPRPC great preference in various aspects of state sponsorship, including subsidies, the education system and the position of priest in the armed forces; such favoritism contributed to the development of a climate of hostility towards other religions. including subsidies, the education system and the position of priest in the armed forces; such favoritism contributed to the development of a climate of hostility towards other religions. including subsidies, the education system and the position of priest in the armed forces; such favoritism contributed to the development of a climate of hostility towards other religions.

The Law on Combating Extremism does not contain a clear definition of extremism, and the use of violence or the call to it is not a prerequisite for this or that activity to be classified as extremist; The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UN) has called for the reform of this law. Since virtually any statement may lead to prosecution, this law serves as a powerful tool to intimidate members of religious and other communities. By order of the book can be entered in the list of prohibited literature. Religious and other communities can get on the “financial blacklist” or be eliminated, and individuals can be prosecuted for commenting on the social network.

Several other laws provide for punishment for peaceful manifestations of religious feelings, dissent, and human rights activities. This applies to a law passed in 2012 that essentially prohibits unauthorized public protests; another law, passed in 2012, requiring non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents”; as well as an amendment adopted in 2013, which criminalizes offenses against religious feelings of believers.

State of Religious Freedom 2016-2017

The law on extremism and non-Orthodox Christians

Potential violators of the religion law are threatened with monetary fines, while those allegedly violating the law on extremism are imprisoned. With the adoption of the amendments of Spring in July 2016, persons convicted of extremism now face up to six years in prison, heavy fines of up to several annual salaries and / or a ban on professional labor activities.

The “Federal List of Extremist Materials” of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation is a key element of the law on extremism. Any Russian court may add additional materials to this list. As of the end of 2016, the list of prohibited materials included more than 4,000 publications, many of which have no clear connection with militancy, including the work of the Kurdish Muslim theologian of the Ottoman era Said Nursi, numerous materials of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization and the preaching of 1900 Greco Catholic Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, whose beatification was announced by Pope Francisc in 2015. Persons with at least one of the prohibited materials face a potential fine or jail sentence of up to 15 days.

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The recognition of religious literature as extremist is often a prelude to further persecution of religious communities. In particular, in 2016 a consistent campaign was launched against Jehovah’s Witnesses, seemingly aimed at the complete elimination of their legitimate presence in Russia. In March 2016, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia warned the national headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the organization could be banned and its activities terminated throughout the country if further evidence of extremism was obtained during the year. Since then, there have been numerous instances of “finding” extremist literature in official places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the episode in September 2016, when video surveillance recorded how the police put evidence. In January 2017, the appellate court rejected the appeal filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses in response to a warning it had previously made, and after the reporting period, the Ministry of Justice filed a formal lawsuit to the Russian Supreme Court for the recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters as an extremist organization. If this claim is satisfied, it will be the first ban imposed by Russia on a centralized religious organization, and in essence would mean the criminalization of all the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country. In addition, in January 2017, the two elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Andrei Sivak and Vyacheslav Stepanov, were to be tried for “inciting religious hatred”, despite

Campaign against extremism and Muslims

As in other former Soviet republics reported by the USCIRF, the harshest punishments and the most stringent checks apply to Muslims whom the state considers extremists. In Russia, close attention to Muslims can be explained by long and complex relations with recalcitrant areas in the North Caucasus, where Muslims constitute the majority, by new geopolitical factors, including an attempt to portray Russian intervention in Syria mainly as efforts to combat terrorism, as well as the need for security services to maintain its relevance through the fabrication of cases where real crimes are absent, which is a practice inherited from the Soviet era. The difference in circulation is evident from the disproportionate ratio of persons

A good example of the intersection of international politics and internal logic of the security services is the pursuit of readers of comments on the Koran Said Nursi, a Turkish Islamic fundamentalist who was Kurdish in origin, who called for the modernization of Islamic teaching. Nursi, who died in 1960, was praised by Turkish President Recep Erdogan and served as an inspiration for Fethullah Gülen, an eminent Turkish preacher of Islam in exile. Nursi’s followers were persecuted by Russian law enforcement agencies since the early 2000s, but after Turkey shot down a Russian military plane over Turkish territory in November 2015, a wave of arrests ran through Russia. According to the Forum 18 organization, As of the beginning of 2017, nine members of the Nursi study groups are awaiting trial in Russia on charges of being a member of the alleged terrorist movement “Nurcular”, which has been officially banned in Russia as extremist since 2008, despite the widespread belief that nothing but a legal fiction invented for the purpose of persecuting Nursi’s followers. One of them, Bagir Kazikhanov, convicted in 2015, is serving a prison sentence of three and a half years.

