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Section I. Religious Demography

The Crimean Peninsula consists of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) and the city of Sevastopol.  According to State Statistics Service of Ukraine 2014 estimates (the most recent), the total population of the peninsula is 2,353,000.  There are no recent independent surveys with data on the religious affiliation of the population, but media outlets estimate the number of Crimean Tatars, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, is 300,000, or 13 percent of the population.

According to information provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), the UOC-MP remains the largest Christian denomination.  Smaller Christian denominations include the OCU, RCC, UGCC, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with Protestant groups, including Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Lutherans.  Adherents of the UOC-MP, Protestants, and Muslims are the largest religious groups in Sevastopol.

There are several Jewish congregations, mostly in Sevastopol and Simferopol.  Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before the 2014 Russian occupation.  No updates have been available since the occupation began.  The 2001 census, the most recent, records 671 Karaites.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Pursuant to international recognition of the continued inclusion of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine’s international borders, Crimea continues to be officially subject to the constitution and laws of Ukraine.  In the aftermath of Russia’s occupation, however, Russian occupation “authorities” continue their implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory.  The Muslim religious-political group Hizb ut-Tahrir is considered a terrorist organization under Russian Federation law but not under Ukrainian law.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation “authorities” continue to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

According to occupation “authorities,” fines for individuals conducting illegal missionary activity range from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($67-$670); the fine for legal entities is 100,000 to one million rubles ($1,300-$13,300).

Government Practices

According to the Kyiv-based Ukrainian human rights organization Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG), the Russian government unlawfully incarcerated or imprisoned 117 individuals pursuant to politically or religiously motivated persecution in Crimea during the year, compared with 111 in 2020.

Human rights groups said occupation “authorities” continued to impede the rights of Crimean Tatars following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of Crimean Tatars, as an extremist organization.  Rights groups reported detentions and forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year.

According to CHRG, as of December, 79 Crimean residents remained in prison for alleged involvement in Muslim religious organizations that are declared terrorist or extremist in Russia, although they are legal in Ukraine.  In most cases, these were individuals accused of belonging to the “illegal” organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, but detainees also included individuals accused of belonging to Tablighi Jamaat and Takfir wal-Hijra.  Observers believed these individuals were largely prosecuted in retaliation for their opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.  Occupation “authorities” placed three additional Crimean residents under supervision and banned them from leaving the occupied territory, and two more remained under house arrest.  As of November, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported Russian occupation authorities had detained 80 Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian Muslims for supposed involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which the human right group described as a peaceful transnational Muslim party.

On August 16, the Southern District Military Court in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Crimean Muslims Ruslan Mesutov and Lenur Halilov to 18 years each in prison, Ruslan Nagayev to 13 years, and Eldar Kantimirov to 12 years in prison for their membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  “Authorities” arrested the four men in 2019 in Crimea after searching their homes.

According to the CHRG, on December 1, Russia’s Southern Area Military Court (YuOVS) in Rostov-on-Don extended to March 2022 the detention of Crimean Tatars Tofik Abdulgaziyev, Vladlen Abdulkadyrov, Izzet Abdullayev, Medzhit Abdurakhmanov, Imam Bilial Adilov, Servet Gaziyev, Dzhemil Gafarov, Alim Karimov, Seyran Murtaz, Erfan Osmanov, Erver Ametov, Osman Arifmemetov, Yashar Muedinov, Ruslan Suleymanov, and Rustem Sheikhaliyev.

In December, the Military Court of Appeal in Vlasikha, Russia upheld the decision of a lower court to hold in custody Crimean Tatars Ernest Ibragimov and Oleg Fedorov until February 2022.

On December 23 the same court upheld a lower court decision to hold in custody Crimean Tatars Raim Ayvazov, Farkhod Bazarov, Remzi Bekirov, Rizu Izetov, Shaban Umerov until February 16, 2022.

On December 23, YuOVS extended the detention period for Crimean Tatar Ismet Ibragimov until April 24, 2022.

According to press reports, on November 25, the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don extended until March 15, 2022 the detention of NGO Krymska Solidarnist (Crimean Solidarity) activist Remzi Bekirov.  Crimean Solidarity is a human rights organization that opposes Russia’s occupation of Crimea.  The court also extended until March 15 the detention period of Tatars Rustem Seitkhalilov, Seitveli Seitabdiyev, Asan Yanikov, and Ruslan Suleimanov.

According to Crimean Solidarity, during mass searches of Crimean Tatar homes on August 17, the FSB detained Rustem Murasov, Rustem Tairov, Dzhebbar Bekirov, Zavur Abdullayev, and Raif Fevziyev for their suspected membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Fevziyev was the imam of a mosque in Strohonivka village near Simferopol.  According to the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsperson, occupation “authorities” kept the imam in a damp and overcrowded prison cell containing six beds for eight inmates.  One of Fevziyev’s cellmates reportedly suffered from a mental health disorder and posed a threat to the lives of other prisoners.  According to the Radio Free Europe-associated news website Krym.Realii, in November, occupation “authorities” subjected the imam to forced psychiatric examination, keeping him in a hospital ward with four convicted murderers.  During his detention, Fevziyev reportedly began to feel abdominal pain and could only ease it using medicine provided by his family.  In December, Simferopol’s Kyivsky District Court extended his detention until April 11, 2022.

Krym.Realii reported that on December 21, the Leninsky District Court of Simferopol extended the detention of Murasov and Abdullayev until February 10, 2022.  Krym.Realii quoted Murasov’s lawyer as saying that occupation “authorities” kept Murasov in a cell infested with rats, mice, and mold.  In October, the court extended the detention of Rustem Tairov until January 11, 2022.  The news outlet said that for two weeks Tairov suffered tooth pain, but the administration of his pretrial detention center ignored his request for medical assistance.

On July 30, Ukraine’s Consul General in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, described to the Crimea SOS-affiliated QirimInfo news website what he said were the worsening conditions of elderly Tatar prisoners Servet Gaziyev and Dzhemil Gafarov.  The Consul General said Russian “authorities” did not provide adequate medical assistance to Gaziyev, who suffered a ministroke on June 28, until September 2.  On October 29, Crimean Solidarity quoted lawyer Aider Azamatov as saying that during the year, an ambulance had to be called six times to provide urgent medical aid to Servet Gaziyev during his trial, and the judge insisted that Gaziyev speak Russian rather than Crimean Tatar.  According to lawyer Lilya Gemedzhi, prior to his discharge from the hospital on September 25, unspecified individuals threw Gaziyev to the floor, beat him, and shaved his beard.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation “authorities” continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Crimea, ostensibly under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation outlawing the group.  The OHCHR reported that all 22 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses registered in Crimea had lost the right to operate since 2017.  As a result, practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses risked retaliation by law enforcement and were subject to detention, house arrest, or travel restrictions.  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, four Ukrainian Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving sentences of six years or more, with at least 12 others facing such sentences.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported that on February 10, “authorities” searched the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses Andriy Rogutsky and Lyudmila Shevchenko, removing Bibles, notebooks, and electronic devices.  According to the website, the items seized at Lyudmyla Shevchenko’s home included a book, “The Sacred Nativity Scene,” that did not belong to her and was not published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.  She said security officials had planted and then “found” the book.  During the search, Andriy Rogutskiy’s wife became ill and required an ambulance.  Reportedly, “authorities” did not detain or charge the women.

In March, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, “authorities” carried out 11 armed searches and detained four Jehovah’s Witnesses.  “Authorities” charged Taras Kuzio, who was previously charged in 2019, with “financing an extremist organization” and ordered him to remain under house arrest.  They also ordered him to have no contact with others involved in the case and prohibited him from using the internet and sending or receiving mail.  According to the CHRG, on July 29, “authorities” detained Jehovah’s Witness Petro Zhiltsov, whom they previously interrogated as a witness against Kuzio, and charged him with “organization of the activities of an extremist organization” and “financing of extremist activities.”  The charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years.  On July 30, “authorities” placed him under house arrest until his trial.  On July 29, “authorities” opened a case against Daria Kuzio, the wife of Taras Kuzio, for “organizing of the activities of an extremist organization” and issued a travel restriction.  On July 30, “authorities” combined the criminal cases against the Kuzios and Zhiltsov into one case.  On August 10,” authorities” detained Sergei Lyulin, connected to Taras Kuzio, and transported him to Simferopol, a 16-hour journey, taping him to the seat of the luggage compartment of a minibus with his arms handcuffed to the ceiling.  The court in Simferopol ordered his detention until September 4.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on August 2, FSB investigators filed charges against Oleksandr Lytvyniuk and Oleksandr Dubovenko for “organizing the activities of an extremist organization.”  The charges, which carry a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment, stemmed from a Zoom conference that “authorities” said was to “attract new members of a banned organization.”  On August 5, “authorities” searched at least eight Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes for more than nine hours.  According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the FSB officers reportedly tried to force their way into one home by turning off the plumbing.  Authorities removed individuals’ computers, personal notes that mentioned the Bible, and documents confirming ownership of their residences.  They later held Lytvyniuk overnight, placing him under house arrest on August 6.  “Authorities” placed Dubovenko, who was not at home during the searches, under house arrest on August 9.

According to Forum 18, Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Filatov and Artyom Gerasimov remained in prison in the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in Rostov Oblast, Russia – each serving six-year sentences since 2020 – and “authorities” did not allow them to receive letters from their families.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on May 24, Jehovah’s Witness Artem Shabliy’s trial for “drawing others into the activities of an extremist organization” began.  The group stated that in May 2020, armed FSB, Russian National Guard, and masked riot police raided four homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kerch, arresting Shabliy.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on October 22, a court in Sevastopol sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Ihor Schmidt to six years in prison for “organizing extremist activities.”  Three other men, Yevhen Zhukov, Volodymyr Maladyka, and Volodymyr Sakada, arrested with Schmidt in 2020 and also charged with “organizing extremist activities,” remained imprisoned at year’s end.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on March 23, a court sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Viktor Stashevsky to six and half years’ imprisonment for “organizing extremist activities” and placed a seven-year restriction on his right to carry out public activities.  Addressing the court before sentencing, Stashevsky said all charges against him would be dismissed if he were to stop being a Jehovah’s Witness, saying, “I do not plan to renounce my faith in God.  I have been and remain a Jehovah’s Witness.”  A judge dismissed his appeal in August.

In a review of the eighth periodic report on Ukraine, released in October, OHCHR cited the significantly limited freedom of religion in territories controlled by armed groups, noting that religious communities there faced selective restrictions.  Valeriia Kolomiiets, the country’s Deputy Minister of Justice for European Integration, reported to OHCHR that the Russian Federation continued to violate human rights in the temporarily occupied territories.  Specifically noting the systematic persecution of the OCU, she reported that persecution on national and religious grounds was carried out systematically.  According to the report, there continued to be a pattern of criminalization of affiliation with or sympathy toward Muslim groups banned in the Russian Federation that continued to disproportionately affect Crimean Tatars.  According to the report, these cases raised concerns about the right to a fair trial, because detainees’ hearings often banned cameras, media, and family members from the courtroom.  OHCHR reported that Russian courts in Crimea cited the “need to ensure the safety of the participants in the proceedings,” but defendants’ lawyers and family members said Russian occupation “authorities” excluded the public from court hearings to limit public awareness of trials, restrict public scrutiny, and exert additional pressure on the defendants.

According to Forum 18, Russian “authorities” continued to prosecute and fine individuals in Crimea for conducting missionary activity.  Of the nine known prosecutions brought so far during the year, three were against imams and four against members of Sevastopol’s House of the Potter Protestant Church.  The NGO stated that by law, “Russians conducting missionary activity” could incur a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($67-$670), with the fine for organizations (legal entities) being from 100,000 to one million rubles ($1,300-$13,300).  “Foreigners conducting missionary activity” could incur a fine of 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($400-$670), with the possibility of expulsion from Russia.

On February 11, a judge fined Imam Murtaza Ablyazov the equivalent of approximately two weeks average local wages for conducting missionary activity by leading prayers in a mosque.  On January 25, a judge fined Aleksey Smirnov and Ivan Nemchinov after identifying them as Potter Protestant Church leaders based on a social media post by a Church member.

On August 23, a judge fined OCU Archimandrite Damian, the head of the St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Men’s Monastery, for holding a church service on the private land on which the monastery stands, stating such worship constituted unlawful missionary activities.  This ruling followed an August 8 raid on the parish.  Archbishop Klyment, Head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Crimea, called it “an appalling act of lawlessness.  A priest is accused merely of praying to God in his own home.”  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Damian’s lawyer stated he planned to appeal, and said, “Russia is destroying yet another Ukrainian religious and cultural group and is continuing to purge Crimea of all that is Ukrainian.”

Renat Suleimanov, a member of Muslim group Tablighi Jamaat, remained under administrative supervision and on Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service List of Terrorists and Extremists at year’s end.  Russia continued to ban the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement in Crimea under a 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, although the movement remained legal in Ukraine.  In January 2019, a Simferopol court sentenced Suleimanov to four years in prison on extremism-related charges for meeting openly in mosques with three friends to discuss their faith.  The state released him in December 2020 and ordered him to spend one year under administrative supervision.

On January 14, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision accepting for consideration Ukraine’s complaint alleging that Russia was responsible for multiple human rights violations in Crimea between February 27, 2014, and August 26, 2015.  Among the claims accepted was Ukraine’s allegation that the local “authorities” harassed and intimidated religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raided places of worship, and confiscated religious property in violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

On February 16, parliament appealed to international organizations and foreign governments to condemn the occupation of Crimea and to call for the release of Ukrainian political prisoners.  It condemned the persecution and harassment of its citizens on ethnic, religious, political, and other grounds in the Russia-occupied area, emphasizing the unacceptability of restricting linguistic, religious, and other rights of minorities and indigenous peoples, in particular, Crimean Tatars.

On February 25, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy released a declaration that stated, “Residents of the peninsula face systematic restrictions of their fundamental freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, religion or belief and association, and the right to peaceful assembly… The Crimean Tatars continue to be unacceptably persecuted, pressured, and [to] have their rights gravely violated.  Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians, and all ethnic and religious communities in the peninsula must be ensured the possibility to maintain and develop their culture, education, identity, and cultural heritage traditions, which are currently threatened by the illegal annexation… The ban on the activities of the Mejlis, a self-governing body of the Crimean Tatars, must be reversed.”

On November 24, the Religious Information Service of Ukraine reported that the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Emine Dzhaparova, told the audience attending the Forum of the International Alliance on Freedom of Religion in Brazil that Russia continued to create artificial obstacles to the activities of any religious community that did not belong to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.  She said Crimean Tatars had become the most persecuted religious community in occupied Crimea, with more than 120 imprisoned on trumped-up criminal cases.  “In the occupied territories of Ukraine, Russia restricts missionary activities under the pretext of fighting so-called extremism.  The Russian Federation is trying to stop the activities of all pro-Ukrainian organizations in occupied Crimea – in particular, religious communities of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Crimean Tatar Muslims.”  Dzhaparova said that of the 49 religious communities that operated in Crimea at the beginning of 2014, only five were still operating.

