Challenges to Freedom of Conscience in Russia in 2023

We present a report based on the information gathered in the course of monitoring conducted by our Center. The information is available on the Center’s website in the section “Religion in Secular Society” (, including links to sources in the media and on the Internet; only sources not noted on the website are referenced in the report. Only necessary updates are given on the events of the previous year [1]. It is not our task to provide a comprehensive description of all events in the religious and public sphere; the events mentioned in the report tend to be illustrative of the observed trends.

Problems and stories related to the abuse of anti-extremism legislation are mainly presented in a separate report dedicated to that topic[2].

Problems Concerning the Construction of Temples
Problems With the Use of Existing Buildings
Conflicts Over the Transfer of State and Municipal Property to Religious Organizations
Recognition of the Activities of Religious Organizations as Undesirable and of Religious Figures as Foreign Agents
Liquidation of Religious Organizations
Criminal Prosecution
Restriction of Missionary Activity
Other Examples of Discrimination
Positive Verdicts
Protection from Above
Protection from Below
Violence and Vandalism
Defamation of Religious Minorities


In 2023, the major trends we have observed over the past few years have remained: the pattern of discrimination against religious minorities has continued, and the state has continued to play a major role in restricting religious freedom.

The activities of religious organizations were recognized as undesirable in the Russian Federation more often than a year earlier. Believers of those organizations that were recognized as undesirable earlier were prosecuted criminally and administratively, and even sentences with real terms were handed down – for cooperation with the New Generation Pentecostal churches. For the first time religious figures were recognized as foreign agents – three such cases are known.

Such decisions were mainly taken in connection with the armed conflict with Ukraine. A number of clergymen of different denominations who spoke out against the authorities’ decisions related to Ukraine were subjected to criminal and administrative sanctions, and in the case of the Russian Orthodox Church, also by the church leadership. The criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses continued and even intensified after an apparent decline a year earlier: the number of defendants in new cases for continuing the activities of an extremist organization and financing such an organization increased, as did the number of convictions, de facto for Jehovah’s Witnesses’ adherence to their religion. The longest prison term was eight years.

The intensity of administrative prosecution of religious organizations for “illegal missionary activity” has probably decreased slightly: we use the statistics of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation for the first half of the year only. As before, Protestants are still most often prosecuted under Article 5.26 of the CAO; however, prosecution targets other religious organizations as well.

Criminal prosecution for “insulting religious feelings” became more intensive, the number of cases under Article 148 of the Criminal Code increased compared to the previous year. The activity of public defenders of the believers’ feelings has also increased. In most cases, the defenders were Orthodox activists from the Sorok Sorokov Orthodox movement [Forty of Forties, alluding to the number of churches in Moscow before the revolution], whose main form of activity was the organization of media campaigns and mass filing of complaints to law enforcement agencies against figures and events that they considered offensive to the feelings of believers. Often Orthodox activists acted with the support of right-wing radical organizations.

The number of conflicts around the construction of Orthodox churches has decreased even compared to last year, when we had already noted a decrease in their number, and this applies not only to Moscow, but also to other regions. On the contrary, the construction of mosques often caused conflicts, the largest of which broke out in the Kosino-Ukhtomskoye neighbourhood of Moscow and was accompanied by mass protests, although the official decision on the location and dimensions of the mosque has not yet been made.

Muslims also faced problems with the use of existing prayer premises more often than other confessions. As a result of numerous inspections of houses of worship by various authorities, especially in Moscow and the Moscow suburbs, all kinds of sanctions were imposed on religious organizations, which made their functioning very difficult or impossible. These inspections were often carried out on the basis of complaints from residents displeased with the presence of the house of worship in their neighbourhoods, which in many cases were supported by various right-wing radical organizations. The multiplication of such conflicts led to the idea of banning prayer rooms in residential buildings being discussed at the level of the State Duma and the Presidential Human Rights Council.

We should add that police raids to detect illegal migrants, which often led to the disruption of religious services, also significantly hampered the lives of Muslims. A series of such raids in the Moscow region forced Muslims to appeal to the president for protection, and several dozen believers went on a protest rally.

Legal Regulation

In 2023, several laws were passed that were related to the activities of religious organizations, but most of them adjusted anti-extremism legislation and are analyzed in the other report[3]. Here we will mention those few regulations, adopted or just considered, that regulate the activities of religious organizations, but do not relate to anti-extremist policy.

On October 18, the State Duma adopted in the third reading amendments to the law On Amendments to Article 15-3 of the Federal Law “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Security” and Article 16 of the Federal Law “On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations,” which was approved by the Federation Council on October 25 and signed by the President on November 2. The amendments give the right to collect donations related to worship only to centralized religious organizations, local organizations that are part of their structure, and persons authorized by them. The amendments are aimed at combating fraudsters posing as representatives of religious organizations.

On July 13, the first reading of the draft amendments to the laws “On Privatization of State and Municipal Property” and “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” was held, which provide for a ban on the transfer of religious property from state ownership to all third parties, except for religious organizations. Under these amendments, transactions on alienation of religious property made since 2010 should be recognized as null and void. However, the bill has only passed its first reading so far, and amendments to it have not yet been considered by the Duma’s specialized committee.

A number of other bills have not (yet) seen development. On April 13, a draft amendment to the Labor Code was submitted to the State Duma, providing for the transfer of one of the days off to the Monday after Easter, which, according to the authors of the initiative, a group of LDPR deputies led by Leonid Slutsky and Yaroslav Nilov, “will demonstrate not only a tribute to the deep historical traditions of the Orthodox community of our country, but will also serve as yet another evidence of the recognition by the state and society of the special role of Orthodoxy in the history of Russia, in the formation and development of its spirituality and culture.”[4] The government in its official response considered this initiative redundant, as the mechanism for transferring days off is already contained in the Labor Code. The bill has not received further development.

The State Duma’s profile committee rejected the draft amendments prepared by the Chechen parliament to the law “On Combating Extremist Activity,” which envisaged expanding the list of texts of traditional religions to be prohibited from being recognized as extremist. This list was to be supplemented with “other sacred Christian scriptures” and the works of four Islamic canonical schools (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali madhhab).

Problems Concerning Places of Worship

Problems Concerning the Construction of Temples

As before, religious organizations occasionally encountered difficulties with the construction of religious buildings. Muslims faced such difficulties more often than others. The most notorious was the conflict over the proposed construction of a mosque in Moscow’s Kosino-Ukhtomskoye neighbourhood. Opponents of the construction were outraged that the mosque could be built near the Holy Lake, a popular pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians, and the mosque’s size, according to the protesters’ expectations, would overshadow the nearby Church of the Icon of the Mother of God “Life-bearing Spring.”

Remarkably, the protests broke out despite the lack of official confirmation of the construction of the mosque. Moreover, both the Department of Construction and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation stated that they did not plan to build a mosque in this very place.

Nevertheless, referring to the media publications about the forthcoming construction of a huge mosque designed to accommodate 60,000 believers, opponents of the construction went on protests that were also attended, in addition to Orthodox activists and local residents, by representatives of right-wing radical organizations, including MMA fighters, in particular, Maksim Divnich. By early April, more than 25,000 signatures were collected against the construction of the mosque on the lakeshore.

In April, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin promised that another plot would be allocated for the construction of the mosque and explained that the final decision to build a mosque near the lake had not been made: the proposal was only preliminarily considered at the City Planning Commission, and it was not a huge complex for 60,000 people, as opponents of the construction assured, but a much smaller structure with an area of 2,500 square meters.

The proposed construction of a mosque in their neighbourhood was also opposed by residents of South Butovo, who feared transport collapse and increased noise levels in the event of a religious building being built. Note that, as in the previous case, the South Butovo residents’ protests began before the official confirmation of the construction site: Ramzan Kadyrov had reported that the idea of building a mosque in that neighbourhood was supported by Putin, but the Moscow authorities have not yet issued an official building permit even at the time of writing this report.

Residents of other regions also opposed the construction of mosques. For example, residents of the town of Nazarovo in Krasnoyarsk Krai opposed the construction of a mosque in the 8th microdistrict, not wanting the religious building to be adjacent to a school and apartment buildings, whose residents would have to “wake up to howling for namaz.” Opponents of the construction appealed to the governor of the region Mikhail Kotyukov with a request to intervene. Following the results of the public hearings, no decision was made. However, soon the mayor of Nazarov Vladimir Saar decided not to consider the site in the 8th microdistrict as a suitable place for the construction of a mosque. The imam of the local Muslim community Rafael Mindubaev appealed to him with a request to abandon the idea of construction on that site because Muslims did not wish to have a conflict with local residents.

Possible inconveniences due to the proximity of a mosque prompted Murmansk residents to speak out against the construction of an Islamic center and a mosque on the site of the former Portovik club, although the Muslim community bought both the ruins of the club and the land plot in the hope of erecting a religious building on this site. However, the fear of loud calls to prayer and possible demolition of self-styled garages at the construction site was not the only motive for discontent. The Severpost newspaper, which organized a survey of citizens’ attitudes to the construction, noted that in a number of cases xenophobic motives were present in the responses of the opponents of the mosque, for example: “Muslims will be coming here, and we have children. We, of course, do not mean to say that they steal children, but you never know.”

In some cases, Muslims have lost plots of land previously allocated to them for the construction of mosques. For example, a Togliatti court, at a lawsuit filed by the city mayor’s office, terminated the contracts of gratuitous use of two plots in the Avtozavodsky district, provided to the Muslim community for the construction of a mosque. The reason for the seizure of the plots was that the developer never started construction of the mosque, and the territory of the plots “is littered with waste, is in an abandoned state, and is a fire hazard.” In Chita, the authorities refused to permit the construction of a mosque because the plot previously given to the Muslim community, which the believers had cleaned up by their own efforts, was included in the protection zone of the Titovskaya Sopka, a protected natural area.