At the same time, the number of Muslims arrested for reading the works of Nursi is negligible compared with the arrests among members of Hizb-ut-Tarir, an Islamic fundamentalist movement banned in Russia. Of the 120 people listed on the New Chronicle list, one hundred and sixteen are persons arrested for contacting Hizb-ut-Tahir; according to the SOVA Center, a Russian NGO monitoring the situation with xenophobia and freedom of religion and belief, the number of Hizb ut-Tarir followers convicted in 2016 almost doubled compared to the previous year: 37 men received prison sentences of up to 17 years.

Moreover, not all persons persecuted for their faith were included in the list of political prisoners, because in some cases the arrested did not participate in any political or religious activity. For example, in April 2016, 15 Russian Muslims, mostly from the Caucasus, were convicted for a term of 11 to 13 years on charges that they planned to become suicide bombers in a terrorist act that was being prepared in a Moscow cinema; men were arrested in 2013 during a raid on an illegal hostel for migrant workers. Human Rights Center “Memorial”, representing one of the defenders, believes that the victims were chosen in an arbitrary manner, and the charges were fabricated to show the successful results of the struggle of law enforcement agencies against terrorism. Memorial pointed out a number of inconsistencies, including conflicting evidence of traces of explosives, testimony that defenders were present during the notorious terrorist acts that occurred while they were children, and the fact that the verdict was announced on television five hours before delivered by the court. In February 2017, Kavkaz.Realii, a Caucasian service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE / RL), reported on a similar case against a young Ingush woman and her husband, an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam, who were arrested while trying to travel to Georgia for a honeymoon in January 2017. Although they were charged with drug smuggling, it is assumed that the reason for their arrest was the alleged extremist beliefs of a family member of their acquaintance.

Implementation of the law on the protection of the feelings of believers

One of the consequences of close relations between the state and the MPRPC was the adoption in 2013 of a law on the protection of the feelings of believers in response to a political protest in the main council of the Moscow Orthodox Church in Moscow, which insulted many Orthodox Christians. The law provides for punishment of imprisonment for up to three years or confiscation of up to three annual salaries for insulting religious beliefs and feelings. In November 2016, the police raided and briefly detained, on suspicion of insulting the feelings of believers, 13 civil society activists who participated in numerous public protests in connection with the construction of the MPRPC church in Moscow park. In February 2017, after almost a full year of court proceedings, the court against the user of social networks Viktor Krasnov, accused of insulting the feelings of believers, was terminated due to statute of limitations. Viktor Krasnov was charged after he took part in a dispute in the Stavropol discussion group on the Russian social network VKontakte. In response to several verses cited from the Bible, Krasnov replied that “there is no God,” and “The Bible is a collection of Jewish tales,” for which it was reported to the authorities. After the end of the reporting period in 2017, six months after his arrest and three months in prison, social network activist Ruslan Sokolovsky was brought to trial for playing on the smartphone in the popular video game “Pokemon Go”, while in the YNPK YMP, in protest against the law of insulting the feelings of believers. At the end of the reporting period, the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation also considered the issue of

Not all cases of criminal prosecution under the law of insulting believers’ feelings are connected with the MPRPC: after paying a large fine in November 2016, the owners of the Buddha-Bar restaurant in Krasnoyarsk were forced to close their establishment. In the same month, the investigative committee in the Republic of Tuva put on the wanted list a young woman who took a “selfie” allegedly on a ritualistic Buddhist drum.

The situation in the North Caucasus

Although “legitimate” repression can be the norm in most parts of Russia, the situation in the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan and Chechnya, is described by Memorial as “legalized terror”. There, anyone suspected of practicing “unconventional” Islam or any connection with the current insurgent movement is threatened with abduction by the security services; in Dagestan, only in the period from September to November, Memorial registered 13 cases of disappearances of people connected with the security services. Peaceful Muslims, lawyers for human rights defenders, independent journalists and defenders of religious freedom are victims of threats, assaults and killings. In a report commissioned by the USCIRF in 2016, Russian ethnologist Denis Sokolov describes, as the majority of the Muslim intelligentsia was forced to leave the Caucasus for Turkey or Eastern Europe because of the ubiquitous atmosphere of intimidation and repression. The General Directorate for Countering Extremism of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, known as “Center E”, has particularly broad powers in the field of law enforcement and intelligence gathering in the North Caucasus.