According to Russia’s Ministry of Justice, as of the end of 2020 (the most recent information available), 907 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, compared with 891 in 2019.  The number of religious organizations had dropped by more than 1,000 since the occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available.  Registered religious organizations included the two largest – the Christian Orthodox UOC-MP and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.

On January 7, Metropolitan Epiphaniy told the news agency that Russia wanted to eliminate the OCU’s presence in Crimea.  In May, RISU reported Metropolitan Klyment of Simferopol and Crimea of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine said that at the beginning of the occupation, 49 Ukrainian Orthodox religious organizations were operating in Crimea, but only six remained.  In August, RISU reported that Iryna Verihina, a representative of the Commissioner for the Observance of the Rights of Residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, said that because of Russian repression, only five of 49 OCU religious organizations remained in Crimea, and only four of 22 clergymen.

Human rights groups reported Russian occupation “authorities” continued to require imams at Crimean Tatar mosques to inform them each time they transferred from one mosque to another.

The RCC continued to operate in the territory as a pastoral district directly under the authority of the Vatican.  “Authorities” permitted some Polish and Ukrainian RCC priests to stay in the territory for only 90 days at a time and required them to leave Crimea for 90 days before returning.

UGCC leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation “authorities”.  They said “authorities” continued to require them to register their congregations in Crimea as parishes of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, removing all reference to Ukraine in their name, and to operate as a part of the pastoral district of the RCC.

According to the pro-Ukraine Voice of Crimea news website, on August 8, representatives of the Center for Combating Extremism, led by police major Vladimir Gorevanov, stormed into a church at the OCU Monastery of St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki in Balky Village, Bilohirsk District.  The representatives forced the monastery’s abbot to halt the morning religious service and ordered all its participants to exit to the backyard so “authorities” could document the monastery’s “illegal missionary activity.”  On August 23, the Bilohirsk District Court ordered the abbot, Archimandrite Damian, to pay a fine of 15,000 rubles ($200).

On September 10, the Executive Board of UNESCO published its Follow-up of the Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Ukraine), pursuant to the decisions and resolutions by the UNESCO Executive Board and the general conferences.  According to the document:  “Over seven years of occupation… systemic political persecution, physical and psychological pressure, annihilation of the independent media, discrimination on the basis of religion, [and] violation of ownership and language rights forced more than 45,000 Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians to leave the occupied peninsula.  The Russian Federation continues to prosecute ethnic and religious communities that refuse to recognize the illegal occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol and seek to preserve their native language, religious, and cultural identity.  The Russian occupation of Crimea has changed the perception of Ukraine’s historical and cultural heritage, both by the state and society.  Russia has appropriated Ukrainian cultural property on the peninsula, including 4,095 national and local monuments under state protection.  Appropriation of monuments is in itself a violation of international law.  However, it is equally important that Russia uses such appropriation to implement its comprehensive long-term strategy to strengthen its historical, cultural, and religious dominance over the past, present and future of Crimea.”

The OCU continued to call on the Ukrainian parliament to finalize the approval of a 2020 decision by the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer the Saints Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral, the only OCU church building in Simferopol and the location of the OCU diocesan administration, from the ownership of the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to central government ownership.  OCU sources believed this transfer would enable Ukraine to take Russia to international courts over its refusal to allow OCU members to use the premises.  According to RISU, on June 28, the Russian-controlled Arbitration Court of Crimea ordered the transfer of the cathedral premises to the use of the Russian Ministry of Property of Crimea.  Klyment said he would appeal this decision.

Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.

On April 20, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea and Sevastopol expressed outrage over the desecration of an old Islamic cemetery in Kamyanske village, Leninsky District.  Construction equipment scattered human remains while digging a trench though the burial area as part of a pipeline project.  Occupation “authorities” had reportedly not taken the cemetery into account when planning the construction.  After complaints from local residents, authorities suspended the work to allow the Muslim community to rebury the remains.

According to Freedom House, the Russian FSB continued to encourage residents to inform on individuals who expressed opposition to the purported annexation, including expressing support for Crimean Tatars, condemning the designation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hizb ut-Tahrir as extremist groups, or opposing the oppression of the OCU.

Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear of certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of having links to Islamist groups that were designated by Russia as terrorist, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremists.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a radio survey in Crimea found 67 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that respondents, seeing “ordinary citizens” treated like criminals and accused of terrorism for their faith, had increased sympathy for the organization.

On November 2, the news website reported “authorities” in Crimea placed under house arrest a suspect who had allegedly painted offensive graffiti on a wall of a Christian church in Leninsky District.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.7 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census, of the 90 percent of the population that responded to a question regarding religious affiliation, 86 percent identify as Roman Catholic, and 7 percent do not identify with any religious group.  Religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Russian Orthodox, Old Believers, Lutherans, Evangelical Reformed, Jews, Muslims, Greek Catholics, Karaite Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Full Gospel Word of Faith Movement, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Old Baltic faith communities, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, and members of the New Apostolic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the 2011 census, approximately 5,100 persons identified as followers of Romuva, a neopagan religion practiced in the Baltic region since before the introduction of Christianity.  According to the census, the Jewish population is predominately concentrated in larger cities and is estimated at 3,300, of whom approximately 250 are Karaite Jews, who traditionally live in Trakai and in the greater Vilnius region.  The Sunni Muslim population numbers approximately 2,800, the majority of whom are Tatars, a community living primarily in Vilnius and Kaunas.  The Muslim community also includes recent converts, migrants, refugees, and temporary workers from the Middle East and Africa, most of whom are Sunni.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates there is no state religion and provides for the right of individuals to choose freely any religion or belief, to profess their religion and perform religious practices, individually or with others, in private or in public, and to practice and teach their beliefs.  It states no one may compel another person (or be compelled) to choose or profess any religion or belief.  The constitution allows limits on the freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.  It restricts freedom of expression if it incites religious hatred, violence, or discrimination.  It stipulates religious belief may not serve as justification for failing to comply with laws.

Under the constitution, the government may temporarily restrict freedom of expression of religious belief during a period of martial law or a state of emergency.

The constitution acknowledges the freedom of parents or guardians to oversee the religious and moral education of their children without interference and stipulates public education shall be secular, although schools may provide religious instruction at the request of parents.

The constitution grants recognition to traditional religious groups and provides for recognition of other religious groups if their teachings and practices do not conflict with law or public morals.  It states the status of religious groups shall be established by agreement or law and recognized religious groups shall be free to carry out their activities, as long as they are not in conflict with the constitution or laws.

Recognition entitles nontraditional religious groups to perform marriages that will be recognized by the state in the same manner as marriages officiated by traditional religious groups, and to provide religious instruction in public schools.  Recognition also grants nontraditional religious groups eligibility for annual subsidies from the state budget and for certain social security and healthcare contributions by the state.

The law requires police to take preemptive measures against illegal activities, giving special attention to maintaining order on specific historical dates and certain religious or cultural holidays.

The law defines religious groups as religious communities; religious associations, which comprise at least two religious communities under common leadership; and religious centers, which are higher governing bodies of religious associations.

Religious groups may apply to the government for state registration, state recognition, or both.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) handles official registration of religious communities, associations, and centers.  Groups wishing to register must submit an application and supporting documentation to the ministry, including bylaws describing their religious teachings and governance, minutes of the founding meeting, and a list of the founders, at least 15 of whom must be citizens.  Upon approval of its application, a religious community, association, or center may register as a legal entity with the State Enterprise Center of Registers.  Registration is voluntary for religious communities, associations, and centers affiliated with traditional religious groups and mandatory for nontraditional communities wishing to receive legal status.

Registration of traditional religious communities, associations, and centers is free of charge, while nontraditional communities pay a fee of 32 euros ($36).  Traditional communities also have a simpler registration procedure and need to submit only an application, decisions of their governing body on the appointment of their leader, and their headquarters address.  The MOJ may refuse to register a religious group if full data are not included in the application, the activities of the group violate human rights or public order, or a group with the same name has already registered.  According to data from the Center of Registers, there are 1,121 traditional and 197 nontraditional religious communities, associations, and centers that are officially registered legal entities.

The law recognizes as traditional those religious groups able to trace back their presence in the country at least 300 years.  The law lists nine traditional religious groups:  Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Jewish, Sunni Muslim, and Karaite Jewish.  Traditional religious groups may perform marriages that are state recognized, establish joint private/public schools, provide religious instruction in public schools, and receive annual government subsidies.  Their highest-ranking leaders are eligible to apply for diplomatic passports, and they may provide chaplains for the military, social care institutions, hospitals, and prisons.  The state provides social security and healthcare insurance contributions for clergy, religious workers, and members of monastic orders of the traditional religious groups.  Traditional religious groups are also not required to pay social and health-insurance taxes for clergy and most other religious workers and members of monastic orders.

Other religious groups and associations may apply to the MOJ for state recognition if they have legal entity status, meaning they have been officially registered in the country for at least 25 years.  Parliament votes on whether to grant state recognition status upon recommendation from the ministry.  The Evangelical Baptist Union of Lithuania, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Pentecostal Evangelical Belief Christian Union, and New Apostolic Church of Lithuania are the only state-recognized nontraditional religious groups registered in this manner.

For all religious groups, official registration is a prerequisite for opening a bank account, owning property, and acting in a legal or official capacity as a community.  The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for use as prayer houses, homes, and other functions, and it permits construction of facilities necessary for religious activities.  All registered groups are eligible for public funds from municipalities for cultural and social projects.

The country has compulsory military service for males between the ages of 19 and 26 and up to the age of 38 for those with higher education.  Military service is for nine months.  Clergy from registered groups are exempt from compulsory military service.  In the event of a military conflict, clergy would be called to serve as chaplains.  The law recognizes the right to conscientious objection to military service and provides for alternative service in civilian institutions or, if the military deems it necessary, in a national defense institution.

Unregistered communities have no legal status, but the constitution allows them to conduct worship services and seek new members.

The Interministerial Commission to Coordinate Activities of Governmental Institutions that Deal with Issues of Religious, Esoteric, and Spiritual Groups coordinates investigations of religious groups if there is a concern a group’s actions may be inconsistent with what the commission perceives to be “principles that stress respect for human freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”

The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate, a government-sponsored organization whose head is appointed by parliament, investigates complaints involving the violation of regulatory laws governing the provision of information to the public, including by print media and the internet.  These laws include prohibition of the publication of material that fuels religious hatred.  The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers or refer cases to the Office of the General Prosecutor.

The Soviet Union nationalized all religious buildings on June 19, 1948, some of which religious groups continued to use after that date to serve religious communities.  By law, registered religious communities had until 1997 to apply to the appropriate ministry or municipality for restitution or compensation of religious property they owned before June 19, 1948.  The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 1997 deadline but is not accepting any new claims.  Religious groups may appeal ministry or municipality decisions in court.  Unregistered religious groups could not apply for restitution.

The law permits registered religious groups to register previously nationalized religious property that was not officially registered under their name but which they owned before 1948 and continued to use during the Soviet period.  The deadline for registered religious groups to register such properties with the MOJ was 2014.  The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 2014 deadline but is not accepting any new claims.  Religious groups may appeal the ministry’s decisions in court.

For individuals, the country’s private property restitution laws provided a mechanism through which the country’s citizens who had received citizenship before the restitution application deadline (December 31, 2001) and resided in the country had the right to submit a claim for private property restitution.  The laws excluded those who either lacked citizenship or regained it after 2001.

For Jewish-owned communal property nationalized under totalitarian regimes, a compensation fund was established in 2011 to support Jewish educational, religious, scientific, cultural, and healthcare projects with public benefits.  Pursuant to the law, the government is committed to disbursing a total of 36 million euros ($40.82 million) over the decade ending March 1, 2023.  Funds go to the Good Will Foundation, a public institution governed by national and international Jewish leaders, for distribution.

The country has no law for the restitution of private and/or heirless private property seized during the Nazi era.

The government allocates funds to traditional religious communities for refurbishing houses of prayer, restoring old cemeteries, and preserving cultural heritage sites.  Each traditional religious group receives 3,075 euros ($3,500) every year as a base fund, plus an additional amount that is calibrated according to the number of adherents in each community.

The constitution and other laws permit and fund religious instruction in public schools for traditional and state-recognized religious groups.  Most religious instructors are regular state-employed teachers, but some are priests, seminarians, or members of religious orders.  Parents must choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children.  Schools decide which of the traditional or state-recognized nontraditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula based on requests from parents of children up to the age of 14, after which students present the requests themselves.

There are 30 private schools established by religious communities, of which 26 are Catholic and four are Jewish.  Students of different religious groups may attend these schools.  All accredited private schools (religious and nonreligious) receive funding from municipalities and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport through a voucher system based on the number of pupils.  Each private school receives 1,099 euros ($1,200) per student.  National minority schools, which include schools established by the Jewish community, receive 20 percent more than other private schools – a total of 1,318.80 euros ($1,500) – per student.  This funding supports additional language study, as minority communities often do not speak Lithuanian as their first language.  The per-student stipend covers only the program costs of school operation.  Private school operators generally bear responsibility for covering capital outlays; however, according to an agreement the government signed with the Holy See, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Sport funds both the capital and operating costs of private Catholic schools.

The criminal code prohibits incitement of hatred and discrimination based on religion and stipulates fines or up to two years in prison for violations.  The code penalizes interference with religious ceremonies of recognized religious groups, with community service, fines, or detention for up to 90 days.  The law does not address interference with or incitement of hatred against unrecognized religious groups.

The Office of the Equal Opportunities (OEO) ombudsperson investigates complaints of discrimination, including those based on religion, directed against state institutions, educational institutions, employers, and product and service sellers and producers.  Parliament appoints the ombudsperson for a period of five years.  The office conducts independent investigations, publishes surveys and independent reports on discrimination, and provides conclusions and recommendations on any discrimination-related issues.  Its recommendations are not mandatory, but the OEO may appeal to the courts in cases of noncompliance.  The office also makes proposals to state and municipal institutions and government agencies concerning the improvement of legal acts and priorities for the implementation of equal rights policy.  The ombudsperson does not levy monetary penalties.  It may recommend cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office for pretrial investigation.

The parliamentary ombudsperson is a separate entity that examines the conduct of state authorities in serving the population.  The ombudsperson may investigate complaints, recommend changes in the law or draft legislation to parliamentary committees and ministries, and recommend cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office for pretrial investigation.

