Russian authorities continue to curtail freedom of religion

The most recent results of an August 2017 Levada-Center poll indicate that Russian citizens are not as concerned about violations of fundamental freedoms and the behaviour of law enforcement forces during demonstrations as they are about the crisis of morality and culture, environmental degradation, inaccessibility of education and the arbitrary conduct of officials and surge in drug addiction. According to Interfax, only six percent of respondents expressed concern over police action at demonstrations and four percent reported concerns over the state's restrictions on democratic freedoms. 

Association

In April 2017, the Supreme Court of Russia labelled the work of the Jehovah's Witnesses Management Centre "extremist activity". According to the court decision, all property of the organisation would be confiscated by the state. In response, the Jehovah's Witnesses community has appealed the decision.

On 17th July 2017, the Supreme Court publicised its verdict in regards to the activities of some religious organisations on the Russian territory. In the verdict, the Court upheld the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities and the dissolution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Management Centre, along with its 395 local religious organisations on allegations of “extremist activity”. According to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, now over 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia potentially face criminal prosecution for practicing their religion. 

In response to the verdict, the U.S. Mission to OSCE called on Russia to cease its persecution of religious minorities, reminding the authorities of their obligation to respect OSCE commitments as well as other international obligations and commitments regarding the freedoms of religion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly. 

Peaceful Assembly

The Society for the Protection of the Internet called upon Russian citizens to rally in defense of articles 23 and 24 of the constitution that guard against sate censorship of the internet and internet surveillance. In addition, civil society organised a petition to collect signatures against the Duma's package of anti-terror laws that could potentially violate citizens' freedom of expression. 

The majority of these protests took place in July 2017, but there are still a few regions where demonstrations continue. The July rallies took place in large cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, while a rally was held in  Voronezh, a city south of Moscow, on 26th August 2017. A second protest was also organised in Moscow on 26th August. Reports on the number of people attending the protests vary from almost 1,000, according to the TASS news agency, to around 2,000, according to the online publication Meduza. Opposition party Parnas also applied for permission to hold a rally on Pushkin Square, but Moscow City Hall denied permission. During the protest in Moscow, 17 people were reportedly detained for various reason including allegedly insulting police officers, and carrying signs in defense of LGBTI community rights.

On 6th September 2017, protests were organised in Russia in support of the more than 100 political prisoners. A webpage dedicated to the – Марш несогласных - reported that the date of the protest was symbolic, marking the events of 6th May 2012 when violent clashes erupted between police and protesters at Bolotnaya Square and about 400 people were detained.

Peaceful Assembly in Russian-Occupied Crimea

On 17th August, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree granting the Ministry of Defense the right to seize land for state needs. In connection with this action, Radio Free Europe (Krim Realii project) reported that Sevastopol authorities, controlled by the Kremlin, did not grant permission for a rally planned by a pro-Russian activist for 1st September 2017 in Nakhimov Square. Previously, several Crimean media publications reported that the government recommended organisers hold the rally near the monument to George the Victorious in Victory Park. The pro-Russian activist Lenur Usmanov told the press he would not give up on holding the event on Nakhimov Square and has expressed his objections to the proper authorities.

Expression

On 30th August 2017, RIA Novosti announced the abduction of Russian public television Pervii Kanal correspondent, Anna Kurbatova, in Kyiv, Ukraine. According to the Russian press, the journalist had been detained by the Ukrainian secret service (SBU). Later, the Ukrainian press gave more details on the case, confirming she was in the custody of the Ukrainian authorities. Kurbatova was accused of preparing reports on the deployment of the military parade on the Independence Day of Ukraine (24th August). According to the same Ukrainian sources, the Russian journalist had allegedly produced propaganda-style material to publish on the event. Both Russian and Ukrainian sources confirmed that Kurbatova was deported to Russia. According to Ukrainian law-enforcement officers, Kurbatova’s activities damaged the country's national interests. In turn, the Russian Foreign Ministry referred to the SBU's action towards the journalists as a provocation.