Violations of religious freedom in the North Caucasus are often the result of the use of “preventive measures”, such as blacklisting individuals suspected of extremism, including non-religious dissidents who are subjected to constant searches, threats and, possibly, kidnapping. According to Kavkaz.Realii, young Chechens can be blacklisted for minor violations, for example, a repost a year ago in the social network of songs of a popular Chechen singer, several of whose songs are on the list of extremist materials; threats by the authorities often make life miserable, forcing young people to go or go underground to militants. In October 2016, Daniyal Alkhasov, a doctor from Dagestan, suspected of sympathy for radicalism, filed a complaint with the court to be removed from the blacklist, and won the case. Although Salafism and Wahhabism are not banned in Russia, supporters of these Islamic movements are under strong pressure. In September and October 2016, the police detained about 270 believers in two Salafi mosques in Dagestan and blacklisted them. In January 2017, the imam of another Salafi mosque in Dagestan, Magomednabi Magomedov, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for inciting hatred of communists and law enforcement officers in a sermon, the video of which was posted on Youtube; He criticized in it the repression of the authorities against the Salafis. But even adherents of traditional Islam are not protected from suspicion; In November 2016, imams of five traditional Sufi mosques in the capital of Dagestan, Makhachkala, were informed that they were threatened by police officers who demanded from them denunciations of their parishioners.

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Persecution in the North Caucasus takes a much more open character. In Chechnya, under the supervision of a Kremlin protégé, President Ramzan Kadyrov, private elite troops commit massive violations of human rights, carry out collective retaliation against families of suspects and suppress any discontent. Kadyrov, who has been involved in several of the most egregious political assassinations of the post-Soviet period, also implants his own views on Islam, according to which women must wear Islamic clothing and may be forced to enter into polygamous marriages. In February 2016, Kadyrov warned two well-known Salafi imams from neighboring Ingushetia, Isa Tsechoev and Khamzat Chumakov, that they would “lose their heads” if they dare to declare themselves in Chechnya; These two later survived the attempted assassination of their lives in Ingushetia in March and August 2016, when bombs were planted in their cars. In January 2017, Kadyrov’s deputy publicly threatened to “cut off his tongue” with Grigory Shvedov, editor of the Caucasian Knot independent news agency, which often makes reports on religious topics.

The need to demonstrate success in the fight against Islamic terrorism in the North Caucasus led to the persecution of both peaceful Muslim dissidents and innocent bystanders who have nothing to do with politics. In one particularly notorious incident that occurred in August 2016 in Dagestan, two teenage brothers, the Nabi and Hasanguseyn Gasanguseynovs, did not return from the pasture in the mountains. Their corpses were found the next day in camouflage uniforms and with gunshot wounds. Next to them lay a weapon. Although the security services insisted that the guys were insurgents, the strange circumstances of their death and the lack of any evidence linking them to illegal armed groups led to public outrage and the discovery of the investigating company until now in an effort to restore their good names. In September 2016, in the neighboring Stavropol region, the imam of the Nogai village of Ravil Kaibaliyev, who was reportedly subjected to pressure from the authorities for his activities of wearing hijabs to schools, was found killed on the side of the road; later, law enforcement agencies did not allow mourners to attend his funeral.

Amendments to the 2016 religion law

In July 2016, the Russian government adopted a package of amendments, allegedly in order to combat terrorism. These amendments, which became known as the Spring amendments, also significantly increased the scope of application and punishment provided for by the laws on religion and the fight against extremism. Now the law on religion broadly defines “missionary activity”, prohibiting preaching, prayers, the distribution of religious literature, and even answers to questions about religion outside of officially designated places. In the absence of an independent judiciary in Russia, any religious speech or activity that is not clearly authorized by the authorities can now be declared a crime at the whim of local law enforcement and judicial authorities. At the end of the reporting period, investigations were carried out on at least 53 individuals and organizations of which 43 were non-Orthodox Christian associations. As a result, thirty-four sentences were pronounced, including heavy fines for various activities, from baptism to online advertising of prayer groups singing Hare Krishna songs. In January 2017, Victor Emmanuel Mani, a citizen of India who worked as a Protestant pastor and married to a Russian woman, was deported from the country after a court found him guilty of giving religious literature to an unregistered visitor to his church.