The criminal code prohibits public display of Nazi symbols or national anthems.  Violators are subject to fines of 144-289 euros ($160-$330).

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The MOJ again made no recommendation to parliament on a 2017 Jehovah’s Witnesses application for state-recognized religious association status.

An application for religious association status by the United Methodist Church of Lithuania, which the MOJ submitted to parliament with a favorable recommendation in 2001, remained pending.

On June 8, the ECHR ruled that the government had violated articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion, and Non-Discrimination and the right to a fair trial when in 2019 the parliament did not approve the Romuva community’s application for status as a state-recognized religious community, despite a positive conclusion from the MOJ.  On September 7, the Constitutional Court ruled as unconstitutional the provision of law that states that if an application for recognition of a religious community is not approved, it may reapply but only after 10 years.  Following the ruling, on September 30, the Romuva community resubmitted its application, and on October 8, the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee registered the application for consideration.  At year’s end, the application remained pending before the full parliament.

On August 17, local media reported the government cancelled a project to redevelop the Vilnius Sports Palace into a convention center because the COVID-19 pandemic “changed the market for conference tourism, and earlier visions of the project are being adjusted.”  The Jewish community opposed the project because it was located on the site of the 15th-century historic Snipiskes Jewish cemetery.  Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Simasius and business leaders publicly criticized the decision, commenting on the importance of the space as a venue for conference tourism.

As it has done annually since 2012, the government disbursed 3.62 million euros ($4.10 million) to the Good Will Foundation, a public institution that distributes government funds provided “for projects that contribute to building a strong and active Jewish community,” in accordance with its agreement with that institution.  The government did not address compensation for Jewish private and/or heirless property seized during the Nazi era or resolve any pending restitution or compensation claims by other religious groups for property seized by the Soviet Union.

The government provided 1.59 million euros ($1.80 million) to traditional religious groups to reconstruct religious buildings and to support other religious community activities.  This amount was distributed to religious groups based on the number of adherents published by the Department of Statistics.  Of this total, it granted 1.46 million euros ($1.66 million) to the Roman Catholic Church and 80,700 euros ($91,500) to the Russian Orthodox community.  The remaining 155,000 euros ($176,000) was divided among the Old Believer, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Sunni Muslim, Jewish, Karaite Jewish, and Greek Catholic communities.

The OEO ombudsperson received four complaints of discrimination based on religion and decided that all of them fell outside its jurisdiction.  One of the complaints, a legal challenge to the requirement that clergy of nonrecognized religions must pay compulsory health insurance tax, remained under consideration by a court at year’s end.  There were no court cases related to the other three complaints.

Seventeen researchers employed by the government-funded Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania (GRRCL) signed a letter on January 17 to the Speaker of Parliament expressing their concerns regarding GRRCL director Adas Jakubauskas.  The letter described Jakubauskas as supporting the use of the GRRCL’s research to wage “memory wars” by rehabilitating historical figures who resisted the Soviet occupation of the country but also collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust.  On February 3, GRRCL advisor Vidmantas Valiusaitis, appointed by Jakubauskas, resigned from the GRRCL; he publicly cited the letter signed by the researchers as the reason for his departure.  On April 1, the parliament dismissed Jakubauskas after a parliamentary working group issued a decision that he had caused the “polarization” of GRRCL staff.  On April 15, the parliament appointed as GRRCL director Arunas Bubnys, who was then head of the GRRCL’s Department of Historical Research.  During his tenure in that position, Bubnys ran for parliament as a candidate of the National Union Party, described as far-right and nationalist, in the October 2020 parliamentary election.  He was not elected, and in April, he announced he had left the party.

On August 10, in response to protesters criticizing government COVID-19 restrictions by comparing them to the Holocaust, Prime Minister Simonyte issued a public apology for the protesters’ use of Holocaust and Nazi imagery, stating, “I apologize to those who were insulted by the use of Jewish symbols and comparisons with ghettos of Nazi occupation times by some of the protesters,” and he described their use as “an unacceptable devaluation” of “a horrible tragedy of humanity.”  Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen and other public figures also made statements to media rejecting the protesters’ references to the Holocaust.

On January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, MP and then chair of the Parliamentary Commission for the Cause of Freedom and the National Historical Memory Valdas Rakutis wrote an article published on the news portal in which he said, “There was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-government structures.”  Rakutis’ article drew public criticism from Prime Minister Simonyte, Foreign Minister Landsbergis, Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen, and other officials.  Two days later, Rakutis stepped down as head of the Parliamentary Commission for the Cause of Freedom and the National Historical Memory.  On February 22, Vilnius prosecutors announced they had declined to open a pretrial investigation into his comments on the Holocaust, and the Vilnius District Prosecutor’s Office concluded that Rakutis’ article did not constitute a crime or misdemeanor.

The municipal government of Ukmerge District continued to resist removing a monument to Juozas Krikstaponis.  Archival evidence documented that Krikstaponis participated in the killing of Jews in Belarus in 1941.  In May, the Minister of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the mayor of Ukmerge urging removal of the monument.

On June 15, parliament adopted a resolution marking the 80th anniversary of the start of deportations of Jews and the resistance to the Soviet and Nazi occupations.  The resolution passed with 103 MPs supporting and three abstaining.  The single opposing vote was cast by the chair of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, Emanuelis Zingeris, the only Jewish MP.  Zingeris stated publicly that he opposed the resolution because it omitted specific wording that had been included in similar resolutions from previous years, stating that the Nazis carried out the genocide in the country “with the help of local collaborators.”  Jewish Committee of Lithuania (JCL) chair Faina Kukliansky stated she agreed with Zingeris’ concerns.

On January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Gitanas Nauseda tweeted, “Today we remember those who perished in the ghastly Shoah fire ignited by hatred, fueled by indifference.  We remember because #NeverAgain.”  Prime Minister Simonyte stated in a press release, “The horrors of the Holocaust brought tragedy to all of humanity.”

On April 8, Foreign Minister Landsbergis, Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen, members of the Jewish community, and Holocaust survivors attended a ceremony at Paneriai Memorial to commemorate Holocaust victims and to mark Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.  “It is a warning to all of us that the aggressive policy of violence, mutual hatred must be prevented today to ensure that such a tragedy will never happen again.  To this end, we must constantly teach and educate our society, especially the younger generation.  We should not be afraid to speak boldly and openly about our painful history,” Landsbergis said.

On June 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a conference entitled “A Divisive Past:  The Soviet-German War and Narratives of Mass Violence in East Central Europe.”  The event featured prominent Lithuanian and international historians and critically examined the events of June 1941 (a revolt against the Soviet forces then in Lithuania, followed by a wave of violence against Jews when the Nazis invaded that marked the beginning of the Holocaust in the country).  The conference also examined historical narratives surrounding resistance to the Soviet occupation and violence against Jews.  Prime Minister Simonyte and Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen delivered opening remarks.  Simonyte stated in her remarks, “The maturity of society is measurable as to whether it can accept truth from historians.”

On June 18, President Nauseda delivered remarks at a second conference on the topic, “June 1941:  Occupations, Great Losses, and Resistance.”  Nauseda praised the “patriotism” of the June 23, 1941, uprising, a revolt against the Soviet forces then in Lithuania and that also included a wave of violence against Jews that marked the beginning of the Holocaust in the country.  He alluded to the role of Lithuanians in the Holocaust by adding, “Today we would have fewer victims of mass deportations in the Holocaust if it had not been for the collaborators, who willingly stood in the service of one of the occupation governments.”

On July 28, President Nauseda and Prime Minister Simonyte congratulated the Tatar community on the Year of Lithuanian Tatar History and Culture, as officially designated by parliament, which passed a resolution in October 2019 declaring 2021 the Year of Lithuanian Tatar History and Culture.  In his congratulatory message, President Nauseda emphasized that the majority-Muslim Tatars had left a significant mark on the history of the country.  Prime Minister Simonyte stated that Lithuanian Tatars are part of the country’s multicultural identity.

On September 23, the parliament passed a resolution to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Holocaust in the country, calling on municipalities to mark all sites of the mass murder of Jews, put old Jewish cemeteries in order, and set up appropriate direction signs and interpretive displays.  The resolution also stressed that monuments and commemorative markers to those who collaborated with the Nazis and the Soviets must not remain in public spaces or be commemorated in educational programs.  It also emphasized the need to continue documenting the names of Jews who perished during the Holocaust for the purpose of including this information at massacre sites.

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the wave of violence against Jews that began in June 1941 and marked beginning of the Holocaust in the country, the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania initiated a national project entitled, “Memory Road 1941-2021,” which took place from June to December.

On June 23, Prime Minister Simonyte participated in the first event of the Memory Road project, in the city of Gargzdai.  In her remarks, she stated, “You cannot change that atrocious past; it is paramount that we remember it.  We must tell our children and grandchildren what happened, just to make sure that this never happens again.”

On September 8, Foreign Minister Landsbergis participated in a Memory Road event in the city of Alytus.  In his remarks, he stated, “The Holocaust was the largest tragedy of Europe of the 20th century; its scale in Lithuania is shocking.”

On September 14, President Nauseda presented state awards to 37 individuals who saved Jews during World War II.  Almost all were awarded posthumously.  In his remarks at the ceremony, Nauseda said, “Every September, as we mark the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews, we honor the memory of Lithuanian Jewish citizens who were killed during World War II.”

On September 23, the Day of the Genocide of Lithuania’s Jews, Prime Minister Simonyte attended a ceremony in Vilnius to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.  In her remarks, she stated, “What happened is not only a tragedy of the Jewish nation, it is a tragedy of all nations.”  Also on September 23, Speaker of Parliament Cmilyte-Nielsen attended a ceremony at the Paneriai Memorial, where she stated that the example of those Lithuanians who saved Jews during the Holocaust should be a part of the country’s public education.

The Presidential Palace hosted a September 23 concert in commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day in Lithuania.  In pre-recorded remarks, President Nauseda stated, “Today we bow our heads in memory of hundreds of thousands of Jews lost during the Holocaust.  In one blink of history a community that had been creating the multicultural state of Lithuania was annihilated.”

On October 13, President Nauseda attended the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in Malmo, Sweden.  In his remarks at the event, he stated, “We still deeply feel the loss of our fellow Lithuanian Jewish citizens.  We must ensure that future generations remember and reflect on the painful lessons of the Holocaust.”

In response to a Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objector whose appeal the Supreme Administrative Court rejected in 2019, the ECHR announced in 2020 that it would examine whether the country provided a suitable alternative to religiously motivated conscientious objectors.  The case remained pending at year’s end.

On April 29, President Nauseda met with leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and issued a statement wishing Catholic, Orthodox, and Old Believer communities a happy Easter.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Anonymous antisemitic and anti-Muslim comments on the internet were common throughout the year.

Anonymous online commentators continued to express negative views of Muslim refugees.  For example, one post on the news website read, “They [Muslim refugees] need to be chased back; these are criminals.  They are not going to work or follow culture, traditions, or the law.”  When media site editors became aware of such comments, they removed them without maintaining a log, making the comments difficult to track routinely.

On September 9, workers taking care of the Jewish cemetery in Kaunas reported that grave sites had been vandalized, including at least three graves that had been dug up allegedly by thieves searching for valuables.  Police started an investigation, which remained open at the end of the year.

In August, vandals damaged a sign listing information about a site in Kretinga where Jews were killed during the Holocaust.  Police started a pretrial investigation, which remained open at year’s end.

On September 8, JCL representatives reported that a swastika had been drawn on a sign marking the Jewish cemetery at Snipiskes.  Authorities did not investigate.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 142.3 million (midyear 2021).  A poll conducted in 2020 by the independent Levada Center found that 63 percent of the population identified as Orthodox Christian and 7 percent as Muslim, while 26 percent reported having no religious faith.  Religious groups each constituting approximately 1 percent or less of the population include Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Baha’is, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), pagans, Tengrists, members of the Church of Scientology, and Falun Gong practitioners.  The 2010 census, the most recent for which data is available, estimates the number of Jews at 150,000.  The Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) estimates the Jewish population is 172,500.  According to Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin, chairman of the Religious Board of Muslims of the Russian Federation, there were 25 million Muslims in 2018, approximately 18 percent of the population.  Immigrants and migrant workers from Central Asia, which experts estimate at six to seven million, are mostly Muslim.  Most Muslims live in the Volga-Ural Region and the North Caucasus.  Moscow, St. Petersburg, and parts of Siberia also have sizable Muslim populations.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates the state is secular and provides for religious freedom, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religious worship, including the right to “profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion, or to profess no religion.”  It provides for the right of citizens “to freely choose, possess, and disseminate religious or other beliefs, and to act in conformity with them,” and it provides for equality of rights and liberties regardless of attitude toward religion.  The constitution bans any limitation of human rights on religious grounds and prohibits actions inciting religious hatred and strife.  It states all religious associations are equal and separate from the state.  The law acknowledges Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions, constituting an inseparable part of the country’s historical heritage.  The law recognizes the “special role” of Russian Orthodox Christianity in the country’s “history and the formation and development of its spirituality and culture.”

A 2020 constitutional amendment cites the ancestral history of the country and the “ideals and faith in God” passed on by those ancestors.  The language is the only explicit reference to God in the constitution.  According to a Constitutional Court ruling, the amendment’s reference to God does not contravene the secular nature of the government or undermine freedom of religion but only emphasizes the significant sociocultural role of religion in the formation and development of the nation.

The law states the government may restrict religious rights only to the degree necessary to protect the constitutional structure and security of the government; the morality, health, rights, and legal interests of persons; or the defense of the country.  It is a violation of the law to force another person to disclose his or her opinion of a religion or to force them to participate or not participate in worship, other religious ceremonies, the activities of a religious association, or religious instruction.

The law states those who violate the law on freedom of conscience, religion, and religious associations will be “held liable under criminal, administrative, and other legislation.”  The administrative code and the criminal code both punish obstruction of the right to freedom of conscience and belief with imprisonment of up to three years and/or fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($6,700) or 1,000,000 rubles ($13,300), depending upon which code governs the offense.

By law, officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association on grounds such as violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.”  The law criminalizes a broad spectrum of activities as extremist, including “assistance to extremism,” but it does not precisely define extremism or require that an activity include an element of violence or hatred to be classified as extremist.

Anti-extremism laws stipulate that speech or actions aimed at “inciting hatred or enmity” based on group affiliation (including religion) are punishable by administrative penalties for first-time offenses if the actions do not contain a criminal offense.  These penalties include administrative arrests of up to 15 days or administrative fines of up to 20,000 rubles ($270) for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles ($6,700) for legal entities.  Individuals are held criminally liable if they commit multiple offenses within a one-year period or for the first offense if they threaten to use violence or use their official position to incite hatred.  The criminal penalties include fines up to 600,000 rubles ($8,000), compulsory labor for up to five years, or imprisonment for up to six years.

