This report details the state of the observance of freedom of religion and belief during the seven years of the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, as well as highlights the offenses committed by the occupying authorities in religious organizations.
The full text of the Report is available:
After the occupation of the peninsula, the Russian Federation extended the Russian laws and the relevant enforcement practice to the territory of Crimea, which led to the curtailment of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the persecution of Crimean residents for expressing religious beliefs. Religious freedom is restricted due to the mandatory registration of communities as organizations and the registration of religious sites, control over the publication and distribution of religious literature, and significant fines for violating the requirements for registration of religious organizations. Failure to comply with the requirement to register religious organizations leads to loss of legal entity status and subsequent liquidation of the organization. The religious groups and the religious in the Russian Federation are subject not only to laws that restrict the freedom of religion, but also to so-called anti-terrorist, anti-extremism laws and laws restricting freedom of peaceful assemblies.
Since 2014, the practice of applying Russian anti-extremism laws to the religious communities of Crimea for storing religious literature included in the “list of extremist materials” has become common. The production and distribution of such materials are subject to an administrative liability under RF CoAO Article 20.29. Religious books are included in this list by decisions of the Russian courts, usually without any legal justification, or within a general list containing several published materials. The list of extremist materials includes a lot of books of religious content, primarily Islamic, which before the occupation of Crimea could be freely kept in libraries, mosques, madrasas and private collections.
Crimean Muslims are persecuted not only administratively but also criminally. The most common practice was to prosecute Muslims on charges of participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir (or the “case against Crimean Muslims”).
The first known detentions in these cases took place in Sevastopol on January 23, 2015. Ruslan Zeitullayev, Yuriy (Nuri) Primov and Rustem Vaitov were detained then. On April 2, Ferat Saifullayev was detained in the same case. On September 7, 2016, the Southern Area Military Court sentenced Ruslan Zeitullayev to seven years in a general regime penal colony, and three other defendants to — five years in a general regime penal colony. However, on December 27, 2016, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation decided to remand Ruslan Zeitullayev’s case for where he was sentenced to 12 years in a maximum-security regime penal colony, later his sentence was extended to 15 years. On January 22, 2020, Yuri Primov and Rustem Vaitov were released from the colony after serving their sentences and returned to Crimea, and on March 31, 2020, Ferat Saifullayev was released after serving his sentence.
The most mass detentions were in 2019, when 35 Muslims — citizens of Ukraine were detained in Crimea charged with membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
As of the end of 2020, the number of Crimean residents detained within the “Crimean Muslims case”, i.e. on charges relating to Hizb ut-Tahrir, was 69. Another five people are restricted in their movement: three are under surveillance and unable to leave the occupied territory, two are under house arrest.
Another group of believers who are imprisoned by the Russian occupation authorities for their religious beliefs are Jehovah’s Witnesses, designated as “extremist” organization in Russia since 2017. On April 20, 2017, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” organization as extremist and banned its activities in the territory of the Russian Federation.
In 2018, the criminal persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses began. The FSB searched at least six Jehovah’s Witnesses in Yalta and Alupka and at least nine members in Sevastopol, and there were also searches in Dzhankoy.
In 2020, people were sentenced to prison terms for being Jehovah’s Witnesses for the first time. On March 5, 2020, the so-called “Dzhankoy District Court” found Serhiy Filatov guilty under RF CC — Article 282.2-1 — for establishing a branch of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” religious organization and sentenced him to six years in prison with deprivation of the right to be engaged in educational sphere, carry out any actions related to speeches and publications in the media, to place materials in information and telecommunications networks, including the Internet, for 5 years, and a custodial restraint for one year, serving the major sentence in a general regime penitentiary. Also on March 5, Yalta Town Court found Artem Gerasimov guilty under the same article of the RF Criminal Code and sentenced him to a fine of RUR400,00. However, on June 4, 2020, the Supreme Court of Crimea upheld the appeal of the “prosecutor’s office” and decided to imprison Artem Gerasimov for six years. He was immediately taken into custody from the courtroom.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (formerly the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate) has been one of the centres of resistance to the occupation during the occupation of Crimea, so the occupation authorities started pursuing a consistent policy of its extermination. This caused a significant reduction of the number of church religious communities operating in Crimea. As of the beginning of 2014, there were 45 religious’ communities of UOC KP in Crimea, in 2018 their number fell down to 11 communities operating at 8 churches.
On July 23, 2020, representatives Federal Service of Court Officers of the Russian Federation handed a resolution on demolishing the church in Yevpatoria to Father Clement, Archbishop of the OCU Crimean Eparchy. The decision to demolish the religious building was made by the Crimean “court” alleging that the defendant lacked evidence of the “legality of the use of land and buildings” by the religious community of the OCU in Yevpatoriya.
The practice of administrative persecution under RF CoAO Article 5.26 (Violation of the Law on Freedom of Conscience, Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations), which envisages punishment for “missionary activity”, should also be mentioned. Interpretation and application of this article has resulted in discrimination against almost all religious communities and organizations, except for the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The report was prepared by the Human Rights House Crimea, Crimean Human Rights Group, Regional Centre for Human Rights, Almenda Centre for Civic Education and ZMINA Human Rights Centre.