Other legal issues

Laws aimed at restricting the freedom of civil society are also applied to NGOs advocating for freedom of religion or belief. In December 2016, the SOVA center was included in the list of “foreign agents”, established under the 2012 law with the intention of publicly stigmatizing non-governmental organizations. In October 2016, Memorial was also recognized as a “foreign agent.” In addition, a law restricting public meetings is used against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other individuals who publicly demonstrate their faith, including the Baptist, who was fired in January 2016.

The attitude of the authorities to other “traditional” religious minorities

In January 2017, a rabbi in a Russian resort town of Sochi, Arieh Edelkopf, a US citizen, was suddenly announced that he and his wife were subject to deportation. Although the decision of the security services referred to an uncertain “threat to national security,” Edelkopf’s lawyer expressed the opinion that his expulsion was related to a dispute between him and the mayor’s office over the plot of land on which it was planned to build a synagogue.

For many years, the Russian government has refused to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, allegedly out of respect for the Chinese government, ignoring the long-standing requests of the Russian Buddhist communities. In the Urals, an unofficial Buddhist temple built on land owned by a mining company is scheduled to be demolished in March 2017.

Restriction of religious activities in the occupied Crimea

In 2016, the Russian occupation authorities formalized their policies of threats, intimidation, and small-scale terror against Crimean religious organizations suspected of disloyalty to the Russian state, mainly Crimean Tatars and other Muslims. Although the repression of Russia against the Crimean Tatars is mainly motivated by political considerations, they also undermine the religious activities and institutions of the Tatar population. In April 2016, the Russian administration in Crimea officially banned the Mejlis as the extremist main political body of the Crimean Tatars, and this decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in September 2016. As a result, the two leaders of the Mejlis, Rafat Chubarov and Mustafa Dzhemilev, are forbidden to enter the territory of Crimea, and the Mejlis is excommunicated from the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Crimea (DUMK), also known as the Muftiyat of Crimea. The Russian authorities in Crimea also forced the muftiate to stop almost all of its social activities and programs and organizations for children and young people, reports Krym.Realii, the Crimean service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE / RL). In February 2017, the Crimean Mufti Emirali Ablaev, whom the exiled leaders of the Crimean Tatars condemned for cooperating with the authorities occupying the Crimea, tried to justify the arrests of Tatar residents, carried out by the Russian authorities, as a necessary element of the fight against extremism. The leaders of the Mejlis who were expelled from the Crimea consider the SAMK as an illegal organization and elected a new “muftiat in exile”. The Russian authorities in Crimea also forced the muftiate to stop almost all of its social activities and programs and organizations for children and young people, reports Krym.Realii, the Crimean service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE / RL). In February 2017, the Crimean Mufti Emirali Ablaev, whom the exiled leaders of the Crimean Tatars condemned for cooperating with the authorities occupying the Crimea, tried to justify the arrests of Tatar residents, carried out by the Russian authorities, as a necessary element of the fight against extremism. The leaders of the Mejlis who were expelled from the Crimea consider the SAMK as an illegal organization and elected a new “muftiat in exile”. The Russian authorities in Crimea also forced the muftiate to stop almost all of its social activities and programs and organizations for children and young people, reports Krym.Realii, the Crimean service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE / RL). In February 2017, the Crimean Mufti Emirali Ablaev, whom the exiled leaders of the Crimean Tatars condemned for cooperating with the occupying Crimea authorities, tried to justify the arrests of Tatar residents conducted by the Russian authorities as a necessary element of the struggle against extremism. The leaders of the Mejlis who were expelled from the Crimea consider the SAMK as an illegal organization and elected a new “muftiat in exile”.

According to reports, in May 2016, Erwin Ibrahimov, a representative of the forbidden Mejlis, was abducted. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, this was the sixth politically motivated abduction among Crimean Tatars after the start of the Russian occupation. The deputy chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, Ilmi Umerov, was arrested in May 2016 on charges of separatism and was in custody for five months. In accordance with the tactics of the Soviet era, he spent part of this period in a psychiatric hospital. His colleague Ahtem Chiygoz, arrested in January 2015, remains in custody, awaiting trial along with two other defendants, for protesting against the Russian occupation.