Participating in or organizing the activity of a banned religious organization designated as extremist is punishable by a fine of up to 800,000 rubles ($10,700) or imprisonment for a term of six to 10 years, with deprivation of the right to hold “certain positions” or engage in “certain activities” (not well specified but including a prohibition on running for public office) for up to 10 years and restrictions on freedom for a period of one to two years.  These restrictions may include house arrest or constraints on travel within the country.  For persons with “official status,” a term which applies to anyone working for the government or state-owned entities as well as to persons in management roles at commercial entities or NGOs, the prescribed prison term is seven to 12 years or a fine of up to 700,000 rubles ($9,300).  First-time offenders who willingly forsake their membership in banned religious organizations are exempt from criminal liability if they committed no other crimes as defined by the law.

Antiterrorism laws authorize law enforcement agencies to regulate evangelism, requiring permits and restricting the locations in which faith-related information may be shared with others.  These laws also allow security agencies to access private communications, which requires telecommunications companies to store all telephone conversations, text messages, videos, and picture messages for six months and make this data available to authorities.

The Supreme Court has banned the activities of several religious organizations on the grounds of “extremism” and “terrorism,” including a regional branch of Falun Gong, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, Hizb ut-Tahrir; Nurdzhular (a Russification of the Turkish for “followers of Said Nursi”); Tablighi Jamaat; and the Fayzrakhmani Islamic community.  These organizations are on the Federal List of Extremist Organizations and/or the Federal List of Terrorist Organizations.  Designations as extremist or terrorist organizations may be appealed in court.

Local laws in several administrative regions, including the republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan, ban “extremist Islamic Wahhabism” but do not define the term.  Authorities impose administrative or criminal penalties (the former entail a maximum sentence of 15 days in prison, while sentences for the latter can be much longer) for violating these laws, in accordance with federal legislation.

By law, the government may designate an international religious-affiliated organization or foreign religious group “undesirable.”  The designation allows the closure of foreign and international organizations on the grounds of “presenting a threat to the foundation of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, the defense capability of the country or the security of the state.”  The designation may also lead to fines or jail time for organization members.  Religious organizations designated undesirable include seven Falun Gong-associated organizations (World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong; Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China; Global Mission to Rescue Persecuted Falun Gong Practitioners; Friends of Falun Gong; Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting; Dragon Springs Buddhist; and The European Falun Dafa Organization), World Institute of Scientology Enterprises International and the Church of Spiritual Technology (from the United States), the New Generation International Christian Movement and the New Generation Evangelical Christian Church (from Latvia), and the New Generation Spiritual Directorate of the Evangelist Christians and the New Generation International Biblical College (from Ukraine).

The law criminalizes “offending the feelings of religious believers,” including atheists and followers of “non-traditional religions.”  Actions “in public demonstrating clear disrespect for society and committed with the intent to insult the feelings of religious believers” are subject to fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($4,000), compulsory labor for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to one year.  If these actions are committed in places of worship, the punishment is a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($6,700), compulsory labor for up to three years, or a prison sentence of up to three years.

The law creates three categories of religious associations, with different levels of legal status and privileges:  “religious groups,” “local religious organizations” (LROs), and “centralized religious organizations” (CROs).  Religious groups or organizations may be subject to legal dissolution or deprivation of legal status by a court decision on grounds including violations of standards set forth in the constitution or protection of public security.

A “religious group” is the most basic unit and does not require registration with the government.  When a group first begins its activities, however, it must notify authorities, typically the regional Ministry of Justice (MOJ), of the location of its activity, its rites and ceremonies, and its leader(s) and members.  A religious group may conduct worship services and rituals and teach religion to its members with requisite notification to authorities.  It does not have legal status to open a bank account, own property, issue invitations to foreign guests, publish literature, receive tax benefits, or conduct worship services in prisons, state-owned hospitals, or the armed forces.  To hold services, a religious group may use property bought by its members for the group’s use, residential property owned or rented by its members, or public spaces rented by its members.

An LRO may register with the MOJ if it has at least 10 citizen members who are 18 or older and are permanently residing in the region where the LRO applies to register.  LROs have legal status and may open bank accounts, own property, issue invitation letters to foreign guests, publish literature, receive tax benefits, and conduct worship services in prisons, hospitals, and the armed forces.  CROs may register with the MOJ at the regional or federal level by combining at least three LROs of the same denomination.

To register as an LRO or CRO, an association must provide the following:  a list of the organization’s founders and governing body with addresses and “internal passport” data (the mandatory identity document for all citizens older than the age of 14 residing in the country); the organization’s charter; the minutes of the founding meeting; certification from the CRO (in the case of LROs); a description of the organization’s doctrine, practices, history, and attitudes toward family, marriage, and education; the organization’s legal address; a certificate of payment of government dues; and the charter or registration papers of the governing body in the case of organizations whose main offices are located abroad.  Authorities may deny registration for reasons including incorrect paperwork, failure to meet different administrative requirements, national security reasons, or placement on the list of extremist or terrorist organizations.  Denial of registration may be appealed in court.  By law, CROs and LROs receiving funding from abroad must report an account of their activities, a list of leaders, the source of foreign funding, and plans for how the organization intends to use the foreign funds or property obtained through foreign funding.  Reports are annual by default, but the MOJ may require additional ad hoc reports.  LROs and CROs may invite foreign citizens to carry out professional religious activities.  LROs and CROs may produce, acquire, export, import, and distribute religious literature in printed, audio, or video format, and “other religious items.”

The Expert Religious Studies Council, a committee established by the MOJ to advise it on religious groups, has wide powers to investigate religious organizations.  Some of the council’s powers include reviewing organizations’ activities and literature and determining whether an organization is “extremist.”  The law provides several examples of extremist activities, such as “incitement to violence,” but does not precisely define how organizations or religious materials may be classified as “extremist.”  The council also advises the MOJ on the issue of granting religious organization status to a religious group.

Foreign religious organizations (those created outside of the country under foreign laws) have the right to open offices for representational purposes, either independently or as part of religious organizations previously established in the country, but they may not form or found their own religious organizations in the country and may not operate houses of worship.

The government (the MOJ or the Prosecutor General’s Office) oversees a religious organization’s compliance with the law and may review its financial and registration-related documents when conducting an inspection or investigation.  With advance notice, the government may send representatives to attend a religious association’s events, conduct an annual review of compliance with the association’s mission statement on file with the government, and review its religious literature to decide whether the literature is extremist.  The law contains ongoing reporting requirements on financial and economic activity, funding sources, and compliance with antiterrorist and anti-extremist legislation.  The government may obtain a court order to close those associations that do not comply with reporting or other legal requirements.

The law allows the government to limit the places where prayer and public religious observance may be conducted without prior approval.  LROs and CROs may conduct religious services and ceremonies without prior approval in buildings and facilities or on lands owned or rented by these associations, as well as in cemeteries, crematoria, places of pilgrimage, and living quarters.  Baptism ceremonies in rivers and lakes, as well as services conducted in parks, open spaces, or courtyards, do not fall under this exemption.  In these cases, LROs and CROs must seek government approval at least one week in advance and provide the government with the names of organizers and participants, as well as copies of any written materials to be used at the event.

A prime ministerial decree requires religious organizations to conform to specific counterterrorism measures to qualify for safety permits for their real property.  Among other requirements, all facilities must be guarded during services by members of public organizations.  Facilities with maximum building occupancy limits between 500 and 1,000 must have “panic buttons” and video surveillance systems.  Buildings with occupancy limits of more than 1,000 must be guarded by private security guards or National Guard personnel.  Religious groups are responsible for defraying the costs of these measures.  The penalty for noncompliance is a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,300).

The Ministry of Defense chaplaincy program only allows for chaplains representing the four traditional religions, and the program requires members of a religious group to comprise at least 10 percent of a military unit before an official chaplain of that group is appointed.  Chaplains are neither enlisted nor commissioned but are classified as assistants to the commander.  Chaplains are full-time employees of the Ministry of Defense, paid from the defense budget.  There are more than 120 chaplains in the program.

Federal law defines “missionary activity” as the sharing of one’s beliefs with persons of another faith or nonbelievers with the aim of involving these individuals in the “structure” of the religious association.  According to the law, to share beliefs outside of officially sanctioned sites (which include buildings owned by a religious organization, buildings whose owners have given permission for activities to take place, pilgrimage destinations, cemeteries and crematoria, and indoor spaces of educational organizations historically used for religious ceremonies), an individual must have a document from a religious group or registered organization authorizing him or her to share beliefs.  The law explicitly prohibits any beliefs being shared on another organization’s property without permission from that organization.  It also prohibits missionary activity in residential buildings and the rezoning of any building from residential to nonresidential for the purpose of conducting religious activities.  Materials disseminated by missionaries must be marked with the name of the religious association providing the authorization.

Violations of the law regulating missionary activity may be punished by a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($67-$670) for individuals and 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,300-$13,000) for legal entities, which includes LROs and CROs.  Foreign citizens or stateless persons who violate restrictions on missionary activities may be fined 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($400-$670) and are subject to deportation.

Within the MOJ, the Scientific Advisory Board reviews religious materials for extremism.  Composed of academics and representatives of the four traditional religions, the board reviews materials referred to it by judicial or law enforcement authorities, private citizens, or organizations.  If the board identifies material as extremist, it issues a nonbinding advisory opinion, which is then published on the MOJ website and forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation.  In addition to the Scientific Advisory Board, regional board experts also may review religious materials for extremist content.

Prosecutors may take material to a court and ask the court to declare it extremist, but a court may declare extremist, on its own accord, materials introduced during the consideration of administrative, civil, or criminal cases.  By law, publications declared extremist by a federal court are automatically added to the federal list of extremist materials.  Courts may order internet service providers to block access to websites containing materials included on the federal list of extremist materials.  Courts review and reissue lists on a regular basis.  If the courts determine the material is no longer “extremist,” the MOJ is required to remove the material from the lists within 30 days.  Very rarely, in response to a legal challenge, courts may also reverse a decision to list a material as extremist.  The law makes it illegal to declare the key texts (holy books) of the four traditional religions in their “original languages” – Old and New Testaments of the Bible, Quran, and Tibetan Buddhist Kangyur (Kanjur) – to be extremist.  The law does not define what constitutes an original language nor does it specify that foreign-language translations of these texts may not be declared extremist.

According to the administrative code, mass distribution, production, and possession with the aim of mass distribution of extremist materials by private individuals may result in 15 days’ imprisonment or a fine of 1,000 to 3,000 rubles ($13-$40), or 2,000 to 5,000 rubles ($27-$67) for public officials, as well as confiscation of these materials.  Courts may suspend for 90 days the operations of legal entities found to be in possession of extremist materials and fine them 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,300-$13,300).  Individuals who produce materials later deemed extremist may not be punished retroactively but must cease production and distribution of those materials.

On October 3, amendments to the law came into force formally prohibiting certain individuals from leading or participating in a group of believers.  The law prohibits individuals suspected of financing terrorism, or whose actions have been deemed extremist by a court, to lead or take part in religious groups.  The amendments also impose extra training and recertification requirements on clergy, religious teachers, and missionaries who have been trained abroad.  Such personnel must take part in a course in “state-confessional relations in the Russian Federation” and be recertified by a CRO.

The law allows the transfer of state and municipal property of religious significance to religious organizations, including land, buildings, and movable property.  The law grants religious organizations using state historical property for religious purposes the right to use such property indefinitely.  The law prohibits the transfer of living quarters for religious use and the use of living quarters for missionary activity, unless the activity is a part of a “religious service, rite, or ceremony.”

The law allows religious organizations to use buildings that were not originally authorized for religious purposes if they are part of a property that serves a religious purpose.  The law allows, for example, a group to establish a Sunday school in a warehouse on the property of a church.  If such a structure does not meet legal requirements or is not brought into legal compliance by submitting proper paperwork by 2030, it will be demolished.

Religious education or civil ethics classes are compulsory in all public and private secondary schools.  Students may choose to take a course on one of the four traditional religions, a general world religions course, or a secular ethics course.  Regional and municipal departments of education oversee this curriculum at the local level in accordance with their capacity to offer the courses and according to the religious makeup of the given location.  There is no requirement for representatives of religious organizations to be licensed to conduct religious education in schools affiliated with a religious organization or in-home schools.  Religious instructors in any other state or private school must be licensed to teach religious courses.

The Office of the Director of Religious Issues within the Office of the Federal Human Rights Ombudsman handles complaints about the government’s actions on religious freedom.  The ombudsman may intercede on behalf of those who submit complaints; however, the ombudsman may not compel other government bodies to act or intervene in complaints not addressed to the government.

The law entitles individuals and organizations to take religious freedom cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France.  The state must pay compensation to a person whose rights were violated as determined by the ECHR and ensure his or her rights are restored to the extent possible.  The Constitutional Court determines whether judgments by international and regional courts, including the ECHR, are consistent with the constitution.

Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is compulsory, but the constitution provides for alternative service for those who refuse to bear arms for reasons of conscience, including religious belief.  The standard military service period is 12 months, while alternative service is 18 months in a Ministry of Defense agency or 21 months in a nondefense agency.  Failure to perform alternative service is punishable under the criminal code, with penalties ranging from a fine of 80,000 rubles ($1,100) to six months in prison.

By law, LROs and CROs may not participate in political campaigns or the activities of political parties or movements or provide material or other aid to political groups.  This restriction applies to religious organizations but not to their individual members.

Both the ROC and all members of the Civic Chamber, a state institution composed of representatives of public associations, are granted the opportunity to review draft legislation pending before the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on a case-by-case basis.  No formal mechanism exists for permanent representation of religious organizations in the Civic Chamber, as the chamber convenes for three-year terms.  Individuals from traditional religions and other religious groups may be selected to serve in the chamber for a term, either in the initial selection of 40 representatives by the President of the Russian Federation or in one of the subsequent rounds of selection, where existing chamber members choose an additional 128 representatives representing national and regional civil society groups.  By law, a member of an organization that had been accused of extremism may not serve in the Civic Chamber.

The law states foreigners or stateless individuals whose presence in the country the government deems “undesirable” are forbidden from becoming founders, members, or active participants in the activities of religious organizations.  The same is true for individuals whose activities are deemed extremist by the courts or who are subject to prosecution under the law on combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.  The law restricts any foreign national or stateless person from entering the country if he or she “participates in the activities of the organizations included in the list of organizations and individuals in respect of whom there is information about their involvement in extremist activities or terrorism.”

Foreigners engaging in religious work require a contract with a legally registered religious organization and a work visa.  Religious work is not permitted on “humanities visas,” which allow foreigners to enter the country to strengthen academic or cultural ties or take part in charitable work.  There are no missionary visas.

The law grants religious organizations the exclusive right to manage pilgrimage activities.