The construction of Orthodox churches has caused conflicts much less often than before. In Moscow, as a year earlier, we know of only one conflict: in Novogireevo, construction of a church began in the “Afghan” park [dedicated to Afghan war veterans], which local residents had been seeking to cancel for several years. After the construction equipment appeared in the park, the residents again came out to protest and appealed to Moscow Mayor Sobyanin and President Putin demanding to stop the construction and move it to a neighbouring block, where old five-storey buildings were being demolished as part of the renovation. They emphasized that they were not against the church, but against any construction in the park.

In other regions, conflicts around the construction of Orthodox churches appear to have become rarer. The largest of them was the protests against the construction of the Church of All Saints in the Kirovsky district of Ufa, on the site of the early medieval archaeological settlement Gorodishche Ufa II. Both citizens and local archaeologists opposed the construction of a church on this site. The protests lasted for several months. The opponents of construction even appealed to the court, demanding that the construction of the church be prohibited. The Ufa City Hall did not support the lawsuit, but in November the Head of the Republic of Bashkortostan, Radiy Khabirov, announced the cancellation of the construction of the church in this place. According to him, the decision was made taking into account the opinion of the public: “As the leaders of the republic, it is not our task to disturb the residents and do something that bothers them a lot. When the wave rose against building an Orthodox church there. I still don’t really understand it, but if they don’t want it, so be it.”[5] According to Khabirov, there was no cultural layer left at the site, so it was decided to build a depository there.

In other regions, we know of only isolated cases of conflicts over the construction of Orthodox churches. For example, the authorities of Krasnodar gave a plot of land in the village of Berezovyj to the Yekaterinodar Diocese for the construction of a church, despite the objections of the neighbouring manufacturing plants of the military-construction complex. The plants’ management was prepared to help with the construction of the church, but requested that the construction be moved to another plot, since at this location the construction would block access roads and interfere with production and shipment. Nevertheless, the authorities decided to proceed and gave the plot to the diocese. In another case, the Voronezh authorities refused to allocate a plot of land on Pilot Zamkin Street for the construction of an Old Believer temple, because all three people who took part in the public hearings were against it: in their opinion, there were not enough members of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Old Believers in the neighbourhood to justify building a church for them.

Speaking of other religious organizations, we know of only one other conflict over construction: the Sochi authorities refused to issue a permit for the religious use of a plot of land where a Jewish cultural center, including a synagogue, was to be built. The refusal was preceded by protests from local residents who wanted to see a public park there and feared that the synagogue would complicate the transportation situation.

We should note the cases of conflicts around the construction of religious buildings that arose in previous years ending and the decisions taken in favour of religious organizations. In Kazan, the conflict over the construction of a cathedral mosque ended: the city authorities announced the refusal to build a mosque on the site of the Kyrlay park, because the arguments of opponents of the construction from among local residents and architects were supplemented by rising groundwater, which made construction difficult. It was decided to move the mosque construction site to the Admiralteyskaya Sloboda, near the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka rivers.

The Novosibirsk city authorities have prolonged the permit issued 15 years ago to the cathedral mosque to build a madrassa, despite the fact that the community has never managed to find funding to start the construction.

Problems With the Use of Existing Buildings

Religious organizations occasionally encountered difficulties in operating existing buildings, and most of the cases we are aware of involve Muslims. Inspections of Muslim houses of worship were regularly conducted in Moscow and the Moscow region, often resulting in sanctions imposed on religious organizations that made it difficult or impossible for them to use the building. Thus, in October, law enforcement officers sealed the building of a prayer house in the Moscow district of Mitino, which was rented by the local Muslim religious organization Rassvet [The Dawn], and the building of a prayer house of the local Muslim religious organization Milost [Mercy] in South Butovo. The reasons for the former are unknown; the closure of the latter was preceded by the seizure of some religious literature “for examination” by the Investigative Committee.

In November, the landlord refused to renew the lease agreement for the premises of a house of worship in Kotelniki, located in a multi-storey apartment building. Half a year earlier, this house of worship had been temporarily closed due to local residents’ complaints and fire safety violations, but after the violations were eliminated, it resumed its work. However, at the end of the year, the tenant refused to cooperate further.

In November, residents of the Nizhegorodsky district of Moscow, displeased with the proximity of a Muslim organization, demanded that criminal proceedings be opened against the Muslim religious organization Hafizlyk, which had premises on Basovskaya Street. The discontent was caused by the fact that Muslim children and youth were studying the Koran near the local kindergarten and school. Additionally, according to the complainants, the religious organization acted illegally. At first, the initiation of criminal proceedings was refused, but then the Investigative Committee carried out an additional check, and in February 2024, a case under Part 2 of Article 3221 of the Criminal Code (organization of illegal migration committed by an organized group of persons) had been initiated against the religious organization.

In the same month, in the Mytishchi district, bailiffs tried to initiate the demolition of a mosque which the Mytishchi City Court recognized as an illegal construction back in 2021. After negotiations with the Muslim community, the demolition was postponed.

Another decision on the demolition of a Muslim prayer house was made in Troitsk: in March, the district court decided to demolish the building as an illegal construction. This decision could not be challenged in court, but apparently, as of the end of 2023, the demolition had not started.

In January, in Pushkino, near Moscow, parents of children taking sports classes at a sports palace complained about the proximity to Muslims, who were renting a sports hall for Friday prayers. The administration managed to agree that children and worshipers would not overlap, and that classes would start after the end of namaz and general cleaning. Nevertheless, after complaints from parents and a statement from the Tsargrad Society, the district prosecutor’s office began to check the legality of the provision of the municipally owned premises for the prayer hall.

In December, following complaints from local residents and tenants of the premises of a former sawmill, the Investigative Committee began to check the activities of a Muslim religious organization in Korolev. Local residents claimed that the organization was operating illegally on the territory of the factory, and tenants complained that it was impossible to hold some events (for example, photo shoots for an underwear catalog) because Muslim neighbours considered that indecent behavior. The results of the inspections in both this case and the previous one are unknown to us.

Conflicts around Muslim buildings also occurred in other regions. For example, the administration of the Vyazemsky district of the Smolensk region filed a lawsuit against a local resident Alisher Ch. for the demolition of a prayer house illegally built in a garden community. The lawsuit was preceded by complaints from the Russian Community and Tsargrad. The regional committee for architecture and land management and the prosecutor’s office conducted an inspection on the fact of illegal seizure of land. At the trial, the defendant accepted the claims in full and agreed to voluntarily demolish the building, but in January 2024 it became known that he dismantled the dome and registered the building as a permanent residence address. Since this is his only residence, it is now legally impossible to demolish the building.

At the lawsuit filed by the Argayash district administration, the Arbitration Court of the Chelyabinsk region seized the mosque building in the village of Ayazgulova from the community of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Asian part of Russia (SAM APR) and transferred it to the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Chelyabinsk region (SAM ChR). The mosque was built with the villagers’ funds and was used by the community of the SAM APR for many years, but was not officially registered as property. In 2018, the building was determined to be ownerless and transferred to the balance of the municipality. In 2020, the administration decided to transfer the building to the SAM ChR, but the community of the SAM APR refused to vacate the mosque. Previously, the representatives of this community applied for the registration of the mosque building as property, but were refused because they could not prove the rightful ownership. According to Karim Yagafarov, the chairman of the religious organization of Ayazgulova village, he has been unsuccessfully trying to register the building for ownership since 2009. He believes the reason for the refusals to be the fact that the community is not part of the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia. In the end, the community was evicted by bailiffs.

We know of almost no cases of other organizations having problems with using the existing buildings. The seizure of property from Jehovah’s Witnesses continued: in November, a court invalidated the agreement to donate the Kingdom Hall building in Neryungri to the religious organization Jehovah’s Witnesses of Austria.

In Novocherkassk, the Rostov region, firefighters, prosecutors, and Rospotrebnadzor revealed a number of violations in the activities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In particular, it was found that the premises had only one exit, and fire hazardous materials were used for decoration; the religious organization did not have the necessary documents, including a safety passport; the pastor of the church did not have legal status and religious education. The organization was fined 430,000 rubles and its activities were suspended until the violations were eliminated. We have no information whether the church has resumed its activities.

Here is one example of a conflict over a building belonging to an Orthodox parish. In this case, the problem was caused by church authorities, not secular ones: they ordered the demolition of a wooden church in the Biryulevo district of Moscow. The clergy of the parish and the diocese considered it untenable to keep the dilapidated wooden church after the construction of a new stone one. Parishioners and local residents opposed the demolition, appealing to the memory of the new martyrs associated with the old church, and found a benefactor willing to pay for the renovation of the building and the creation of a museum exhibition in it. Nevertheless, the diocese insisted on the demolition, as it was approved by the patriarchal resolution, and the benefactor was offered to finance the demolition work. Remarkably, the church is on the list of architectural monuments of the Russian Orthodox Church, compiled by the Patriarchal Council for Culture, and the Metropolitan Center for Expertise and Evaluation concluded in its report that “the building is not in the state of disrepair.” In December, the Patriarchal Council for Culture assured parishioners that they were “solving the issue” and the wooden church would not be demolished, but in February 2024 it became known that the demolition of the wooden church was to take place and icons were already being removed from it.

Some religious organizations have appealed to the court to legitimize the property already in use, but not always successfully. Thus, the Holy Trinity Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) of Saratov was unable to legalize the building it uses on 1 Aptechnaya Street: the regional Ministry of Construction, Housing, and Utilities refused to change the permitted use of the land on which the building is located, citing the religious organization’s failure to comply with various rules and technical regulations.

The Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Biysk appealed to the arbitration court of Altai Krai with a lawsuit against the city administration, seeking recognition of ownership of the prayer house it had built. At the time of writing of this report, the trial was not completed.

Tula Medical Correctional Colony No. 3 tried to challenge through the court the refusal of the Tula administration to commission a church in honor of St. Tryphon, built in the colony in 2016. The outcome of the litigation is unknown to us.

Conflicts Over the Transfer of State and Municipal Property to Religious Organizations

State and municipal property continued to be transferred to religious organizations from time to time, and as before, it was transferred most often to the Russian Orthodox Church. For example, the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow received the building of the chapel on Krestyanskaya Square, which is part of the monastery ensemble. In Yegoryevsk, the Moscow region, the Kolychevsky Kazan Convent received the buildings of the cell block and hotel, which are objects of cultural heritage.

Other organizations also received property. For example, in Volgograd, the Catholic parish of St. Nicholas received a historic church building, which used to be rented by the community. The local religious organization of Muslims in the village of Mishlesh in the Rutulsky district of Dagestan received a 13th century mosque. And in Tuva, three Buddhist temples that belonged to the republic were transferred in the ownership of the Kamba-Lama administration.

In some cases, religious organizations were unable to obtain the desired property. For example, the St. Petersburg authorities refused to transfer the building of the dermatology and venereology clinic on the Volkovka River to the Nevsky community of the Pomorian Ancient Orthodox Church. The community justified its claim to the building by the fact that the Volkov almshouse, which now houses the clinic, was originally built as a house of worship. However, the St. Petersburg Property Relations Committee, based on archival materials, came to the conclusion that the almshouses in the Volkov cemetery were not subordinated to religious communities, but to boards of trustees and were funded not only by Old Believers’ donations, but also by other believers. Consequently, the Old Believers’ claim was rejected.

In a number of cases, religious organizations have gone to court to seek the transfer of property, such as the Old Believers community in Rostov-on-Don. Previously, the city authorities had twice refused to transfer the building of the former rectory house, the “Panin House” on Ulyanovskaya Street. This time the Old Believers decided to act through the court, but the outcome of the process is unknown to us.

In most cases, the transfer of property was not accompanied by conflicts. We also know of one resolution of an earlier conflict: the Rostov diocese agreed to return the building of the regional puppet theater, whose transfer to it in 2020 caused outrage among both the public and the theater staff. The theater continued to operate in the building the whole time; the diocese never started using it. Since there is no legislative mechanism for returning the property transferred to a religious organization, the authorities and the diocese decided to conclude an exchange agreement: the diocese should transfer the building of the theater to the regional ownership, and in exchange it would receive premises on Moskovskaya Street near the cathedral, which were already used by the diocese and in the renovation of which it had invested funds.

The transfer of museum property to religious organizations also continued – we know only about the transfers to the Russian Orthodox Church. In most cases, the transfer also took place peacefully.

For instance, in St. Petersburg, the memorial complex of Alexander Nevsky’s tomb was transferred to the ROC for free use for a period of 49 years and the building of the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the complex of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra for 100 years. The Museum of Urban Sculpture, housed in the church, received new premises from the city authorities two years earlier. As for the reliquary, the agreement stipulates that it remains property of the state and part of the museum fund of the Russian Federation, while the church assumes obligations to ensure appropriate storage conditions.

Andrei Rublev’s Trinity, whose temporary relocation in 2022 to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, contrary to the position of the museum community, caused a wide public outcry, in 2023 was officially transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church for gratuitous use – the agreement between the Tretyakov Gallery and the Trinity Lavra was signed on July 12. Experts warned the authorities against this step, pointing out that the transfer of the icon threatens its safety. The Ministry of Culture assured the museum workers that after being on display in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for the holiday, the icon would be sent for restoration for up to a year, and its safety during transfers would be ensured by a special climate control capsule. However, six months later, in January 2024, the icon was again brought to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and exhibited for worship, and the promised capsule was never produced.

It should be noted that we know of one attempt to influence a religious organization that has not fulfilled its obligations to the transferred property: the Kuibyshev District Court of St. Petersburg satisfied the claim of the Committee for State Control, Use, and Protection of Cultural Monuments and obliged the St. Petersburg Diocese to restore the Konevskaya Church on Zagorodny Prospekt, a monument of regional significance. The Committee obliged the diocese to restore the building back in 2015, but the diocese refused to do so, claiming that another organization should handle the restoration. The court has now ruled that the restoration work is the owner’s responsibility and obliged the diocese to carry it out within five years. If the diocese fails to comply with this decision, financial sanctions will be imposed in the form of a payment for each overdue month.

Discrimination Based on Religion

Recognition of the Activities of Religious Organizations as Undesirable and of Religious Figures as Foreign Agents

During the year, the list of religious organizations whose activities are recognized as undesirable in Russia was updated three times. In June, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office included in this list the U.S.-based religious organization TCCN Covenant of Churches (Transformation Center Covenant Network TCCN, Transformation Center Church International), a full gospel organization not belonging to any Christian denomination, which aims to “save souls and spread the kingdom of God on earth”; in August, the Ukraine-based international public movement ALLATRA (MOD Allatra, Gromadska Spilka “Mizhnarodnii Gromadskii Rukh “ALLATRA” [International citizens movement ALLATRA association]); in October, three foreign organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the German Wachtturm Bible und Traktat Gesellschaft der Zeugen Jehovas, the Ukrainian “Religiinii Tsentr Svidkiv Jegovi v Ukraїni,” and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania).

According to the Prosecutor’s office, the activities of these organizations are connected with the support of Ukraine and threaten the foundations of Russia’s constitutional system.

Believers from organizations, whose activities were deemed undesirable earlier, as well as a year earlier, were subjected to both criminal and administrative persecution. Pastor Nikolai Bogoslovsky of the Christ the Savior Evangelical Christian Church in Anapa was sentenced to a year in a penal colony for contacts with the New Generation Church under Part 1 of Article 284.1 (participation in the activities of a foreign or international non-governmental organization, in respect of which a decision was made to recognize its activities undesirable in the territory of the Russian Federation in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation, committed by a person subjected to administrative punishment for a similar act), and pastors Nikolai Ulitin and Svyatoslav Yugov from the Moscow region were sentenced under Part 3 of the same article (organization of the activities of a foreign or international non-governmental organization, in respect of which a decision was made to recognize its activities as undesirable in the territory of the Russian Federation) to three and a half years in a general regime colony each. At the same time, in Krasnodar Krai, Nikolai Ulitin’s children, Kirill and Ekaterina Ulitin, were fined 5000 rubles each under Article 20.33 of the Administrative Code (participation in the activities of a foreign or international non-governmental organization, in respect of which a decision was made to recognize its activities as undesirable in the territory of the Russian Federation).

In Yaroslavl, the Head of the Yaroslavl Mixed Martial Arts Federation, Denis Shibankov, was sentenced under Part 1 of Article 284.1 to 300 hours of compulsory labor for participating in the activities of several international Falun Gong organizations. In Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk, and the Irkutsk region, the homes of Falun Gong followers were searched. Nadezhda Lai, the Head of the Irkutsk Falun Gong Association, was fined under Article 20.33 of the Administrative Code in January 2024.

In 2023, for the first time, religious figures were declared foreign agents. In January, the Ministry of Justice included in this register the honorary representative of the Dalai Lama in Russia, the CIS countries, and Mongolia, the Supreme Lama of Kalmykia Telo Tulku Rinpoche (Erdni Ombadykov). The decision of the Ministry of Justice was justified by the claim that the Lama “spoke out against the special military operation in Ukraine and openly spoke in support of Ukraine, and is a US citizen. Resides outside the Russian Federation.” The day after this decision, Telo Tulku Rinpoche passed on his duties to the abbot of the Kalmyk Central Buddhist Monastery of Geden Sheddup Choi Korling Tendzin Choidak (Mutul Ovyanov) and the administrator Yonten Lodoi (Sergei Kirishov). In August, the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Kalmykia revoked the Russian residence permit of the former supreme Lama.

In June, Pinchas Goldschmidt, the former chief rabbi of Moscow, was included in the number of foreign agents – also for speaking out against the fighting in Ukraine and allegedly spreading false information about the Russian authorities. Goldschmidt left Russia back in March 2022.

In December, the previously defrocked Protodeacon Andrey Kuraev, who had left Russia shortly before this decision, was also listed as foreign agent.

Liquidation of Religious Organizations

We are not aware of liquidations of religious organizations, but in the course of 2023, the court of appeal confirmed the decisions on the liquidation of two organizations made in 2022. In February, the Fifth Court of Appeal of General Jurisdiction in Novosibirsk upheld the decision of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Court on the liquidation of the local religious organization Church of the Last Testament, and in March it upheld the decision of the Altai Regional Court to ban the activities of the religious group Allya Ayat (Elle-Ayat) in the region.

Criminal Prosecution

The criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses continued. During the year, new criminal cases were opened on the continuation of the activities of an extremist organization. We have information about cases initiated against 107 people, compared to about 80 a year earlier. In total, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves, since the ban of centralized and local organizations in 2017 and until the end of 2023, 376 cases have been initiated against their co-religionists, involving 789 people aged between 19 and 85, more than a quarter of them more than 60 years old. And this data is incomplete. According to our data, as of the end of February 2024, 127 believers were held in colonies and pre-trial detention centers.