Especially for you Alihanrin Alihan!

The Russian authorities are also continuing to campaign against the Crimean adherents of the Hizb ut-Tarir movement, banned in Russia, but not in Ukraine. Currently, nineteen suspects are committed to this movement, of whom fifteen were arrested during 2016 shortly after returning from Hajj to Mecca. Four arrested in 2015 – Ferat Sayfullaev, Rustem Vaitov, Nuri Primov and Ruslan Zeitullaev – were sent to court in Russia and sentenced in September 2016 to terms ranging from five to seven years in prison. During the investigation, the detained members of Hizb-ut-Tahir, including the Crimean Tatar human rights activist Emir Useyn Kuku, are regularly sent to violent “psychiatric treatment.”

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Looking for religious literature that is allowed in Ukraine, but not in Russia, the Russian security forces in 2016 carried out periodic raids on private homes, mosques and markets. At least 160 Crimean Tatars and other Muslims were detained for interrogation and fingerprinting. Moreover, administrative pressure is exerted on other religious associations: in January, the Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church lost its last place of worship in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, and in December 2016, the Pentecostal Church was closed in Bakhchisarai. In December 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in which Russia is recognized as the “occupant state” of the Crimea and condemns the “serious violations and abuses” of the occupied territories committed by it,

In January 2017, Emil Kurbedinov, a prominent lawyer for Crimean Tatar human rights defenders representing Ilmi Umerov and several accused members of the Hizb ut-Tarir movement, was sentenced to 10 days in custody for storing extremist literature after he was detained and his house Agents of “Center E” were searched. The client to whom he was going was also sentenced to 12 days imprisonment. In February 2017, the authorities jailed activist Marlen Mustafayev for 11 days, who was accused of using the symbolism of Hizb ut-Tarir in a post two years ago on a social network; The ten Muslim congregations who came to film the raid on his house were sentenced to five days.

Decrease in the number of registered religious associations in Crimea

The Russian authorities demanded that all Crimean religious associations in the Russian-occupied Crimea, by January 1, 2016, re-register in accordance with more stringent Russian rules. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), out of more than 1,300 religious communities that had legal status under Ukrainian law, only 365 were re-registered. The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (MPRPC), the pro-Russian Muftiate, various Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church, various Jewish associations, Karaites, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Krishnaites passed re-registration. According to Forum 18, the Greek Catholic Church was denied registration, as well as all the parishes of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate did not apply for registration, since she considers her subordination to the rules of the occupying Russian power. Other religious organizations of the Crimea, such as the nine Catholic parishes and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Yalta, had to change their departmental affiliation or amend the charter for re-registration. Some groups refused to re-register, including the St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Community in Krasnoperekopsk, the Seventh-day Adventist Reformed Church in Yevpatoria, and the Tauride Muftiyat, the smallest of the two muftiates of Crimea. for re-registration, they had to change their departmental affiliation or amend the charter. Some groups refused to re-register, including the St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Community in Krasnoperekopsk, the Seventh-day Adventist Reformed Church in Yevpatoria, and the Tauride Muftiyat, the smallest of the two muftiates of Crimea. for re-registration, they had to change their departmental affiliation or amend the charter. Some groups refused to re-register, including the St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Community in Krasnoperekopsk, the Seventh-day Adventist Reformed Church in Yevpatoria, and the Tauride Muftiyat, the smallest of the two muftiates of Crimea.