Under the criminal code, an individual convicted of committing an act of vandalism motivated by religious hatred or enmity may be sentenced to up to three years of compulsory labor or prison.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Religious groups and human rights NGOs reported authorities continued to investigate, detain, arrest, imprison, torture, and/or physically abuse persons on account of their religious belief or affiliation.  Authorities continued to accuse religious minority groups of extremism and terrorism.

According to international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, the government used increasingly strict legislation on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” to curtail, complicate, or prohibit the activities of organizations that promote human rights, including freedom of religion and belief, and to monitor their violation.  In December, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial, one of the country’s best-known NGOs.

As of November 9, Memorial identified 340 persons persecuted for their religious belief or affiliation whom it considered to be political prisoners, meaning they were either already imprisoned or were in custody or under house arrest awaiting a formal sentence to begin.  Memorial stated that the actual number of cases of persecution was likely three to four times higher, given the number of cases the organization identified as similar to those designated as political prisoners; however, the organization said it lacked the supporting evidence to make designations in those instances.  Memorial’s list of political prisoners included 206 persons (45 percent more than in 2020) accused of involvement with the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that Memorial characterized as a “nonviolent international Islamic organization,” and 104 Jehovah’s Witnesses (70 percent more than in 2020).  According to Memorial, none of the political prisoners being persecuted for their religious belief or affiliation called for violence or planned violent acts.

In August, Forum 18 reported Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims who had been convicted of “extremism” might suffer post-sentence consequences through sudimost (being a convicted person with an active criminal record).  The report stated that after their release, these individuals risked harsher punishment if prosecuted again and might experience more limited formal employment opportunities.  The courts might also impose restrictions on freedom and administrative supervision, including curfews, restrictions on movement, and an obligation to register with police or probation authorities at specified intervals.  These individuals might also be subject to bans on leadership of, or participation in, religious organizations.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and NGOs stated Federal Security Service (FSB) agents, officers of the Interior Ministry’s Center for Countering Extremism, police officers, and riot police continued to monitor, detain, search, and carry out raids in the homes and places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers stated authorities had raided more than 1,594 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country between early 2017 and November 2021.  Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 382 searches of homes during the year, compared with 477 in 2020.  They said that during these raids, authorities entered homes, often in the early morning, conducted unauthorized, illegal searches, tortured, and verbally and physically abused members.  Authorities often entered residences by forcing open the door.  They held individuals at gunpoint, including children and the elderly, and seized personal belongings, including religious materials, personal correspondence, money, mobile phones, and other electronic devices.

In January, authorities dropped charges against Jehovah’s Witness Vadim Kutsenko.  Jehovah’s Witnesses stated authorities detained Kutsenko in 2020, subjecting him to electric shocks and forcing him to confess that he had organized activities of a religious organization banned by the court, before placing him under house arrest and eventually releasing him on his own recognizance.

On September 4, Russian human rights NGO OVD-info reported searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes in Irkutsk by the Russian National Guard and the Ministry of Interior’s Grom special forces.  OVD-info said during the searches special forces beat and then detained Jehovah’s Witnesses Anatoly Razdabarov and Nikolai Merinov.  Officers stabbed Merinov, beat him unconscious, and broke his front teeth.  Officers interrogated Razdabarov for eight hours and demanded access to his telephone.  They beat Razdabrov, handcuffed him so his shoulders hyperextended, and sodomized him with a glass bottle.  According to the NGO, officers also beat the two men’s wives while they were in various stages of undress.  On October 12, a court in Irkutsk refused to recognize the searches of these homes as an illegal action by the security forces, though the security forces did not show search warrants during the raids.

The SOVA Center reported that on December 15, authorities searched 10 homes and interrogated 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Samara.  The authorities forced Nikolai Vasilyev and another unnamed Jehovah’s Witness to hold a heated kettle and poured boiling water on him after he refused to provide the authorities access to a laptop.  Vasilyev and two others were arrested and sentenced to two months in jail; the case continued at year’s end.

In January, authorities dropped charges against Jehovah’s Witness Vadim Kutsenko.  Jehovah’s Witnesses stated authorities detained Kutsenko in 2020, subjecting him to electric shocks and forcing him to confess that he had organized activities of a religious organization banned by the court, before placing him under house arrest and eventually releasing him on his own recognizance.

In April, authorities conducted mass searches in Yaroslavl, searching 31 premises and detaining at least two men.  In July, officials conducted mass searches in Kurgan, Shadrinsk, and other cities in Kurgan Region.  The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that authorities detained at least 13 persons.  Authorities said the detainees held meetings for more than 130 individuals.

On May 12, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that FSB operatives installed hidden cameras in a Perm bathhouse to monitor possible baptisms.  The recording captured 27 Jehovah’s Witnesses participating in a baptism ceremony, leading five members to be charged.  The Industrial District Court of Perm sentenced one participant in the ceremony to seven years’ probation, and each of the other four to two and a half years’ probation.  Authorities charged each defendant with participating in illegal religious activities as well as organizing, funding, and participating in the extremist community.

Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said group members continued to flee the country as a result of what they described as increasing government persecution since a 2017 Supreme Court ruling banned the organization.  In March, Foreign Policy magazine estimated more than 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses remained in Russia.

The SOVA Center reported authorities had initiated criminal cases against at least 142 Jehovah’s Witnesses during the year; in 2020, the number was at least 146.  Since 2017, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses cited in the SOVA Center report, authorities had initiated 597 criminal cases against adherents in 70 regions of the country.  The NGO Memorial reported 104 imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses as of November 9 (35 serving sentences, 69 in custody or under house arrest pending sentencing), with 86 others receiving suspended sentences during the year.  In addition, according to the SOVA Center, during the year at least 68 convictions were handed down against 105 Jehovah’s Witnesses, compared with 25 sentences in 2020.

On January 19, the Kemerovo Regional Court rejected an appeal by Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Britvin and Vadim Levchuk, who had both been sentenced to four years’ imprisonment at a labor camp for organizing the activities of a banned extremist organization.  On December 30, both men were released, having served their sentences.

In February, the Abinsk District Court of Krasnodar sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Alexander Ivshin to seven and a half years in a penal colony for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.

On February 10, the Kursk Regional Court upheld a 2020 decision by the Lgov District Court denying Jehovah’s Witness and Danish citizen Dennis Christensen’s appeal for early release.  Detained since 2017, Christensen received a six-year prison sentence in 2019.  He remained in prison at year’s end.

On February 24, the Abakan City Court in the Republic of Khakassia sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Valentina Baranovskaya to two years, and her son, Roman Baranovskiy, to six years in a penal colony based on the government’s designation of the group as extremist.

The Central District Court of Chita began proceedings against four Jehovah’s Witnesses charged with organizing the activities of a banned organization:  Vladimir Ermolaev, Sergey Kirilyuk, Igor Mamalimov, and Aleksandr Putintsev.  The four were detained in mass raids in 2020; the case remained pending at year’s end.

In April, the Investigative Committee for the Krasnodar Territory announced that Abinsk District had opened criminal cases against four Jehovah’s Witnesses for participating in the activities of an extremist organization:  Anna Yermak, Olga Pnonmareva, Alexander Nikolaev, and an unnamed individual.

On May 28, authorities opened a criminal case against Anna Safronova, accusing her of participating in worship services of Jehovah’s Witnesses and financing extremist activities.  The case was ongoing at year’s end.

On June 30, the Blagoveshchensk City Court sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Dmitriy Golik and Aleksey Berchuk to seven and eight years in prison, respectively, for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.  The Amur Regional Court denied their appeal on September 2; the two were transferred from pretrial detention to prison.

On July 29, the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Arsen Avanesov, Vilen Avanesov, and Alexander Parkov to terms of between six and six and a half years in prison for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.  The defendants had been arrested in 2019 and remained in jail pending trial.  On December 6, the Rostov Regional Court upheld the verdict on appeal.

On September 23, the Traktorozavodsky District Court of Volgograd sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergey Melnik and Igor Egozaryan to six years in prison for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.  Valery Rogozin, Vyacheslav Osipov, and Denis Peresunko were also found guilty of financing extremist activities.  Rogzin received a sentence of six and a half years; Peresunko and Osipov were each sentenced to six years and three months.

In October, after a year-long case, the Trusovsky District Court of Astrakhan sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Klikunov, Rustam Diarov, and Yevgeny Ivanov to eight years in prison – the longest sentences yet issued to Jehovah’s Witnesses – and Ivanov’s wife, Olga, to three and a half years in prison.  The three men had been in jail since June and charged with organizing and financing extremist activities; Olga had been under house arrest and charged with participation in extremist activities.  The court also cited “the commission of a crime as part of a group, by prior conspiracy” as an aggravating circumstance for all four sentences.

On October 28, the Supreme Court decreed that “the actions of persons not related to the continuation or resumption of the activities of an organization recognized by the court as extremist and consisting solely in the exercise of their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion … do not constitute an offense.”  On October 28, the SOVA Center stated the wording of the decision of the Supreme Court was not ideal and “unlikely to completely eliminate the numerous cases of persecution for essentially noncriminal activities.”  The SOVA Center reported that at the end of 2021, Jehovah’s Witness Dmitry Barmakin was acquitted by the Supreme Court and several other cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses were slated for review.

In the month following the Supreme Court’s October 28 ruling, authorities raided the homes of 25 Jehovah’s Witnesses across 10 different regions, and courts convicted or upheld the convictions of at least seven members of the group on charges of extremist activity, including an 80-year-old woman who was fined 500,000 rubles ($6,700).  In November, the Pervorechka District Court of Vladivostock acquitted a Jehovah’s Witness, Dmitry Barmakin, who had been accused of extremist activity – reportedly the first acquittal based on the October Supreme Court decision.

In November, authorities announced completion of the investigation of the 10 Jehovah’s Witnesses detained during raids in Voronezh in 2020 who were accused of organizing a banned community and preaching and recruiting new members between 2018 and 2020.  The case was pending in the Levoberezhny District Court of Voronezh at year’s end.

Felix Makhammadiev, a Jehovah’s Witness who was stripped of his citizenship following his 2019 conviction for organizing extremist activities, was deported to Uzbekistan on January 21.  Makhammadiev had moved to the country from Uzbekistan with his mother as a minor and subsequently became a Russian citizen.  Konstantin Bazhenov, who was convicted in the same case as Makhammadiev, was also stripped of his Russian citizenship; he was deported to Ukraine on May 19.

According to the NGO Memorial, between January and November, authorities convicted, investigated, or charged 18 persons for alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, nine of whom were from Crimea.  Since the Supreme Court first labeled the group a terrorist organization and banned it in 2003, Memorial reported that authorities had investigated or charged 331 persons for involvement with Hizb-ut-Tahrir and tried and convicted 258.  Since 2003, courts had sentenced 70 persons to between 10 and 15 years in prison, and 87 to 15 years or more.  The SOVA Center reported that at least 35 defendants in new cases were arrested during the year.  Human Rights Watch characterized Hizb ut-Tahrir as a group that aimed to establish an Islamic caliphate, but which renounced violence.

The SOVA Center reported that on February 18, the FSB conducted a special operation against Hizb u-Tahrir across 10 regions of the country.  The FSB detained alleged members, and authorities opened criminal cases against seven of them.  Individuals continued to receive long prison sentences for their alleged involvement with Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

In April, the Central District Military Court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Rais Mavlyutov to 23 years in a maximum security penal colony after convicting him of recruiting for a terrorist organization, using the internet to incite terrorism, and organizing and participating in meetings where the literature of a terrorist organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, was read and discussed.  Memorial classified Mavlyutov as a political prisoner and stated there was no evidence that he represented a public danger or was involved in terrorist activities.

On September 6, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Ufa sentenced Ilmira Bikbaeva to three years’ probation for transferring money to the mother of Ayrat Dilmukhametov, a prisoner accused of supporting Hizb ut-Tahrir.  The prosecution said the transfer was proof that Bikbaeva was financing extremism.  Bikbaeva said she simply wanted to help the mother who lacked the means to support herself.

On December 24, the Second Western District Military Court of Moscow sentenced Marifjon Mamadaliyev and Ikboljon Sultonov to terms of between 16 and 18 years in a penal colony for allegedly creating a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell.  The court convicted six additional defendants of participating in the activities of the cell and sentenced them to imprisonment for terms of 11 to 12 years.  The SOVA Center stated the case was based on testimony by a secret witness.

In July, the Court of Kemerovo upheld the designation of the Falun Gong branch in the Khakassia Region as an extremist organization and ordered its dissolution there.

The government prosecuted 13 cases under the law prohibiting offending the feelings of believers, two more than in 2020.  According to Memorial, investigating authorities increased activity during the year, including internet monitoring.  For example, on October 29, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court sentenced blogger Ruslan Bobiev and his girlfriend, Anastasia Chistova, to 10 months in a penal colony for violating the law.  The teens posted a photograph with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background depicting Chistova wearing a jacket with the inscription “Police” while simulating a sex act, with Bobiev standing behind her.  The Interior Ministry described the photos as “provocative,” and the court stated the couple “committed public acts expressing clear disrespect for society and committed with the aim of insulting the religious feelings of believers.”  On October 30, police detained and charged Irina Volkova for posting a photo exposing her underwear in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg.  On November 19, authorities in St. Petersburg opened a criminal case against two teenagers in response to a photo circulating on social media, in which the two defendants posed with their pants down in front of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.

In October, the authorities initiated a criminal case against Lolita Bogdanova for insulting the feelings of believers after she bared her chest in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

On October 25, the SOVA Center and human rights activists reported that staff at correctional colony No.2 in Kurgan Region mocked Muslim prisoners and threw the Quran on the ground, “trampling” it.  Media reported that investigators said they found no evidence of the action as video from the surveillance cameras was destroyed.

On November 18, a court in Kurgan closed the Kurgan Orthodox Parish in Honor of the Holy Trinity.  In July, the Kurgan Regional Court ordered the dissolution stating that the parish had misled Orthodox believers and infringed on their constitutional freedom of religion.  The Magistrate Court of Kurgan had fined the church in 2020 for illegal missionary work.  The parish was independent of the ROC.

In December, the ECHR ruled in favor of Maksim Mikhaylovich Yefimov in his case against the government for prosecuting him for hate speech in 2011 and dissolving his NGO, the Youth Human Rights Group in 2013.  Authorities had charged Yefimov with offending the feelings of believers and extremist speech when he published an article criticizing the ROC.  The court ruled that the government had violated Article 10 – dealing with freedom of expression – and Article 11 – dealing with freedom of association – of the European Convention on Human Rights and that the government should pay Yefimov 10,000 euros ($11,300).