During the year, at least 72 convictions were handed down to 153 Jehovah’s Witnesses (in 2022 – 62 convictions against 124 people), two more convictions against three people were overturned. The sentences were passed under Article 2822 (organization of the activities of an extremist organization) and 2823 of the Criminal Code (financing the activities of an extremist organization). 48 people received real prison terms[6]. The longest term, 8 years in a general regime colony and a year of restriction of freedom, was given to Dmitry Barmakin, a believer from Vladivostok, who was acquitted in 2021 on the basis of clarifications of the Supreme Court on this article, but in 2022 it was canceled, and the case was sent for a new trial.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, 183 searches of believers’ homes in 74 regions were carried out during the year; 43 people were detained, 15 of them went through the pre-trial detention center. As in previous years, searches often took place with numerous violations. For example, in April, during a search in St. Petersburg, armed security forces broke down the door of one of the apartments, forced the residents face down on the floor, insulted them, and swore obscenely.

Criminal prosecution of representatives of other religious organizations continued[7]. For example, Kirovsky District Court in Omsk sentenced pastor of the New Creation Evangelical Christian Church Stanislav Moskvitin under Part 1 of Article 239 of the Criminal Code (creation of a religious or public association whose activities involve violence against citizens or other harm to their health, as well as the leadership of such an association) to one and a half years in a general regime colony. In August, the court of appeal replaced imprisonment with a suspended sentence of the same length. The offense was that during the services, the pastor “used psychological impact technologies that affected the mental health of the victims.”

Restriction of Missionary Activity

The persecution of religious organizations for “illegal” missionary work continued. At the time of writing, the statistics of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on the application of Article 5.26 of the Administrative Code (violation of legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and on religious associations) was available only for the first half of 2023. According to these data, we can assume that the number of cases under this article decreased slightly in 2023. In the first half of 2023, the number of cases heard by the courts under the mentioned article decreased slightly compared to the same period in 2022: 145 cases against 159. 95 persons were punished under this article, including 59 individuals, 31 legal entities, and 5 officials (in 2022 – 94, 43, 50, and one, respectively).

Fines continued to be the most frequently used form of punishment for “illegal missionary work”: in the first half of the year, 81 fines were issued, and in 14 cases, written warnings were issued (in 2022 – 82 and 12, respectively). The total fines under the regulations that came into force decreased significantly and amounted to 1,151,000 rubles (in the first half of 2022 – 1,732,000 rubles)[8].

Protestant organizations continue to be the main target of law enforcement under Article 5.26. For example, according to Part 4 of this article (carrying out missionary activities in violation of the requirements of the legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and religious associations), Mikhail Lipsky, the head of the Church of Evangelical Baptist Christians in Bryansk, was fined for holding a Christmas concert in the premises of the city house of culture, Baptist Alexander Zeibel in Yakutsk for holding divine services without notifying the authorities of starting the activity of a religious group, and two ministers of Evangelical Christian Baptist churches from the Samara region, Alexander Gamm and Vyacheslav Akimov, for a similar offense.

Muslims were also often prosecuted for “illegal missionary work.” For example, Imam Ibrahim Eminov from Volgodonsk and a local religious organization Mahalla No. 2806 from Azov, the Rostov region, were fined under Part 3 of this article (carrying out activities by a religious organization without specifying its official full name, including the release or distribution of literature, printed, audio and video materials without labeling with the specified name or with incomplete or deliberately false labeling) for the storage of unmarked literature of the Turkish religious organization Suleymanji. The Muslim community of Kotelniki of the Moscow region was also fined under Part 3 of this article.

Representatives of other religious organizations have also been prosecuted under this article from time to time. For example, we know of one case where a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Andrei Mozol from Novocherkassk was fined 50,000 rubles, and a priest of the True Orthodox Church, Archpriest Sergiy Leonov from Azov, the Rostov region, was fined 5,000 rubles. Both were found guilty under Part 4 of Article 5.26 of the Administrative Code. In the second case, the inspection that revealed the violation and resulted in the fine was initiated by the local FSB office.

Foreign citizens were apparently prosecuted for “illegal” missionary work more often than in 2022. For example, Saidjon Vohidov in Moscow, Shakhmar Safarov in Saratov, Ruslan Huseynov in the Kemerovo region, Ilesbek Baltaev in Krasnodar Krai, and Abdulmashit Abduvaliev and Zhavokhir Abdullayev in Kamchatka were fined under Part 5 of Article 5.26 of the Administrative Code (carrying out missionary activities in violation of the requirements of the legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and on religious associations, committed by a foreign citizen).

Foreign citizens Kim Siah and Seo Johan in Nalchik, Mariam Hamit in Krasnoyarsk, Shaban Dincher, Fazli Aghayev, and Sharofiddin Rakhmanov in St. Petersburg, and Kanan Bahram oglu Mehdiyev and Dilshod Turaev in Kamchatka were sentenced, in addition to fines, to administrative expulsion from the country under the same part of this article.

Other Examples of Discrimination

As in previous years, instances of police interference in the life of Muslim organizations were recorded. A series of raids against illegal migrants in mosques near Moscow has caused a wide public outcry. In July, Friday prayers in Kotelniki and Dzerzhinsky were disrupted due to such raids. Believers were detained with the use of physical force and insults. In a statement, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Moscow region described the incident as follows: “During the raid, the security forces did not allow the believers to complete their prayers, forced them face down on the floor, scared the children to tears, stomped their shoes on carpets, and when the parishioners legitimately demanded to explain the reason for their prolonged detention within the walls of the Muslim Center, one of the riot police officers sprayed a fire extinguisher towards the parishioners.” [9].

The Muslim community was outraged by such treatment of believers. The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Moscow region appealed to the prosecutor’s office with a demand to check the actions of the security forces for insulting religious feelings, but this statement apparently had no consequences. The Kotelniki Muslims appealed to Putin for protection from police brutality. There were calls on social networks to join a mass protest, but only a few dozen believers took part in the march in the center of Moscow. Ramzan Kadyrov and the Head of Dagestan Sergei Melikov issued statements on the inadmissibility of such “provocations” and the need for a more respectful attitude towards the believers. It should be noted that right-wing radical organizations played a significant role in the aggravation of the situation in Kotelniki[10].

Still, in November, a similar raid at the Balashikha prayer house also disrupted worship.

Similar disruptions occurred in other regions as well. For example, in Yekaterinburg in February, an anti-migrant raid was carried out during Friday prayer at the Imam Abu Hanifa mosque. According to eyewitnesses, the security forces fired into the air several times. 73 people were detained and taken to different police stations. Tatyana Merzlyakova, the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Sverdlovsk Region, spoke in defense of Muslims and said that she “does not like it when people are caught like this during Friday prayers” and called on police officers to carry out identification checks “without disturbing people during a religious ceremony.”

Other cases of abuse by representatives of law enforcement agencies in relation to Muslims should be noted. In February, an employee of the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Golovinsky district of Moscow tried to pull off a headscarf worn by a native of Kyrgyzstan who was brought in because she did not have proper registration. The detainee retaliated by hitting a police officer, scratching her, and tearing off her shoulder straps. A criminal case was opened against the woman under Part 1 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code (use of violence against a government representative). In April, the leadership of correctional colony No. 9 in the Orenburg region did not give Muslim prisoners the opportunity to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan, closing the prayer room the day before the start of Ramadan. In previous years, the prisoners of this colony could celebrate Ramadan and Eid al-Adha unhindered, and the prisoners believe that the closure of the room is a reaction of the administration to prisoners’ complaints of abuse by employees.

It was not only Muslims who experienced the consequences of police intervention. In April, on the eve of Easter, riot police forced the Catholic community of St. Petersburg to hold a fire lighting ceremony inside the Church of St. Catherine, and not at the entrance, as is customary. The reason for this was the absence of permission to hold an event at the entrance to the church, although up to that moment, no permission had been required to perform this rite.

By court decision, two Catholic priests (Polish citizens) were expelled from Russia – the rector of the Belgorod Catholic parish Mark Bakierzynski and the rector of the parish of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Novocherkassk Fr. Michal Mzhyglud. After Mark Bakierzynski’s departure, law enforcement officials reported that the reason for his expulsion was allegedly his appearance at a strategic facility in the Belgorod region with a thermal imager. The priest was banned from entering Russia for 50 years. Fr. Michal Mzhyglud was found guilty under Part 1 of Art. 18.8 of the Administrative Code (violation by a foreign citizen or a stateless person of the rules of entry into the Russian Federation or the regime of stay (residence) in the Russian Federation) and fined 2000 rubles with administrative expulsion.

As before, discrimination against believers by non-state entities also occurred. In all cases known to us, it was directed against Muslims. In Kabardino-Balkaria, parents of school students in several villages complained that students who wore headscarves were systematically not allowed to attend classes. At the end of September, following a meeting between Mufti of Kabardino-Balkaria Hazratali Dzasezhev and rais-imams of the districts with representatives of authorities and municipalities, the authorities of the republic recommended that school administrations not prevent students wearing headscarves from attending classes. However, in November, a resident of the village of Zalukokoage in the Zolsky district reported that the school administration was collecting data on girls wearing headscarves and was planning to keep them out of classes again, and the director reported the parents who were advocating and protecting the girls to the Center for Countering Extremism. At the same time, the district prosecutor did not see any violations in the school ban on attending lessons wearing religious clothes.

In November, the security personnel of the Red Whale shopping center in Mytishchi, near Moscow, tried to kick two Muslims out following other shoppers’ complaints; the Muslims were praying next to a closed pavilion, away from visitors. According to the video of the incident, the conversation was in raised voices, however, the administration of the shopping center assured that “everything was cultural, polite, there was no conflict,” but referred to some unknown legislative norm prohibiting prayer in public places.

Positive Verdicts

Sometimes believers and religious organizations were able to protect their rights, including through the courts. Thus, the Muslim community of Smolensk managed to challenge one of the two fines for “illegal missionary work.” In 2022, the community was fined 30,000 rubles in each of the two cases under Part 3 of Article 5.26 of the Administrative Code for the absence of a sign with the name of the organization on the building where the prayer room was located and for the presence of three unmarked books in the room. The believers challenged both fines, pointing out that the sign with the name of the organization was located inside the prayer room and that it was not authorized to label literature not published by the organization. The Zadneprovsky Court of Smolensk canceled the decision on the fine for unmarked literature, considering both violations to be the same administrative offense that should have been considered in the same proceeding. The decision on the fine for the absence of the sign could not be challenged.