The enclaves of the Russian separatists in the Donbas

The self-proclaimed “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LNR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) occupied by Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine continue to be zones of military operations, where there is a large amount of military equipment, and two parallel “ministries of state security”, called so by analogy with the early name of the infamous Soviet KGB. In this regard, human rights, including the right to freedom of religious belief, in these regions mean In recent years, clergy and parishioners of the Protestant communities, the Greek Catholic Church, the churches of the Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and smaller Christian associations have been arrested, tortured, and become victims of murder. Churches are confiscated or destroyed, and parishioners are intimidated. In January 2016, security officers of the DPR arrested Igor Kozlovsky, a professor of history and religious studies at Donetsk University, allegedly on suspicion of having links with religious radicals. At the end of the reporting period, Kozlovsky, who in February 2017 was accused of having explosives, continued to remain in custody. Independent sources of information in the DPR and the LPR are limited, but, as reported by the Religious Information Service of Ukraine, in November 2016, the Seventh Day Adventist Church was seized in Horlivka (Donetsk region), and from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ( OHCHR) it was reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses were threatened and detained in various parts of the DPR, some of them in a few weeks. The authorities of the DPR and the LPR continue to be more suspicious of any religious association, except the MPRPC. In March 2016, the self-proclaimed leader of the LPR, Igor Plotnitsky, publicly ordered the security services to closely monitor all “sects”, and in the DPR, 500 young activists supported by the authorities in January 2016 took part in a protest against the Greek Catholic Church, which they condemned that it is allegedly a tool of the “machinations of the West.” According to OHCHR, in December 2016, the Ministry of State Security of the LPR condemned the Baptist community, calling it a “non-traditional religious organization” that is engaged in “subversive activities.” The authorities of the DPR and the LPR continue to be more suspicious of any religious association, except the MPRPC. In March 2016, the self-proclaimed leader of the LPR, Igor Plotnitsky, publicly ordered the security services to closely monitor all “sects”, and in the DPR, 500 young activists supported by the authorities in January 2016 took part in a protest against the Greek Catholic Church, which they condemned that it is allegedly a tool of the “machinations of the West.” According to OHCHR, in December 2016, the Ministry of State Security of the LPR condemned the Baptist community, calling it a “non-traditional religious organization” that is engaged in “subversive activities.” The authorities of the DPR and the LPR continue to be more suspicious of any religious association, except the MPRPC. In March 2016, the self-proclaimed leader of the LPR, Igor Plotnitsky, publicly ordered the security services to closely monitor all “sects”, and in the DPR, 500 young activists supported by the authorities in January 2016 took part in a protest against the Greek Catholic Church, which they condemned that it is allegedly a tool of the “machinations of the West.” According to OHCHR, in December 2016, the Ministry of State Security of the LPR condemned the Baptist community, calling it a “non-traditional religious organization” that is engaged in “subversive activities.” In March 2016, the self-proclaimed leader of the LPR, Igor Plotnitsky, publicly ordered the security services to closely monitor all “sects”, and in the DPR, 500 young activists supported by the authorities in January 2016 took part in a protest against the Greek Catholic Church, which they condemned that it is allegedly a tool of the “machinations of the West.” According to OHCHR, in December 2016, the Ministry of State Security of the LPR condemned the Baptist community, calling it a “non-traditional religious organization” that is engaged in “subversive activities.” In March 2016, the self-proclaimed leader of the LPR, Igor Plotnitsky, publicly ordered the security services to closely monitor all “sects”, and in the DPR, 500 young activists supported by the authorities in January 2016 took part in a protest against the Greek Catholic Church, which they condemned that it is allegedly a tool of the “machinations of the West.” According to OHCHR, in December 2016, the Ministry of State Security of the LPR condemned the Baptist community, calling it a “non-traditional religious organization” that is engaged in “subversive activities.”

US policy

Relations between the United States and Russia began to deteriorate in September 2011, when Prime Minister Putin announced that he would run for president again in March 2012. In October 2012, the Kremlin expelled the United States Agency for International Development from the country.

In December 2012, the US Congress passed, and then President Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky law, imposing sanctions on Russian officials responsible for the most flagrant human rights violations, including the death of attorney Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow detention center in 2009. In response, the Russian government banned Americans from adopting Russian children, compiled a list of US officials who were prohibited from entering Russia, and condemned Magnitsky posthumously. As of January 2017, the US government has named 44 Russian officials who, according to Magnitsky’s law, are banned from obtaining visas to the US and freezing assets. There is also an unpublished list of officials subject to these sanctions, including Kadyrov, in accordance with the recommendations of the USCIRF.

The annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 and the subsequent invasion of the territory of Donbass in eastern Ukraine later in the same year caused a sharp deterioration in Russia’s international relations with other countries, including the United States. The United States suspended its participation in the US and Russian Bilateral Commission and imposed sanctions on Russian companies, government agencies and individuals. In December 2016, the United States imposed additional sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

Russia’s decision in September 2015 to take part in the war in Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad, whom the USCIRF, in turn, considers a rude violator of freedom of religion and belief, further worsened its relations with the United States.

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