In November, the ECHR ruled in two separate cases that Russian authorities had violated the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion under the European Convention on Human Rights of members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).  In the latter case, the court also found the government had violated members’ right to family life and a fair trial by arresting and deporting them.  The court awarded 9,500 euros ($10,800) in damages and expenses to the plaintiffs in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness case and a total of 34,270 euros ($38,900) to the plaintiffs in Unification Church case.

According to the MOJ, as of December 2020, there were 31,392 registered religious organizations (LROs and CROs) in the country, most of which were ROC-affiliated, compared with 31,379 in 2019.

According to the SOVA Center, registration was sometimes complicated by imprecise language in the laws regulating the activities of religious groups, LROs, and CROs, which left room for interpretation by local and national authorities.

The SOVA Center reported that in August, law enforcement officers checked the documents of those who had gathered for Friday prayers in several mosques in Moscow and the Moscow region, for example, in Kotelniki.  The officers reportedly took a total of 140 persons to police stations, where they released Russian citizens after checking their documents.  They released the foreigners after collecting their DNA.

In September, the government designated two Church of Scientology groups – World Institute of Scientology Enterprises International and the Church of Spiritual Technology – “undesirable organizations,” effectively banning Scientology within the country.  According to the SOVA Center, the designation meant that the Church of Scientology must stop its activities in the country, and any cooperation with the group would be treated as an administrative or, in some cases, criminal offense.

In August, the government designated four evangelical groups (the New Generation International Christian Movement and the New Generation Evangelical Christian Church (from Latvia), and the New Generation Spiritual Directorate of the Evangelist Christians and the New Generation International Biblical College (from Ukraine) as “undesirable organizations.”

In December, security forces broke up a conference in Ramenskoye attended by Protestant clergy, including representatives of New Generation Churches; one participant was reportedly beaten.

The country’s 83 federal subjects (administrative divisions, excluding Russia-occupied Crimea and Sevastopol) maintained varying policies on the wearing of the hijab in public schools and/or government institutions.  In January, a schoolgirl in a Tyumen secondary school was barred from attending classes due to a Ministry of Education and Science policy that mandated students comply with “generally accepted norms of business style [dress] in society.”  In March, a local Yekaterinburg media outlet published a report describing the ostracism experienced by Muslim women who chose to wear the hijab.

Representatives of minority religious associations and human rights NGOs stated authorities continued to prosecute individuals and smaller religious groups for “illegal” missionary work and frequently imposed fines.  From July 2020 to December 2021, Forum 18 reported 108 prosecutions on administrative charges of unlawful missionary activity for a wide range of activities, including ordinary worship meetings.  Forum 18 stated that more than 80 percent of defendants whose cases reached a verdict were found guilty and fined.  Foreigners also faced possible expulsion.  According to the SOVA Center, Protestant churches were the targets in the largest number of cases.

In September, the Yalta Judicial District Court fined the Christians of the Evangelical Faith of Yalta 30,000 rubles ($400) for carrying out illegal missionary activity.  According to press reports, the Fellowship of Christian Businessmen and Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith Pentecostals were also prosecuted.  In June, four evangelical Christian pastors and believers from Adygea faced administrative cases for illegal missionary activity.  The accused faced fines ranging from five to 50,000 rubles ($.07-$670).  In June, the Sovetsky District Court of Astrakhan found a U.S. citizen guilty of illegal missionary activity, fining him 30,000 rubles ($400) and ordering his expulsion.  In May, authorities charged Russian astrologer Ekaterina Kalinkina with illegal missionary work for promoting and organizing events for the Hindu festival of Maha Shivratri.  Kalinkina faced a fine of 50,000 rubles ($670) as she was not an authorized religious leader.  In April, the Magistrate Court of Evpatoria Judicial District fined the Chava Nagila Synagogue 30,000 rubles ($400) for illegal missionary work, finding that videos posted by the community on social media did not carry the full name of the organization.

Religious minorities said local authorities continued to use the country’s anti-extremism laws to ban sacred religious texts and other books related to religion, other than the four holy books – in their original languages – recognized by law.  The MOJ’s list of extremist material grew during the year to 5,253 compared with 5,130 in 2020 according to SOVA Center reports.

In February, customs officials in Rostov-on-Don confiscated publications by Jehovah’s Witnesses from the library of the ship Missia, which arrived from the Turkish port of Tuzla.  On March 31, the Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg declared that the Jehovah’s Witness Library mobile application containing the group’s literature, including various translations of the Bible, was extremist.  On September 27, the St. Petersburg City Court upheld the decision to ban distribution of the app in the country.  On September 14, the Primorsky FSB border department searched four homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses and confiscated electronic devices, Bibles, religious literature, and personal records in which they found mention of Jehovah.

On multiple occasions, authorities fined missionary organizations for violating legal requirements pertaining to missionary activity.  On November 10, OVD-Info reported that the Magistrate’s Court in Kabardino-Balkaria fined the Seventh-day Adventist Church 30,000 rubles ($400) for distributing literature without special marking as part of missionary activity.  On November 19, the Magistrate’s Court in Kabardino-Balkaria also fined Seventh-day Adventist Nina Boronina for possessing Christian books about health in violation of the law.  On September 15, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported as part of a commentary on persecution of religious believers in the country that authorities in Belgorod fined a Baptist individual for distributing free Bibles in the Sputnik shopping center.

The SOVA Center reported on October 7 that the Leninsky District Court of Stavropol fined the Orthodox Jewish Community of the Stavropol Territory 100,000 rubles ($1,300) for keeping the book Forcibly Baptized by Markus Lehmann, which was included in the government’s list of extremist materials, in its library.  The SOVA Center stated there were no signs of incitement to religious or national hatred in the novel, which is about the persecution and discrimination of Jews in the 14th century in Poland and Lithuania.

Authorities classified literature related to Said Nursi as extremist.  On April 22, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court in Tatarstan designated 163 editions of the works of Nursi as extremist, according to the SOVA Center.  The court accused the defendants in the case of participating in the “Nurdzhular” organization, a Muslim organization that the Supreme Court declared extremist.

There were several other instances of restrictions on Islamic literature.  The SOVA Center reported on July 14 that the Sernursky District Court in Mari El fined Rosalia Timurgalieva for distributing extremist materials after she posted the film “Miracles of the Koran,” which the center said contained no calls to violence or discriminatory content, on social media.  In April, the Yoshkar-Ola City Court fined Valea Takhmazova and Izzatilo Isakov 1,000 rubles ($13) each for the same offense.

In January, Muslim community leaders criticized the decision by city authorities in Rostov-on-Don to transform the former Cathedral Mosque into a jazz school.  The mosque had been closed during the Soviet era and utilized by the army; in 2016 the Muslim community in Rostov asked for the building’s return.

In November, residents of Troitsk near Moscow complained to the city administration about an unofficial mosque – a residential building in which Muslims gathered for prayer.  The residents said the mosque led to traffic disruptions.  City officials reportedly determined the building was an illegal structure and planned to demolish it.  There were no other mosques in the city.  The case continued at year’s end.

On November 19, Ildar Alyautdinov, the Mufti of Moscow and the main imam of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, proposed opening prayer rooms in shopping centers and the subway instead of in residential buildings.  He stated that Moscow did not have enough local mosques for resident Muslims and migrants, and the rooms would allow Muslims to perform prayers at the right times without eliciting negative reactions from others.  In response, the press service of the Moscow Department of Transport stated that it was impossible to allocate “premises and places for religious actions of people of all views in public transport.”

In August, Ryazan authorities denied a request from Dmitry Pakhamov, cochairman of the Christianity and Islam Association and head of the International Christian Solidarity Foundation, to build an Islamic cultural and educational center in the city.  Officials responded that there were no free plots suitable for the construction of a religious facility.

In August, Samara city government authorities ordered the demolition of a Pentecostal Good News Church in Mekhzavod as an illegal building, saying the area was zoned for residential use.

On November 12, the Leninsky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod charged Kirill Evstigneev with providing financial services deliberately intended to support an extremist organization, for paying rent for a meeting place for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On November 2, the Kuznetsk District Court of Novokuznetsk prohibited the Orthodox diocese from operating a chapel, citing a violation of fire safety rules.

The NGO Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF) stated it had filed two cases with the ECHR on behalf of the Word of Life church in Kaluga – a Pentecostal church in a dispute with local authorities over ownership and building code violations which blocked efforts to convert a building to a meeting place for their community.  Worshipers reportedly were meeting in a tent outside the property pending resolution of the case.

ADF’s 2019 application to the ECHR on behalf of Pastor Vitaliy Bak remained pending at year’s end.  Bak, a Baptist community leader whom the Novorossiysk city administration accused of holding illegal worship services in his home, faced the possibility that his house would be demolished; local authorities closed the house in July 2019.  The ADF stated the authorities’ actions violated freedom of religion.

According to NGOs and independent experts, the government continued to cooperate more closely with the ROC than with other religious organizations, with officials often interpreting the law that recognized the “special role” of Orthodox Christianity as granting special privileges or benefits to the ROC as an institution.  Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs stated in a report in May that “the Kremlin continues to deepen its reliance on the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (ROC) as a lever of soft power in Russian foreign policy.”  In a July interview posted on the ROC website, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cited the existence of a Working Group for Cooperation between the foreign ministry and the ROC.  In June, ROC Patriarch Kirill presented Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu with an ROC medal for “supervision of the construction of the main temple of the Russian Armed Forces.”  He thanked Shoigu for his contribution to “this new way of interaction between the Church and the armed forces.”  Patriarch Kirill also presented awards to two deputy defense ministers.  The government continued to provide the ROC Patriarch with security guards and access to official vehicles, a privilege accorded to no other religious organization.  According to the SOVA Center, the ROC had received more government-granted property than any other religious organization.

In January, the Verkhnepyshminsky City Court sentenced an assistant to former ROC priest Shiigumen Sergiy to 15 days administrative arrest for inciting hatred through uploading a video on social media, a punishment that does not involve criminal charges.  The ROC had banned him from preaching.  Sergey refused to leave the Sredeuralsk Convent in a dispute over the property.

On February 10, the Sverdlovsk Arbitration Court recognized the Sredneuralsk Convent as property of the ROC Yekaterinburg Diocese.  The ROC had filed a claim for recognition of ownership in 2020.

Forum 18 raised concerns about amendments to the law in October which required clergy, missionaries, or religious teachers who received their religious training outside the country to enroll in a class on state-confessional relations and obtain recertification by a CRO.  The NGO criticized what it said was the vague wording of the amendments, which left interpretation to law enforcement authorities.  According to Forum 18, the majority of religious educational establishments appeared ineligible to offer such courses as they lacked state accreditation.  Baptist, Pentecostal, and Lutheran seminaries all lost their higher education licenses by May.  Forum 18 stated the amendments would affect some communities more than others; for example, the majority of Russia’s Buddhist leaders had trained outside Russia.  Sergey Gavrilov, head of the State Duma’s Committee for the Development of Civil Society and Issues of Public and Religious Associations, stated in an April 5 press release that the (then proposed) amendments were “aimed at protecting the spiritual sovereignty of Russia” and would “take into account Russian legal, moral, and cultural traditions.”

The country’s National Security Strategy, approved in July, included the prevention of the spread of religious radicalism, destructive religious movements, and formation of ethnic and religious enclaves as measures to ensure security.

The Jerusalem Post and Forum 18 reported that antisemitism was rising in the political sphere.  In February, an Anti-Defamation League report criticized the Russian government for instrumentalizing antisemitism to influence domestic and foreign public opinion in its conflict with Ukraine by exaggerating the prevalence of antisemitism in that country.

In January, St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Professor Vladimir Matveyev publicly denied the Holocaust during a webinar.  Matveyev stated Zionists invented the Holocaust, as “it was impossible to pass six million victims through all the concentration camps.”  Other webinar participants contested the statements.  Both institutions fired him in February, and a court denied his request for reinstatement.  Matveyev was charged with rehabilitation of Nazism, and his case remained pending at year’s end.  If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.

In August, Russia Religious News reported Foreign Minister Lavrov commented that the ROC was “suffering from (unspecified) pressure by Western countries.”

At an October 21 plenary session of the 18th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion club, President Vladimir Putin stated that Russians were guided by a moral and spiritual conservatism and must defend “true values” from “adherents of the so-called social progress,” whom he compared to the Bolsheviks, whose quest for progress a century ago became an effort to destroy “age-old values and religion.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In December, the Pervomaisky District Court of Krasnodar sentenced Zoya Malova, a member of the “Citizens of the USSR” movement, to six years in prison for attempting to organize a contract killing of the head of the Jewish Community of Krasnodar.  The case against her codefendant, Alexander Dudrenko, remained pending at year’s end.  The SOVA Center stated antisemitism is a part of the group’s ideology.

In August, a man assaulted 82-year-old Vladimir Tselin and shouted antisemitic threats at him.  The case was under investigation at year’s end.

In November, the Izamilovo District Court sentenced Father Sergy Romanov, a former member of the ROC hierarchy, to four years in prison on charges of vigilantism, violating the right to religious freedom, and encouraging suicide.  He had been arrested in December 2020 on suspicion of encouraging minors to commit suicide in his sermon entitled “For Faith in Christ, Let Us Face Death” that was posted on YouTube.  In 2020, the Verkhnepyshminsky City Court had fined Romanov after he made antisemitic remarks in a sermon, and a diocesan court in the Sverdlovsk Region stripped him of his religious rank.

In October, interfaith representatives took part in the first session of the Interreligious Group for the Protection of Rights and Believers from Discrimination and Xenophobia of the Council for Interaction with Religious Associations.  The council is under the authority of the Russian president.

According to a December survey conducted by the Levada Center, 29 percent of respondents agreed that the ROC had too large an influence on state policies, an increase from 17 percent in 2016.

Also in December, 22 percent of respondents surveyed by the Levada Center professed a negative attitude towards Jews, compared with 34 percent in a survey by the same organization in 2010.

The SOVA Center reported several cases of antisemitic vandalism.  In March, vandals drew a swastika on the gates of the Lyceum of Information Technologies in Novosibirsk.

On April 20, Hitler’s birthday, press reported that unknown persons set on fire the Shamir Jewish Community Center in Moscow, damaging the building’s balcony.  The perpetrators also spray painted a swastika and the word “death” on the building.  Also in April, a vandal painted antisemitic statements on the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Pushkin.

According to the SOVA Center, authorities investigated antisemitic social media posts.  In September, the Leninsky District Court in Smolensk agreed to hear a case against an individual who posted texts calling for antisemitic violence.  Also in September, the Gusinoozyorsky City Court sentenced an individual to two and a half years in prison for posting statements advocating violence against Jews.  In October, the Taganrog City Court of Rostov Region gave Sergei Shurygin a suspended sentence for creating and leading an antisemitic movement on social media.  Shurygin was not incarcerated but had to report to the penitentiary once a month.