The Muslim communities of Kotelnikov and Dzerzhinskiy, who suffered in the police raid, managed to avoid fines for illegal missionary work three times. The courts dismissed two cases against the Kotelnikov community under Part 4 of Article 5.26 of the Administrative Code and one case under the same article against the Dzerzhinskiy community.

The Cherdaklinsky District Court of the Ulyanovsk region closed the proceedings in the case against a foreign citizen Nikita Shestak, bishop of the ROC Tsarist Empire religious group, accused under Part 5 of Article 5.26 of the Administrative Code for organizing a procession in the village of Staraya Maina. Shestak explained that he did not invite any of the citizens he met to join the procession, since the goal was only to show the myrrh-streaming icon, and “he did not tell the people he met about his religious group, since no one asked.” The court decided that participation in the procession with a proposal to venerate icons “is aimed at neutrally informing others about the religious association and its activities and cannot be regarded as missionary activity,”[11] therefore, no offense was committed.

Several conflicts over hijabs have been resolved. Novocherkassk Medical College reinstated three of the five students expelled for wearing hijab. In a pre-trial order, an agreement was reached that the girls would come to classes in clothes that did not contradict their faith, but also did not violate the rules of the college. Two more expelled students did not want to be reinstated and preferred other educational institutions.

Two conflicts over the wearing of Muslim clothing in Moscow were settled after the intervention of the Commissioner for Human Rights in Chechnya Mansur Soltaev. Two schoolgirls who, because of headscarves, had been refused admission to a gymnasium [school] near the hospital where their mother, a native of Chechnya, was being treated, were accepted to the gymnasium thanks to this intervention. And the management of one of the private organizations, which forbade its employee, also a native of Chechnya, to wear a hijab in the office so as not to “scare away customers,” reconsidered its decision.

In Surgut, the bus driver escaped punishment for delay due to prayer. Passengers complained to the mayor’s office that the driver, in order to perform prayer, dropped off passengers and delayed the departure of the bus. The staff of the Department of Mass Communications of the Mayor’s Office carried out an investigation and concluded that “no deviations from the route occurred, and the bus driver complied with the schedule,” as the driver prayed during his break, and it did not take 40 minutes, as was stated in the complaint, but only 12 minutes. Still, “explanatory work” was carried out with the driver.

The Leningradsky Regional Court upheld the 2022 decision of the Gatchina City Court to declare illegal the decision to conscript believer Pavel Mushumansky, who previously completed alternative civil service. The decision of the Gatchina court was appealed by the military enlistment office. Despite the decision of the court of first instance in favor of the Mushumansky, the believer remained in the military unit until the decision of the court of the second instance was rendered.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on several complaints from Russian believers, despite the fact that Russia no longer recognizes its jurisdiction. In January, it considered the case of Yakovlev and Others v. Russia, which combined the complaints of 19 applicants detained for participating in protests against the construction of a church in Yekaterinburg in 2019. The Court concluded that there had been a violation of paragraph 1 of art. 5 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the right to liberty and security) and ordered the Russian Federation to pay each of the applicants 3,900 euros.

In the same month, the ECHR ruled on the case of Nabokikh and Others v. Russia, which combined complaints from Jehovah’s Witnesses from 18 Russian regions about their meetings being disrupted by security forces in 2010-2013. The Court ruled that in all cases there had been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, which provides for the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. In addition, the court concluded that the actions of the security forces contradicted the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, according to which holding religious meetings even in rented premises does not require prior permission or notification of the authorities. The meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses were peaceful and did not pose a threat to public order, and therefore there was no need to persecute their participants. The Court awarded the applicants a compensation of 345,000 euros each.

At the same time, an ECHR ruling was published on the complaints of followers of the Falun Gong movement Mikhail Sinitsyn and Sergei Alyokhin, who challenged the decision of the Pervomaisky District Court of Krasnodar, dated October 27, 2011, recognizing four materials of the movement as extremist. The ECHR ruled that the ban on these materials violated Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion and ordered the state to pay Sinitsyn and Alyokhin 7,500 euros each as compensation for moral damage and 3,096 euros, jointly, as compensation for legal costs.

In January, the ECHR ruled in the case of Milstein v. Russia on the complaint of the leader of the Novosibirsk group Allya Ayat (or Elle-Ayat) Valery Milstein, who challenged the decision to ban the activities of the group and its magazine Zvezda Selennoy. The European Court concluded that the decisions of the Russian courts did not comply with Articles 9, 10, and 11 of the Convention and violated the applicant’s rights. The ECHR ruled that the state should pay Milstein 9,750 euros in compensation for moral damage and 5,000 euros in court expenses.

In March, the ECHR ruled in the case of Ossewaarde v. Russia. Baptist Donald J. Ossewaarde, a US citizen, was fined in 2016 for “illegal missionary work,” and de facto for holding Bible meetings in his house without notifying government agencies about the creation of a religious group. The Court found in this case a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, as well as Article 14 guaranteeing the prohibition of discrimination, and ordered the Russian Federation to pay the applicant 592 euros in compensation for pecuniary damage, 10,000 euros in compensation for non-pecuniary damage, and 4,000 euros for court expenses.

Protecting the Feelings of Believers

Protection from Above

Law enforcement under Part 1 of Article 148 of the Criminal Code (public actions expressing clear disrespect to society with the aim to insult religious feelings of believers) was significantly more active than in 2022: we know of 15 convictions under this article (9 in 2022). As in the previous year, most of the sentences concerned the publication of offensive photographs or videos containing images of sacred objects, as well as for insulting statements addressed to believers. Punishments were imposed most often for insulting the feelings of Orthodox Christians, less often for insulting Muslims.

The harshest sentence, one and a half years in a penal colony and a fine of 150,000 rubles, was imposed on Sad Abdel Razek, a native of Egypt, who trampled on the Koran, poured alcohol over it, and threw it into the river. He filmed this and posted the video with the comment that the Koran is a “dirty book” that should be “thrown under your feet” and “trampled with old boots.” In addition to Article 148, he was found guilty under Paragraph “b” of Part 1 of Article 213 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or enmity).

In other cases, either compulsory work or fines were imposed. The largest number of hours of compulsory work – 200 hours each – were assigned to a resident of Astrakhan for burning an icon next to a shopping center and publishing a video about it and to a resident of Sevastopol for statements with profanities insulting the feelings of “followers of one of the world’s religions” in a Telegram group chat.

Two bloggers were sent for compulsory treatment: Polina Morugina (Polina Face) for publishing a nude photo against the background of an Orthodox church and Stanislav Bazarov (Stasik Kudryavy) for publishing a video in which he urinates on an icon and calls urine holy water.

Some sentences under this article were imposed for offenses other than publications. Nikita Gomulkin, a resident of St. Petersburg, was fined 5,000 rubles for breaking the cross of worship at the site of the Church of St. Demetrius of Thessalonica while intoxicated and carrying away its fragment. Two teenagers from Perm were sentenced to compulsory labor – 100 hours each – for burning the icon of Anastasia Uzoreshitelnitsa [The Deliverer] accompanied by Nazi shouts. Intigam Aliyev was found guilty not only under Part 1 of Article 148, but also under Part 1 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code (use of violence against a representative of the government) for speaking negatively about Russians and Christians during a conflict at a traffic light with a driver on a St. Petersburg street. The court imposed a fine of 250,000 rubles, but reduced it to 150,000 because of the time spent in the pre-trial detention center.

We also have information on one verdict under Part 2 of this article (the same actions, but committed in places specially designated for worship, other religious rites and ceremonies). A resident of Krasnoyarsk broke into the Church of the Nativity of Christ on the day of the celebration of Eid al-Adha during the service and threw around the sacrificial meat. After a forensic psychiatric examination, he was sent for compulsory treatment.

Punishments for insulting religious feelings were also imposed under administrative articles. For example, Andrei Biryukov, a resident of Moscow, was fined 30,000 rubles under Part 2 of Article 5.26 of the Administrative Code (intentional public desecration of religious or liturgical literature, objects of religious veneration, signs or emblems of ideological symbols and paraphernalia) for publishing photographs publicly desecrating religious literature and objects of religious veneration. Another resident of Moscow, Pavel Petryakov, was fined the same amount for the same part of the same article for a similar offense.

During the year, new cases of insulting the feelings of believers were initiated, both criminal and administrative. Most of the cases were initiated for publications that were “obscene” from the point of view of law enforcement agencies.

Here are other examples of protecting religious feelings “from above.” We know of two cases when regional departments of the Federal Antimonopoly Service prosecuted businesses whose design or advertising was perceived as insulting the feelings of believers. In August, the Coffee Seven coffee house in Izhevsk was prosecuted under Part 1 of Article 14.3 of the Administrative Code (violation of advertising legislation) for a booklet dedicated to the anniversary of the cafe, which showed a teapot pouring tea into the open dome of the bell tower of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral instead of a cup. After consulting with the Izhevsk Diocese, the local Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) considered the advertisement to be inappropriate.

In September, the Yaroslavl Federal Antimonopoly Service issued a warning to the Yaroslavl karaoke bar HELL on the complaint of the nationalist organization Call of the People. The bar interior was decorated in black and red “Satanic” colors with “smileys resembling a devil’s tail,” which the department regarded as an insult to the feelings of Christians. The owner of the bar, Denis Martianov, assured that the name was not related to the ideas of Satanism and referred to the works of Mikhail Bulgakov and Dante Alighieri, but after the complaints agreed to change the name first to YES, then to AntiDepressant. However, the FAS still found a reason to issue a warning.

A warning was issued both to Tatarstan magazine and its founder, Tatmedia Holding. This was the reaction of Roskomnadzor in February to the complaint of the Sorok Sorokov movement concerning the cover of the January issue dedicated to the year of the cat according to the Chinese calendar, in which the complainants saw incitement to hatred of Orthodoxy. The cover combined two paintings by artist Alfrid Shaimardanov: a black cat against the sunset sky and the Annunciation Cathedral of the Kazan Kremlin and a white cat against the bright sky and the Kul Sharif Mosque, and the caption read: “From black to white, from old to new, from the past to the future.” The editor of the magazine, Tatyana Vafina, reported the threats she received from outraged Orthodox activists. She apologized to those who found the cover offensive, and that issue was withdrawn.

As in previous years, the authorities of some regions opposed the “alien” Halloween. For example, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) sent letters to educational institutions in the region with a recommendation not to allow Halloween celebrations. The authorities of Krasnodar and Sochi recommended not celebrating Halloween not only for schoolchildren, but also for entrepreneurs, warning the owners of cafes and restaurants that holding Halloween parties was unacceptable.

In June, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Dagestan conducted an internal audit of the leadership and teachers of the Makhachkala Art School, where graduation works of fashion design students were criticized by believers because of dresses with crosses. Despite the explanation that the costumes were designed as theatrical, the director of the school was reprimanded.

In December, Volgograd-24 State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company fired three employees after their participation in a New Year’s Eve party in costumes that caused outrage among the public, including believers, those of Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and nuns. Two deputy directors were instructed about “the need to strengthen educational work in the team.”

In addition, in May, by order of the Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova, several film directors and television personalities were removed from the expert councils on feature, documentary, and animated films applying for state funding, and replaced by representatives of the Ministry and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Protection from Below

We observed a higher activity of public defenders of religious feelings than a year earlier, but, as in previous years, they most often defended the feelings of the Orthodox. In the vast majority of cases, this activity came from “professional” defenders – the organizations Sorok Sorokov and Call of the People and, at times, representatives of various ultra-right organizations who occasionally joined them. Their main tactic was to organize public campaigns against figures and events that, according to activists, offended the feelings of believers and to call for mass filing of applications to law enforcement agencies.

As before, defenders of religious feelings often targeted cultural events. Orthodox activists in different regions protested against concerts by performers and musical groups whose music seemed offensive to them. The campaign against Philip Kirkorov’s performances continued, but, unlike in the previous year, the protesters’ attempts to disrupt his concerts failed. In spring, despite the protests of believers, the artist performed in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. The Minister of Physical Culture and Sports of the Novosibirsk region Sergei Akhapov announced that the number with the dance on the cross, which caused outrage among believers a year earlier, was excluded from the program, therefore there were no grounds for canceling the concert. Afterwards, Orthodox activists demanded to check the concerts for insults to religious feelings, but these demands had no consequences.

The Sorok Sorokov organization called for the Aria band tour Guest from the Kingdom of Shadows to be canceled: when the song “The Executioner” was performed, a crucifixion appeared on the stage, and the “crucified” soloist, Mikhail Zhitnyakov, said: “... that madman was nobody, I am your savior! I am near, I am here! The sword is my cross! But you can’t crucify me...” This gave Orthodox activists a reason to accuse the group of Satanism and of the abuse of the image of Christ. Similar accusations were made against the БѢСЪ (Old Russian for Demon) band, which defines its style as “ritual dark black metal with spells in an ancient East Slavic language, which sneaks into this sublunary world with the fetid breath of hellish creatures.” The concerts of this band were canceled in at least two Moscow clubs after complaints by Orthodox activists.

Additionally, Sorok Sorokov and their associates demanded that criminal proceedings be initiated for insulting the feelings of believers against the leader of the Little Big band Ilya Prusikin, who published a video on Christmas Day in which he rides a skateboard in the shape of a Catholic cross wearing a clerical collar used by Catholic and Protestant priests; the St. Petersburg rapper 10AGE (Dmitry Panov) for copying the image of Christ; the rapper Face (Ivan Dremin), recognized as a foreign agent, for the song Zanyat (Busy), which contains the words “f*ck God, if I want, I’ll kill myself”; and rapper Guf (Alexey Dolmatov), who published a video where his track To Those Who Are With Us was superimposed on a video of an Orthodox divine service. After a complaint from Orthodox activists, Guf deleted the video and apologized to the believers, explaining that he had found the video on the Internet, posted it “inadvertently,” and did not intend to offend anyone. In all these cases, law enforcement agencies found no grounds to initiate criminal proceedings.

Orthodox activists also found a number of exhibitions offensive to their feelings. For example, in Perm in spring, defenders of religious feelings opposed several projects presented at the exhibition “They come in large numbers. ART Perm. XXV”. Thus, the complaints by Sorok Sorokov and Call of the People about the Easter week exhibition titled God’s Return Home – a project by Moscow artists Natalia Voskresenskaya and Dmitry Plotkin – led to a police check for insulting the feelings of believers. Fearing complaints from believers, the organizers of the exhibition closed immediately after the opening the project by a local designer Igor Goryachev titled The Truth Inside, which displayed decorated plaster sculptures of the Buddha; first, the organizers blocked the sculptures with boxes, and then fenced them off with ribbons. The paintings by the artist Alice Sokolova were turned to the wall so as not to offend the feelings of believers. Anastasia Subbotina, director of the regional Department of National and Religious Relations, who visited the exhibition, demanded to remove the paintings as offensive to believers, but the organizers decided to limit themselves to turning them to the wall. According to the artist, the paintings suffered from prolonged contact with the wall.

In August, at the request of Sorok Sorokov, the Mu Mu Garbage Museum in the Kaluga region had to remove from its exhibition an icon assembled from old microcircuit boards, depicting the Virgin and the infant Christ. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in the Kaluga region refused to initiate a criminal case on insulting the feelings of believers. We know of two instances when defenders of religious feelings threatened to use violence: In June, Sorok Sorokov activists tried to disrupt a BDSM party in one of the Moscow clubs - they broke into the premises and demanded that the participants “voluntarily and quickly leave this institution.” The police officers who arrived after the activists’ call did not find any violations. In August, a group of far-right activists led by the above-mentioned MMA fighter Maxim Divnich forced stand-up artist Sergei Orlov to apologize for his joke about the lessons of Orthodox culture that there are “only two foundations of Orthodoxy: you drive past the church - you cross yourself, Christ is risen, that’s all the basics for you.” After that, Divnich said that the comedian apologized to him personally, so it was not necessary to arrange an “Orthodox jihad” for him, but later visited him with some other people and demanded an apology to all Orthodox believers, which Orlov was forced to do.

Of course, not all cases of protection of religious feelings were inspired by the Sorok Sorokov movement and their associates. For example, in November, believers in Perm opposed the magic festival organized by the Two Brooms workshop. Rector of the Peter and Paul Cathedral of Perm Sergey Karmashev called the event a “coven of witches and wizards.” A petition to close the workshop was signed by about 700 people. To appease critics, the organizers of the festival announced its cancellation, but still held the planned events. And in Moscow, during Lent, a group of Orthodox activists ensured that sellers of one of the shops of the Aviapark shopping center removed T-shirts of the Yunost brand with an “abominable” image of Jesus Christ from the counter.

Throughout the year, believers in different regions occasionally expressed outrage at various images of temples, mostly schematic ones, on which crosses were not properly drawn. This happened, for example, in the Novgorod region, where a project based on the monument “Millennium of Russia”, from which the designers removed the images of crosses, won the competition for the symbol of the region; in the Savelka district of the Zelenograd Administrative District of Moscow, where, after the coat of arms was renovated, the schematic image of the dome turned out to be without a cross; in the Vladimir region, where the local TV and radio company Gubernia-33 broadcast a video in which schematic images of temples did not have crosses; and in other regions.

These conflicts were resolved in different ways: in some places, the creators of the images could ignore the indignation of the fighters against the “cross fall,” in other places, they had to take their wishes into account, as in the aforementioned Vladimir TV and radio company, which took the video off air after the appeal of the nationalist organizations Russian Community and Northern Man. In some cases, the defenders of the crosses resorted to threats. For example, Andrey Boltushkin, the administrator of the Rostov Glavny [Rostov Centrtal] public forum, complained about numerous threats in connection with the publication of images of architectural objects in Rostov-on-Don, including temples with missing crosses. He expressed his willingness to remove the controversial image, but on condition that the threats stop.

Let us note the two biggest victories of the fighters against the “cross fall.” In October, outraged Orthodox attacked a new 1000-rouble banknote, issued by the Central Bank, which depicted the Palace Church of the Kazan Kremlin without a cross and the Suyumbike tower, crowned with a crescent moon. It is noteworthy that in this case, even Vakhtang Kipshidze, vice-chairman of the Synodal Department for Church’s Relations with Society and Mass Media of the Moscow Patriarchate, found there to be “no problem whatsoever” with the new banknote, although in general he considers the image of churches without crosses to be a form of blasphemy. The fact is that there really is no cross on the Palace Church because the building houses the Museum of the History of Tatar Statehood. However, indignation at the absence of a cross in the image was supported by some politicians, in particular, Chair of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building Andrei Klishas. As a result, a day after the presentation, the Central Bank suspended the issue of the banknote, promising not to release it into wide circulation before its design is finalized.

In December, the government of the Ryazan region asked partner banks to change the design of a single digital card, which depicted the temples of the Ryazan Kremlin without crosses, at the request of believers. Andrey Ulyanov, the Minister of Digital Development of the region, noted that banks were free to choose this design element, but the government considered it possible to request to change the image.