The SOVA Center reported seven cases of vandalism against religious sites in the first six months of the year:  two Orthodox, two Jewish, two pagan, and one Protestant.  In all of 2020, the SOVA Center reported 29 incidents of religiously motivated vandalism.

Vandals also targeted other religious institutions and symbols.  In May, vandals painted a swastika on the wall of a disused church in Bronnitsa.  On August 30, vandals painted offensive inscriptions on the pagan temple in Bitsevsky Park in Moscow.  In June, vandals poured urine on the site.

In July, the Jewish community of Perm received a permit for construction of a Jewish Community center.  The SOVA Center stated that for several years, a group had opposed construction of the center.

On August 18, vandals desecrated the cemetery near the Trinity Cathedral in Nevel, knocking down crosses and damaging 16 tombstones.  Police detained local residents.

In September, vandals painted offensive inscriptions on the walls of a chapel and spring in Bogdanovka.  They reportedly also poured diesel fuel into the church’s well and the chapel’s font.

In October, authorities in Arkhangelsk opened a case against an individual for posting texts “against Orthodox believers.”

In February, two persons shot an air gun at a grocery store containing a halal market in St. Petersburg.

Local residents opposed the construction of churches, mosques, and other places of worship in Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk, Stupino, Irkutsk.  For example, in St. Petersburg, local residents opposed the construction of the Exaltation of the Cross Church on Krestovsky Island.  According to the SOVA Center, those opposed often complained about the choice of construction sites and the absence of public hearings.  In addition, the center stated public protests against the construction of mosques “often raise xenophobic arguments.”  In Stupino, for example, after buildings formerly used by the military were transferred to the Muslim community for the creation of an Islamic center; opponents distributed leaflets claiming the center could have a negative impact on interethnic conflicts and could lead to the introduction of “sharia norms.”  Some members of the city council supported opponents of the construction.  In Kazan, townspeople opposed the site chosen for construction of a mosque; debate was continuing at year’s end.


Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 20.4 million (midyear 2021).  At year’s end, according to the UN, more than half of the country’s prewar population was displaced; there were approximately 5.6 million refugees registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in neighboring countries as well as 6.6 million IDPs.  Continued population displacement adds a degree of uncertainty to demographic analyses, but the U.S. government estimates 74 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, which includes ethnic Arabs, Kurds, Circassians, Chechens, and some Turkomans.  Other Muslim groups, including Alawites, Ismailis, and Shia, together constitute 13 percent of the population, while Druze constitute 3 percent.

The U.S. government estimates 10 percent of the population is Christian.  However, there are reports that indicate that number is considerably lower – approximately 2.5 percent.  Of the 2.2 million Christians who lived in the country prior to the war, the NGO Open Doors USA estimates that only approximately 677,000 remain.  According to the Catholic news site Asia News, the Assyrian Democratic Organization, a party linked to the Self Administration of North and East Syria in the northeast, reported two-thirds of the country’s Christians have fled Syria since 2011.  In a paper published by the think tank Middle East Institute, a researcher noted, however, “War and displacement have… played havoc with those figures over the last 10 years.”

Before the civil war, there were small Jewish populations in Aleppo and Damascus, but in 2020, the Jewish Chronicle reported that there were no known Jews still living in the country.  There was also a Yezidi population of approximately 80,000 before the civil war.  There are no updated figures on the number of Yezidis currently living in the country

Sunni Muslims are present throughout the country.  Shia Muslims live mostly in rural areas, particularly in several majority-Shia towns in Idlib and Aleppo Governates, although Iranian-backed groups along the Middle Euphrates River valley have encouraged conversions.  Twelver Shia Muslims generally live in and around Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs.  Most Alawites live in the mountainous areas of the coastal Latakia Governorate, but they also live in the cities of Latakia, Tartous, Homs, and Damascus.  The highest concentration of Ismaili Muslims live in the city of Salamiyeh, Hama Governorate.

Most Christians belong to autonomous Orthodox Churches such as the Syria Orthodox Church, Eastern Catholic Churches such as the Maronite Church, or the Assyrian Church of the East and other affiliated independent Nestorian Churches.  Most Christians continue to live in and around Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and Latakia, or in the Hasakah Governorate in the northeast of the country.  While there were hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees before the conflict, the majority of the Iraqi Christian population has moved to neighboring countries or returned to Iraq.  Many Druze live in the Jabal al-Arab (Jabal al-Druze) region in the southern Sweida Governorate, where they constitute a majority of the local population.  Yezidis previously lived in Aleppo, but now live mainly in northeast Syria areas controlled by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The legal framework described in this section remains in force only in those areas controlled by the government, and even in those areas, there is often a breakdown in law and order, leaving militias, often predominantly composed of a single religious group, in a dominant position.  In other areas of the country, irregular courts and local “authorities” apply a variety of unofficial legal codes with diverse provisions relating to religious freedom.

The constitution declares the state shall respect all religions and shall ensure the freedom to perform religious rituals as long as these do not disturb public order.  There is no official state religion, although the constitution states “Islam is the religion of the President of the republic.”  The constitution states Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation.

The constitution states, “The personal status of religious communities shall be protected and respected” and “Citizens shall be equal in rights and duties without discrimination among them on grounds of sex, origin, language, religion, or creed.”  Citizens have the right to sue the government if they believe it violated their rights.  Some personal status laws mirror sharia regardless of the religion of those involved in the case being decided.

According to law, membership in certain types of religiously oriented organizations is illegal and punishable to different degrees.  This includes membership in an organization considered by the government to be “Salafist,” a designation the government loosely associates with Sunni fundamentalism.  Neither the government broadly nor the state security court has specifically defined the parameters of what constitutes “Salafist” activity.  The law prohibits political parties based on religion, tribal affiliation, or regional interests.  Affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood is punishable by death or imprisonment.

The government bans Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “politically-motivated Zionist organization.”

The law restricts proselytizing and conversion.  It prohibits the conversion of Muslims to other religions as contrary to sharia.  The law recognizes conversion to Islam.  The penal code prohibits causing tension between religious communities.

The law bars publication of content that affects “national unity and national security,” harms state symbols, defames religions, or incites sectarian strife or “hate crimes.”  The Ministry of Religious Endowments (Awqaf) must approve books imported from abroad.  Television shows require the approval of religious authorities.

By law, all religious groups must register with the government.  Registered religious groups and clergy – including all government-recognized Muslim, Jewish, and Christian groups – receive free utilities and are exempt from real estate taxes on religious buildings and personal property taxes on their official vehicles.

The law regulates the structure and functions of the Awqaf.  The law provides for a Council of Islamic Jurisprudence with the power to define what religious discourse is appropriate and the authority to fine or penalize individuals who propagate extremist thought or deviate from approved discourse.  The law also charges the council with monitoring all fatwas (religious decrees) issued in the country and with preventing the spread of views associated with the Muslim Brotherhood or “Salafist” activity, including “Wahhabism.”  The law concentrates a range of offices and institutions within the ministry, centralizing the government’s role in and oversight of the country’s religious affairs.

On November 15, President Bashar al-Assad issued legislative decree No. 28 for 2021, expanding the role and authorities of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council to include those previously relegated to the Grand Mufti, the highest Islamic authority in the country, whose position was also eliminated under the same decree.  The council will consist of 40 scholars and will be chaired by the Minister of Endowment.  Its tasks will include setting the start and end dates of the month of Ramadan and declaring fatwas.

All meetings of religious groups, except for regularly scheduled worship, require permits from the government.

Public schools are officially government-run and nonsectarian, although the government authorizes the Christian and Druze communities to operate some public schools.  There is mandatory religious instruction in public schools for all students, with government-approved teachers and curricula.  Religious instruction covers only Islam and Christianity, and courses are divided into separate classes for Muslim and Christian students.  Members of religious groups may choose to attend public schools with Islamic or Christian instruction or to attend private schools that follow either secular or religious curricula.

For the resolution of issues of personal status, the government requires citizens to list their religious affiliation.  Individuals are subject to their respective religious group’s laws concerning marriage and divorce.  Per the personal status code, a Muslim man may legally marry a Christian woman, but a Muslim woman may not legally marry a Christian man.  If a Christian woman marries a Muslim man, she is not allowed to be buried in an Islamic cemetery unless she converts to Islam and may not inherit any property or wealth from her husband, even if she converts.  The law states that if a Christian wishes to convert to Islam, the presiding Muslim cleric must inform the prospective convert’s diocese.

The personal status law on divorce for Muslims is based on an interpretation of sharia implemented by government-appointed religious judges.  In interreligious personal status cases, sharia takes precedence.  A divorced woman is not entitled to alimony in some cases; a woman may also forego her right to alimony to persuade her husband to agree to the divorce.  In addition, under the law, a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach the age of 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family.

The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance laws for all citizens except Christians.  According to the law, courts may grant Muslim women up to half of the inheritance share of male heirs.  In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less.

An individual’s birth certificate records his or her religious affiliation.  Documents presented when marrying or traveling for a religious pilgrimage also list the religious affiliation of the applicant.  Jews are the only religious group whose passports and identity cards note their religion.

Law No. 10, passed in 2018, allows the government to create “redevelopment zones” to be slated for reconstruction.  Property owners are notified to provide documentary proof of property ownership or risk losing ownership to the state.  The law makes no provision to accommodate refugees and IDPs.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to UN, press, and NGO reporting, the government, with the support of its Russian and Iranian allies, continued to commit indiscriminate human rights abuses and violations against civilians, as well as participate in the widespread destruction of hospitals, homes, and other civilian infrastructure.  These sources stated that the government continued its widespread use of unlawful killings, attacks on civilians and civilian sites, including homes and hospitals, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, and confiscation of property to punish perceived opponents, the majority of whom, reflecting the country’s demographics, were Sunni Muslims.  On September 24, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the UN Human Rights Council that from March 2011 to March 2021, more than 350,000 identifiable individuals had been killed in the course of the conflict in the country.  The commissioner noted that the figure indicated “a minimum verifiable number,” and that it was “certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings.”  Other groups attributed more than 550,000 killings to the conflict.  This discrepancy was largely due to the high number of missing and disappeared Syrians, whose fates remained unknown at year’s end.

Some opposition groups identified themselves explicitly as Sunni Arab or Sunni Muslim in statements and publications.  Sources stated that political access was primarily a function of proximity and loyalty to the regime, not sectarian identity.  According to the NGO Freedom House, Alawites, Christians, Druze, and members of other religious minorities considered to be outside of the regime’s inner circle were “politically disenfranchised along with the rest of the population.”  Freedom House stated although the political elite included Sunnis, the Sunni majority, which comprised the bulk of the opposition, bore “the brunt of state repression as a result” of this broader disenfranchisement.

The government continued to target those within the country who criticized or opposed the government, the majority of whom were Sunni and whom the government described as violent extremists.  There were continued NGO and media reports that in its efforts to retake opposition-held areas, the government targeted civilian centers in towns and neighborhoods, which, due to prevailing demographics, were inhabited by a majority Sunni population.  In June, regime forces, supported by pro-regime militias, broke the Russian-brokered ceasefire negotiated in 2018 and besieged and shelled the city of Daraa al-Balad, an area with a Sunni majority population.  The attack came after Daraa al-Balad residents protested in May against the presidential election.  According to NGO and media reports, the regime’s ground military operation resulted in civilian casualties; damage to civilian infrastructure, including the only medical facility in the city; forced displacement; and acute food and medicine shortages.  Following the clashes, the regime demanded the expulsion and relocation of several perceived opponents.  According to UN estimates, approximately 38,600 persons fled Daraa al-Balad as a result of the fighting.  From June to August, according to press and NGOs, the regime blocked humanitarian access to the affected areas and communities.  In its August report, the COI found that pro-regime forces’ use of siege-like tactics may have amounted to the war crime of collective punishment.


The SNHR documented at least 1,279 attacks on mosques in the country between March 2011 and November 2021, attributing 914 attacks to the regime and 204 attacks to Russian forces.  The SNHR also documented at least 126 attacks on Christian places of worship during the same time period, attributing 76 attacks to the regime, 33 to armed opposition groups, 10 to ISIS, five to other parties, and two to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

The SNHR reported at least 972 arbitrary detentions during the first half of the year and documented at least 150,000 individuals who were detained or forcibly disappeared between March 2011 and November 2021, approximately 88 percent of whom SNHR estimated were disappeared by the Assad regime and remained missing.  These included perceived opponents and those associated with human rights activists, journalists, relief workers, and medical providers.  According to the SNHR, from March 2011 to September 2021, more than 14,580 persons died from torture in government custody.  Government forces were reportedly responsible for at least 78 deaths by torture during the year.  As was the case with others who previously died in government custody, most were Sunni Muslims, whom analysts stated the government targeted believing they were members of the opposition or likely to support the opposition.

According to a June Freedom House Report, corruption was rampant and basic state services and humanitarian aid were reportedly extended or withheld according to a recipient’s perceived loyalty to the Assad regime.  Freedom House also stated individuals living in government-held territory who criticized or sought to expose corruption faced reprisals, including detention and dismissal from employment.  The press reported the kidnapping of an 88-year-old Greek Orthodox merchant, Nazih Shehadeh, from his home in the Druze majority city of al-Suwayda in June.  Syrian-born al-Jazeera journalist Faisal al-Qasim said that Shehadeh’s abduction followed his refusal to participate in the May 26 presidential election.  After angry reactions from the city’s population, local news outlets, without clarifying details of his detention or release, reported that Shehadeh returned home.

Analysts reported the government continued to use Law No. 10 of 2018 to reward those loyal to the government and to create obstacles for refugees and IDPs to reclaim their property and return to their homes.  According to NGO reports, since the law’s enactment, the government had replaced residents in former opposition-held areas with more loyal constituencies.  These government policies disproportionately affected Sunni populations, which made up the majority of the population.  According to SNHR, seizing the property of regime opponents was part of the regime’s strategy of forced displacement to “engineer the demographic and social structure of the Syrian state [in a manner] that automatically constitutes a major obstacle to the return of refugees and IDPs.”

According to human rights groups and religious communities, the government continued to monitor and control sermons and to close mosques between prayers.  It also continued to monitor and limit the activities of all religious groups, including scrutinizing their fundraising and discouraging proselytizing.

Despite the relatively small indigenous Shia community in the country, Shia religious slogans and banners remained prominent in Damascus, according to observers and media reports.  In addition, Hizballah and other pro-Iran signs and banners remained prevalent in some government-held areas.

There continued to be Christian, Druze, and Kurdish members in parliament.  According to observers, Alawites held greater political power in the cabinet than other minorities, as well as more authority than the majority Sunni population.  During the 2020 parliamentary elections, the number of Sunni members of the 250-seat Parliament increased to 169 from 165 in 2016, while the number of Christians dropped from 22 to 18.  The number of Druze dropped from nine to eight.  The Middle East Institute stated these changes “were not large enough to signal any major shift in the regime’s policy towards these religious groups.”