We have information about isolated cases when not only Orthodox Christians declared their offended feelings. For example, in August, the Duma of Tatarstan demanded to open a criminal case on insulting the feelings of believers against blogger Elnara Kirillova (Belladonna Miloslavskaya), who published a video where she dances to the Tatar song Epipe in the Kul Sharif mosque. Kirillova apologized to everyone who was offended by her video, and the case was not initiated.

In October, representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North were outraged by the board game Iltana: Gods and Spirits, created on the basis of books from the local history fund of the National Library of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District. According to the rules, players assumed the role of a shaman and fulfilled the requests of members of their tribes. According to the developers, they consulted with experts on Nenets culture and literature and also took into account the comments of local residents. However, according to the offended representatives, including the elders, the creators of the game did not respect the spiritual beliefs of the indigenous peoples of the North and wanted to shake “our spiritual bonds – sacred beliefs.” The creators had to temporarily suspend the distribution of the game.

Insufficient Protection from Defamation and Attacks

Violence and Vandalism

As a year earlier, we know of one case of violence motivated by religious hatred: in June, a resident of Tyumen was beaten by a neighbor for what was, in his opinion, intrusive sermons. The attacker pushed an elderly woman with a cane out of the elevator so that she fell and injured her arm. According to the victim, he had attacked her before.

We also know of several instances of aggression against Muslims that cannot be classified as hate crimes. For example, in the settlement of Moskovsky in New Moscow in August, several local women walking dogs attacked a woman in a hijab walking with her children. The conflict probably occurred because the woman expressed disapproval of walking the dogs near the playground, but the attackers began to insult her because of her hijab, threatened her, and tried to get the dog to attack her. A scuffle ensued, as a result of which the Muslim woman suffered a ligament rupture.

In September, a passenger on the Moscow metro demanded that a passenger in a niqab, Elizaveta Baranovskaya, “take it off and wear normal clothes.” Some of the passengers supported Baranovskaya, others sided with the young man who made the remark. The victim appealed to law enforcement agencies with a request to open a case under Part 148 of the Criminal Code (insulting the religious feelings of believers) and Article 282 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred). Shortly after the incident, the man who made the remark against the niqab and a man who supported him were detained by police. Baranovskaya and her lawyer reported receiving threats, including from members of right-wing radical groups.

Additionally, in November, in Dzerzhinskiy, near Moscow, an intoxicated attacker broke into a mosque with a fake grenade and disrupted Friday prayer.

The level of religiously motivated vandalism went down in comparison to the previous year: we know of 8 such cases (12 in 2022).

Orthodox sites suffered most often at the hands of vandals – at least 6 times (5 in 2022). One act of vandalism, or rather, its attempt, can be classified as dangerous: in November, unknown people tried to set fire to a wooden church of the Georgian Icon of the Mother of God in the village of Marushkino in New Moscow. Fortunately, the arsonists failed to finish what they started: apparently, someone scared them off, because there were people inside the church. A church employee found traces of burning on the walls of the building and two bottles with a combustible mixture nearby.

Twice church interior decoration was damaged by vandals. In June, on the day of the celebration of Eid al-Adha, a resident of Krasnoyarsk began to scatter the remains of a ram in the Church of the Nativity of Christ during evening service, behaving aggressively towards believers and expressing dissatisfaction with military operations in Chechnya and Ukraine. He was sent for compulsory medical treatment.

In October, an intoxicated 40-year-old resident of Novomoskovsk of the Tula region staged a pogrom in the Assumption Monastery: he shouted insults at believers, overturned a lectern, smashed two icon cases and a glass vase, and used a metal candlestick as a weapon. He was found guilty of hooliganism and “insulting religious feelings” and fined.

Worship crosses suffered at the hands of vandals twice. In May, Nikita Gomulkin, a resident of St. Petersburg, while intoxicated, broke the cross of worship installed on the site of the Church of St. Demetrius of Thessalonica and took away its fragment. He was fined and helped to restore the cross himself.

In October, a five-meter worship cross on a rock near the Pavlovsky reservoir in the Karaidelsky district of Bashkortostan in memory of the dead priests was demolished. Shortly after the incident, a message by some Bashkir nationalists appeared on social networks that reported that the cross had been “dismantled” by “batyrs” and threatened to demolish another cross because the worship crosses were seen as “symbols of occupation.”

In another case of the demolition of the cross, the motive of hatred is not obvious, but it cannot be excluded. In August, unknown persons sawed down the cross of worship at the entrance to the village of Azovo in the Omsk region. Given that the cross had a metal base taller than a man, it can be assumed that the breakdown was not a spontaneous hooligan prank, but a planned action.

There was another case where we do not see a motive of hatred, but which the Novosibirsk Metropolis regarded as an act of barbarism, lawlessness, and an attempt to desecrate a holy place. In May, the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” was written on the fence of the Novosibirsk Church in Honor of the New Martyrs of Russia. A representative of the diocese assured that the inscription would be removed.

Muslim facilities were also attacked by vandals, and we know of two such cases (one in 2022).

In Krasnoyarsk in July, a 27-year-old local resident broke into the Cathedral Mosque with a hammer and began to destroy everything in his path, fighting off believers who tried to stop him. After his detention, he explained his act by saying that he was “a resident of heavenly Jerusalem, and the devil was worshiped in the mosque.” The attacker is registered for observation and treatment in a psychiatric clinic.

In Moscow in October, a monument dedicated to Akhmat Kadyrov was damaged by vandals. We regard this incident as directed against Muslims, since local residents opposed the construction of a mosque in this street, and the method chosen by the vandals was obviously intended to offend Muslims: the monument was pelted with bacon, and a pig’s head was placed next to it.

We know of only one case of vandalism against a Jewish object (two a year earlier): In October, participants in anti-Semitic actions, which became a reaction to the aggravation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, set fire to a Jewish religious national cultural community center under construction in Nalchik, threw burning tires on its plot, and wrote “Death to the Yahuds” on the wall.

Defamation of Religious Minorities

As in previous years, defamatory materials against religious minorities regularly appeared in the media. As before, most of these materials targeted Protestant organizations, less often new religious movements were targeted, and the authors of most of these materials referred to both as “dangerous sects.” “Anti-cult” rhetoric was used by both federal and regional media.

The most notable “anti-sectarian” action was a series of reports aired on federal channels in August after it became known that a criminal case on discrediting the army had been initiated against the former head of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists Yuri Sipko. Defamatory reports about Russian Baptists and Sipko personally, as well as about Russian Protestants in general, appeared on Channel One, NTV, and Rossiya TV channels. The video sequence shown on these channels is practically identical, all the materials contain traditional “anti-cult” clichés and accusations of cooperation with US-funded foreign organizations and support for the Russian opposition and the Ukrainian authorities. Roman Silantiev, Larisa Astakhova, and Igor Ivanishko, “sectologists” sympathizing with the ROC were invited as “experts.”

To illustrate the “pro-fascist” views of Russian Protestants, all three mentioned TV channels showed a close-up portrait of Hitler found in the pastor’s house, which was on the cover of a BBC film about the dangers of the Hitler regime. NTV mentioned an “old passport with numerous foreign visas,” found during a search as proof of Sipko’s work under the direction of foreign curators.

Notably, two of these reports mention Pinchas Goldschmidt, the former chief rabbi of Moscow, who left Russia and keeps urging Western leaders to support the Russian opposition.

Last year’s campaign against the New Generation churches of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) continued. For example, Izvestia newspaper, talking about the July trial of the pastors Yugov and Ulitin, mentioned above, whom the authors of the report refer to as the “so-called pastors,” accused them, in accordance with the “anti-cult” canon, of everything from forcing believers to “hand over their real estate to the sect” to supporting Ukraine. Apparently, as proof of the latter, it was reported that one of the pastors “possessed a Ukrainian passport and currency.” The article unexpectedly ends with the message that “the activities of emissaries of the madrasah of the pro-Turkish international religious organization Suleymanjilar were suppressed in St. Petersburg.”[12]

Regional media also published defamatory materials about the Protestants. To illustrate the professionalism of the authors of these materials, we will mention the Bryansk News and reports on the above-mentioned fine for “illegal missionary work” to the head of the local Baptist church, Mikhail Lipsky. Both news outlets confused Baptists and Pentecostals and wrote that Bryansk Baptists “conducted calls to attend Pentecostal religious meetings, through which they introduce ‘modern’ ways of communication according to ‘Western standards.’” Talking about the fined Baptist, both outlets recalled that earlier the Pentecostal pastor Nikolai Konyakhin was engaged in “anti-Russian agitation.”[13].

Jehovah’s Witnesses also were targets of defamation. For example, the Ren-TV channel, reporting an attack on an elderly Jehovah’s Witness in Tyumen, practically supported the attacker, saying that “the old woman so tortured everyone around her with her sermons and attempts to drag into the forbidden sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses that people’s nerves simply could not take it.” At the same time, the report claims that “adherents” of Jehovah’s Witnesses “promote the rejection of education, ignore family values, and refuse to receive medical care. They are aggressive towards those who do not want to serve the cult and obsessively urge to join their community.”[14]

Unfortunately, independent media publish similar materials. Thus, in May, Takie Dela [So It Goes] media outlet published an article by Svetlana Lomakina titled Destroy the Idol of Kinship, dedicated to women who joined a “religious microsect,” the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and then into its radical offshoot, and radically changed their lifestyle and broke off all relations with relatives as a result. The article contains many popular “anti-sectarian” postulates. The author cites the instructions of an employee of the Orthodox Center of Irenaeus of Lyon for relatives of “victims of destructive sects” and refers to Alexander Dvorkin. As of March 2024, the article was still present on the Takie Dela website without any editorial comment[15]

We also add that in November, the management of Channel One banned doctor Aishat Idarmacheva, who was invited to participate in the Dobroe Utro (Good Morning) talk show, from participating in the program in a hijab. The ban was explained by the fact that the subject of the show that morning was “non-religious.” Idarmacheva’s report of this incident on social networks caused a public outcry and resulted in the editor of the program changing his mind and agreeing that the guest would appear on the air wearing a headscarf.

Persecution of Clergy for Criticism of the Armed Conflict with Ukraine

Many clergymen expressed their attitude to the military actions on the territory of Ukraine in one way or another. We wrote about the reaction of the leaders of large religious associations in the previous report. In this article, we mention those few clergymen who publicly criticized the actions of the Russian authorities; they were sanctioned, sometimes by the state, and sometimes by their own religious organizations.

In some cases, clergymen were brought to criminal or administrative responsibility for publicly expressing their critical position. In 2022-2023, we know of five cases of criminal prosecution: in two cases, against the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church, in three – of other religious organizations. Sentences have already been handed down in two cases.

In August 2023, hieromonk of the Metropolitan Agathangelos' Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, John (Kurmoyarov), defrocked back in 2021, was sentenced for anti-war publications to three years in prison under Paragraphs “d” and “e” of Part 2 of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code (public dissemination under the guise of reliable reports of deliberately false information containing data on the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation for selfish motives, motivated by political and ideological hatred).

Another hieromonk of the same Church, Nikander (Evgeny Pinchuk), was fined in the spring of 2022 for a VKontakte post under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code (public actions aimed at discrediting the armed forces) and then, in October 2022, for 100,000 rubles under Part 1 of Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code (the same actions committed after being brought to administrative responsibility).

In March 2022, a case was opened against the former cleric of the Kirov Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, Deacon Dimitri Baev, under Paragraph “e” of Part 2 of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code for publications on his VKontakte page. Baev left Russia immediately after the beginning of the military conflict.

In August 2023, a case was initiated against pastor of the Evangelical Christians-Baptists (ECB), Yuri Sipko, under Paragraph “d” of Part 2 of Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code. In the course of the investigation, Sipko’s, bishop of the New Word Church in Kaluga Albert Ratkin’s, and several other people’s homes were searched. Pastor Sipko has left Russia.

A criminal case under Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code was opened against the 86-year-old Archbishop of Slavyansk and South Russia (previously in this capacity belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church, since 2009 outside the jurisdiction) Viktor (Pivovarov) in December 2022; before that, Pivovarov’s home was searched. The court hearings began in 2024. Earlier, in March 2023, Pivovarov was fined 40,000 rubles under Part 1 of Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code.

In addition to the clerics mentioned above, at least seven people were brought to administrative responsibility: four from the ROC, three from other organizations.

All four clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church were fined under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code in 2022.

In March, the rector of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in the village of Karabanovo, the Kostroma region, Priest John Burdin was fined 35,000 rubles for anti-war statements in a sermon and a link to the corresponding petition on the parish website. In 2023 he was banned from serving.

In April, Sochi deacon Sergiy Shcherbyuk was fined 30,000 rubles for expressing doubt in the need for military action in a conversation with one of the parishioners and for requesting to remove the words “Nazis and Banderites” from the call to prayer for the Russian soldiers on the church VKontakte page.

Protodeacon Andrey Kuraev, who had already been banned from serving, was also fined 30,000 rubles in August. He was later defrocked and left Russia.

Priest Gleb Krivoshein was fined 15,000 rubles in September for signing a letter from the clergy against the outbreak of hostilities.

Also in August 2022, the Oryol pastor of the ECB, Alexander Legostaev, was fined 30,000 rubles under the same article for a video message on VKontakte.

Hieromonk of the Russian Orthodox Church Jonah (Ilya Sigida), assistant to the above-mentioned Archbishop Viktor (Pivovarov), was beaten during a search in October and fined 30,000 rubles in November under Articles 20.3.3 and 19.3 of the Administrative Code (disobedience to law enforcement agencies).

Pastor Eduard Charov, who does not belong to any religious organization, was fined 45,000 rubles in April 2023 under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code and 20,000 rubles under Article 20.3.1 (incitement to hatred or enmity) for harsh statements about President Putin and government officials. (In 2024, a case was filed against him, this time under Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism on the Internet), for an ambivalent comment about the arson of the military enlistment office.)

Priests were often punished for their anti-war position by their own religious organizations, in addition to the state, but such cases are known to us only with regard to the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Three of them were defrocked. In 2022, this happened to the aforementioned deacon Dmitry Baev, and to Priest Maxim Nagibin, for whom a protocol was drawn up under Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code for anti-war preaching, but the statute of limitations has passed. And in the spring of 2023, the cleric of the Moscow Church of St. Andrew the Apostle Priest John Koval was defrocked for replacing the word “victory” with the word “peace” in the Prayer for Holy Russia, prescribed by the patriarch. He was reinstated to his rank by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and remains under its jurisdiction.

At least three clerics were stripped from ministry. In addition to the above-mentioned Priest John Burdin, these are the cleric of the Znamenskaya Church in the village of Dubrovitsy in Podolsk, Priest Alexy Vtulov (for refusing to recite the Prayer for Holy Russia), and the rector of the St. Nicholas Church in the village of Muzhinovo in the Bryansk region, Priest Alexander Dombrovsky (for anti-war statements in sermons, private conversations, and social networks). After a criminal case was initiated against him (article unknown), Dombrovsky left Russia and joined the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

At least two priests were removed from their posts. The former rector of the Kazan Church in Tula, Archpriest Vladimir Korolev, in addition to signing the open letter, refused to collect donations “for the special military operation.” A former cleric of the Church of St. John the Baptist of the village of Ivanovskoye in the Noginsk district of the Moscow region, Archpriest Peter Korotaev refused to withdraw his signature from the same open letter at the request of the dean.

At least six other clerics left their posts without waiting for official orders. The most famous of them is Abbot Arseny (Sokolov), who was the first to sign the open letter against the war in Ukraine; he was dismissed from his post of Moscow Partiarchate Representative to the Patriarch of Antioch and from the General Church Postgraduate and Doctoral Studies (OCAD), where he was a professor and chief researcher. The cleric of the Church of St. Konstantin and Elena in Vsevolozhsk, Priest Kirill Kraynyuk was forced to submit his resignation after signing the open letter. The rector of the Church of St. Tatiana in Samara, Archpriest Sergiy Rybakov, has opposed the war since its beginning, including on social networks, and was forced to leave his post due to pressure from the diocese and threats. The rector of the Pokrovsky Church in the village of Turlatovo near Ryazan, Archpriest Sergiy Titkov, resigned after repeated warnings from the diocese for refusing to recite the aforementioned prayer and for anti-war publications. After the announcement of partial mobilization, he left Russia with his son. The rector of two churches in the Sosnovsky district of the Chelyabinsk region, Priest Nikolai Platonov, signed the open letter from the clergy, published anti-war videos, and opposed the Church’s participation in ideological work. He resigned and left the country. Hierodeacon of the Epiphany Church of the village of Krugloye Pole (probably in the Republic of Tatarstan) Makarius (surname unknown) was forced to resign “because of his anti-war position.” It is possible that one of the priests who resigned was also banned from serving without publication of the order, but this information has not been confirmed.

Additionally, in a number of cases, the diocesan administration was able to pressure clergymen, without resorting to official prohibitions, in order to force them to publicly renounce their views. For example, the rector of the Church of Elijah the Prophet in the village of Pogoreloe Gorodishche, the Tver region, Priest Elijah Gavryshkiv, who had refused to recite the Prayer for Holy Russia and had signed a letter from the clergy, was forced to publicly repent under threats of being defrocked.

The trend continues in 2024. In January, the popular archpriest Alexei Uminsky, rector of the Moscow Trinity Church in Khokhly, was removed from the parish and expelled from holy orders for his anti-war position.

[1] O. Sibireva. Challenges to Freedom of Conscience in Russia in 2022 // SOVA Center. 2023. March 24 (

[2] See: M. Kravchenko. Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2023 // SOVA Center. 2024 March 19 (

[3] See M. Kravchenko. Op. cit.

[4] Bill ID No. 335979-8 // The Legislative Support System. 2023 (

[5] Gilmanov. “Neutomimye dushi i serdtsa”: Khabirov otmenil stroitelstvo khrama na meste Gorodishcha Ufa-II // Prufy. 2023. November 29 (

[6] For more information, see: M. Kravchenko. Op. cit.

[7] For more information, see: M. Kravchenko. Op. cit.

[8] Summary statistics on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrate judges for the first half of 2023 // Website of the Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2023. October 17. (

[9] Statement of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Moscow region regarding the raid of law enforcement agencies in the Muslim center of Kotelniki // Website of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Moscow region. 2023. July 7 (

[10] For more information, see: Vera Alperovich. Nationalists "Tame" and "Wild." Public Activity of Far-Right Groups, Summer – Fall 2023 // SOVA Center. 2024. January 12 (

[11] Case No. 5-156/2023 // The Cherdaklinsky District Court of the Ulyanovsk region. 2023 (

[12] Stali izvestny detali ugolovnogo dela sektantov iz “Novogo pokoleniya” // Izvestiya. 2023. July 18 (

[13] Bryanskikh baptistov osudili za nezakonnuyu missionerskuyu deyatelnost // Novosti Bryanska. 2023. April 14. (; Rukovodstvo “Pervoj tserkvi evangelskikh khristian baptistov Bryanska” oshtrafovano za nezakonnuyu missionerskuyu deyatelnost // 2023. April 15 (

[14] Sosed izbil pensionerku v lifte doma iz-za religioznoj sekty // 2023. June 14 (

[15] S. Lomakina. Unichtozhit idola rodstva // Takie Dela. 2023. May 25 (