Some media articles challenged the depiction of the country and the government as religiously tolerant and secular.  A paper published by the Middle East Institute on April 12 stated, “The ultimate irony is that within so-called secular Syria as represented by the nominally secular Ba’ath Party, in power under the Assads for the last 50 years, sectarianism has been consistently on the rise… Before the Assads, religious identities were pluralistic, and were only relevant at the social level.  They were not politicized or institutionalized.”  In a February 8 article published by the New Lines Institute, a Syrian researcher wrote, “The regime was never truly secular.  It has instrumentalized religion in order to further tear apart society and deepen the sectarian abyss.”  A report released in June by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, a London-based NGO focusing on international humanitarian law and human rights, entitled In the Name of Protection:  Minorities and identity in the Syrian conflict stated, “The weaponization of religion and sect is far-reaching in the Syrian political landscape… The melding of Alawi religious symbols, imagery and other aspects of Alawi identity in state security agencies… is one example of how representations of Alawi identity have been hijacked to merge with the state.”

In its June report In the Name of Protection, the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights said the ruling Ba’ath party had “curated a narrative portraying itself as the protector and defender of religious minorities.”  The NGO stated the regime had “both co-opted Syrian religious minorities, regardless of their own political views, and demonised millions of Sunni protestors, in rhetoric that dismissed them as ‘terrorists’ rather than citizens seeking political, economic, and social justice.  Sectarian state rhetoric has therefore contributed to deepened fissures between different religious communities.”

According to experts, religion remained a factor in determining career advancement in the government.  The Alawite minority continued to hold an elevated political status disproportionate to its numbers, particularly in leadership positions in the military, security, and intelligence services, although the senior officer corps of the military continued to accept into its ranks individuals from other religious minority groups.  The government continued to exempt Christian and Muslim religious leaders from military service based on conscientious objection, although it continued to require Muslim religious leaders to pay a levy for exemption.

In June, Freedom House reported that families and networks with links to the ruling elite received preferential treatment and were disproportionately Alawite, although “Alawites without such connections [were] far less likely to benefit from any special advantages.”  The report also found that given the armed opposition’s overwhelmingly Sunni composition, Sunnis were consequently likely to face discrimination by the regime unless they held close ties with it.

According to an analysis released September 24 by the Middle East Institute, the government was increasingly reliant upon the army’s Fourth Division, commanded by the President’s brother Maher al-Assad.  According to the analysis, Alawites constitute approximately 95 percent of the Fourth Division’s officers and regular soldiers.  During the year, the Fourth Division deployed throughout the country, often with support from Iran and Hizballah, because of a growing lack of confidence in regular army forces and a considerable number of defections by Sunni officers in the rest of the army.  During the summer, the unit, supported by pro-Iranian militias, led the attack on Daraa al-Balad, an area which, due to prevailing demographics, had a Sunni majority population.

According to the British-based NGO CSW, on February 14, the Ministry of Justice rejected the Yezidi community’s request to recognize it as a religious group, which would allow Yezidis to establish their own personal status courts.  The Council for Syrian Yezidis issued a statement describing the decision as “a flagrant violation of basic human rights.”

Antisemitic literature reportedly remained available for purchase at low prices throughout the country.  Government-controlled radio and television programming reportedly continued to disseminate anti-Semitic news articles and cartoons.

On January 15, in a Friday sermon at Damascus’s Umayyad Mosque that aired on state-run Nour al-Sham TV, Mohammed Sa’id Ramadan al-Bouti, the mosque’s government-appointed imam, spoke about the “filthy history” of the Jews.  In his sermon, al-Bouti said that the Jews offended Moses and killed John the Baptist and other prophets, becoming known as the “slayers of prophets” whose history is one “of treachery and betrayal.”  Al-Bouti stated that Jews were “inciting strife and wars” and “spreading moral depravity, debauchery, and licentiousness.”

In January, the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, the American Schools of Oriental Research, and the Center for Jewish Art announced they had collaborated to identify “important Jewish heritage sites” in Europe, Iraq, and Syria to be added to Western military protection lists.  In 2020, the Foundation for Jewish Heritage reported that more than half of the Jewish sites it had identified in Syria were beyond repair or in very bad condition.

The national school curriculum did not include materials on religious tolerance or the Holocaust.

The government continued to allow foreign Christian NGOs to operate under the auspices of one of the historically established churches without officially registering.  It continued to require foreign Islamic NGOs to register and receive Awqaf approval to operate.  Security forces continued to question these Islamic organizations on their sources of income and to monitor their expenditures.  The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor continued to prohibit religious leaders from serving as directors on the boards of Islamic charities.

There continued to be reports that the Iranian government, primarily through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, directly supported the Assad government and recruited Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters, as well as Syrians, to fight in the conflict.  In March, Foreign Policy reported that Iran used its influence, the dire economic situation in the country and financial incentives to encourage Sunnis to convert to Shia Islam or join Iranian militias.  In March, the NGO Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Iranian forces invited residents in a town in Deir Ezzour to attend a course on the doctrines of Shia Islam at the local Iranian Cultural Center, offering approximately $200 and a food basket to those who passed the course. reported that Hizballah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon, offered new recruits in Deir Ezzour a monthly salary of $150 to enlist.  According to the March Foreign Policy report, Iran restored and built new shrines “almost as if trying to rewrite the religious history of Syria, which is majority-Sunni and had a very small Shia population before the war.”  Experts reported that the “demographic and cultural penetration” was aimed at increasing the number of Shia in the country to allow Iran to “claim political power on their behalf.”

According to human rights organizations such as Syrians for Truth and Justice, and documentation gathering groups, TSOs in the northern part of the country committed human rights abuses against Yezidi residents and other residents, particularly in Kurdish areas, including arbitrary detentions of civilians, torture, sexual violence, evictions, looting and seizure of private property, recruitment of child soldiers, and the looting and desecration of religious shrines.  TSOs also reportedly abused members of other religious minority groups.

In areas under Turkish influence, TSO groups operating under the Syrian National Army (SNA) restricted religious freedom of Yezidis through attacks against and intimidation of civilians.  A January COI report noted that the commission had documented the looting and destruction of archeological sites and Yezidi shrines and graves by the SNA in Afrin.  Speaking at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on August 10, a Voice of America (VOA) correspondent stated that local human rights groups documented abuses and violations against residents of Afrin, mainly against Yezidis, including kidnappings for ransom; imprisonment; torture; the imposition of a “protection fee” on some villages; the destruction of Yezidi shrines and graves; and the looting and confiscation of land and property.

According to the COI, abductions and extortions rose in regions where hostilities between TSOs and government forces had created a security vacuum.  In March, CSW reported the release of Radwan Mohammed, a Kurdish Christian headmaster abducted in 2020 by a TSO, Failaq al-Sham (the Legion of the Levant), in Afrin after he refused to convert his school into an Islamic educational center.  The group also prevented Mohammed and his family from washing and shrouding the body of his wife, who had died prior to his detention.  Both Mohammed and his wife were converts from Islam to Christianity, and Failaq al-Sham had charged him with apostasy.

Members of religious and ethnic minority groups, especially displaced Kurds, Yezidis, and Christians, in areas under Turkish influence, such as in the city of Afrin, reported experiencing human rights abuses and marginalization.  In an August post on a Wilson Center blog, a VOA journalist stated that according to human rights groups, of 25,000 Yezidis who lived in 22 villages in Afrin before the 2018 Turkish incursion, just 5,000 remained.  In September, VOA reported Christian leaders said Turkish shelling in northeast Syria during the year had driven Christians and other minorities from their homes in Tel Tamer and surrounding villages southeast of the Operation Peace Spring area.  According to press reports and NGOs, in Afrin, Yezidi women reported to have been kidnapped by TSOs remained missing.

The COI and numerous independent sources reported that during the course of the conflict, nonstate actors, including a number of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United Nations, the United States, and other governments, such as HTS, targeted members of religious minority groups as well as Sunnis with killings, kidnappings, physical mistreatment, and detentions.  These resulted in the deaths and disappearance of thousands of civilians.  According to a COI report released in February that covered the period from 2011 to the end of 2020, throughout areas under its control, HTS “caused severe psychological and physical harm to women, girls, men and boys, by imposing religious dress codes and, in the case of women and girls, denying their freedom of movement without a male relative… Unauthorized ‘courts’ established by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and various armed groups imposed death sentences that amounted to the war crime of murder and were used to impose such groups’ draconian social strictures…”

Media reported that HTS continued to restrict the freedom of Christians in Idlib city.  According to a June report published by the Middle East Institute, HTS seized hundreds of properties belonging to displaced Christians, including at least 550 homes and shops in Idlib Governate, between late 2018 and late 2019.

The COI found that despite its territorial defeat, violent attacks by ISIS remnants had increased.  Human rights organizations stated ISIS often targeted civilians, persons suspected of collaborating with security forces, and groups that ISIS deemed to be apostates.  According to the COI’s February report, “The stoning of women and girls on charges of adultery and the executions of homosexuals were also recurrent in areas under ISIL control, as were forced marriages to fighters.”

Although ISIS no longer controlled territory, the fate of 8,648 individuals forcibly disappeared by ISIS since 2014 remained unknown, according to the SNHR.  Among those abducted in northern Iraq were an estimated 6,000 women and children, mainly Yezidis, whom ISIS reportedly transferred to Syria and sold as sex slaves, forced into nominal marriage to ISIS fighters, or gave as “gifts” to ISIS commanders.  In a September 14 letter to the UN General Assembly, the Yezidi advocacy organization Yazda and more than 80 other signatories stated that 2,763 individuals remained unaccounted for.  Yazda reported that more than 3,000 Yezidi women and children had escaped, been liberated in SDF military operations, or been released from ISIS captivity since the start of the conflict, but that more than 2,700 remained unaccounted for at year’s end.

In areas where government control was weak or nonexistent, localized detention centers emerged.  Reports of control and oversight varied, and both civilian and religious leaders were in charge of facility administration.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Throughout the year there were reports of sectarian violence due to tensions among religious groups, cultural rivalries, and provocative rhetoric.  Christians reportedly continued to face discrimination and violence at the hands of violent extremist groups.

Advocacy groups reported social conventions and religious proscriptions continued to make conversions – especially Muslim-to-Christian conversions, which remained banned by law – relatively rare.  These groups also reported that societal pressure continued to force converts to relocate within the country or to emigrate in order to practice their new religion openly.

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, the opposition’s primary political umbrella organization, and the Syrian Negotiations Committee, an opposition organization responsible for negotiating with the government on behalf of the opposition, continued to condemn attacks both by the government and by extremist and terrorist groups.



Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 43.7 million (midyear 2021).  According to the annual November national survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, an independent public policy think tank, 60.0 percent of respondents identify as Christian Orthodox, compared with 62.3 percent in 2020; 8.8 percent Greek Catholic (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, UGCC), compared with 9.6 percent in 2020; 1.5 percent Protestant, the same as in 2020; 0.8 percent Roman Catholic, compared with 1.8 percent in 2020; 0.1 Jewish, the same as in 2020; and 0.2 percent Muslim, compared with under 0.5 percent in 2020.  The survey found another 8.5 percent identify as “simply a Christian,” while 18.8 percent state they do not belong to any religious group, compared with 8.9 percent and 15.2 percent, respectively, in 2020.  Small numbers of Buddhists, pagans (following traditional pre-Christian polytheistic beliefs, including animism), followers of other religions, and individuals choosing not to disclose their beliefs constitute the remainder of the respondents.  According to the same survey, groups included in the 60.0 percent who identify as Christian Orthodox are as follows:  24.4 percent as members of the OCU, compared with 18.6 percent in 2020; 12.1 percent the UOC-MP, compared with 13.6 percent in 2020; 2.7 percent Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), compared with 2.3 percent in 2020; 19.8 percent “simply” an Orthodox believer,” compared with 32.7 percent in 2020; and 1.1 percent undecided, compared with 0.7 percent in 2020.  According to the same poll, most of the self-identified OCU followers are in the western, central, and eastern parts of the country.  UOC-MP followers were evenly dispersed throughout the country with a slightly higher concentration in the eastern part of the country.  Most of the “just Orthodox” respondents live in the eastern, southern, and central parts of the country.  Followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts.  Most Roman Catholic Church (RCC) followers are in the western and southern oblasts.

According to government statistics, followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk.  Most RCC congregations are in Lviv, Khmelnytskyy, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsya, Zakarpattya, and Ternopil Oblasts, in the western part of the country.  According to the government’s estimate as of January 1, most OCU congregations (formed by the merger of the UOC-KP, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and part of the UOC-MP) are in the central and western parts of the country, except for Zakarpattya Oblast.  Most UOC-MP congregations are also in the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Odesa Oblasts, and in the central and western parts of the country, excluding Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Ternopil Oblasts.

The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest Protestant community.  Other Christian groups include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).

Government agencies and independent think tanks estimate the Muslim population at 500,000, while some Muslim leaders estimate two million.  According to government figures, 300,000 of these are Crimean Tatars.

The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) states there are approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.  According to VAAD, prior to the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in the Donbas region (Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts).  Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s purported annexation.  According to the London-based Institute for Jewish Studies, the country’s Jewish population declined by 94.6 percent from 1970 to 2020.  According to NewLines Magazine, Jewish emigration has slowed to 2,000 to 3,000 persons per year.

There are also small numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, practitioners of Falun Gong, Baha’is, and adherents of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including worship.  By law, the government may restrict this right only in the “interests of protecting public order[or] the health and morality of the population or protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.”  The constitution provides for the “separation of church and religious organizations from the state” and stipulates, “No religion shall be recognized by the state as mandatory.”

The criminal code determines punishment, in the form of a fine or imprisonment, for “willful actions inciting national, racial, or religious enmity and hatred, humiliation of national honor and dignity, or the insult of citizens’ feelings with respect to their religious convictions, and also any direct or indirect restriction of rights, or granting direct or indirect privileges to citizens based on race, color of skin, political, religious and other convictions, disability, sex, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, [or] linguistic or other characteristics.”  By law, the objective of religious policy is to “restore full-fledged dialogue between representatives of various social, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.”  The law on the condemnation of the Communist and Nazi regimes establishes punishment for public denial of the criminal nature of those regimes, dissemination of information aimed at justifying their criminal nature, and the production and/or dissemination and public use of products containing their symbols.

The law requires the government to investigate crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed by the Communist and Nazi regimes, and to identify and preserve mass graves of their victims, research and publish information about repression, mass and individual murder, deaths, deportation, torture, use of forced labor and other forms of mass physical terror, and persecution based on “ethnic, national, religious, political, class, social, and other factors.”  The law also requires the government to raise public awareness of Communist and Nazi-era crimes and to support nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducting research and education in that area.

The criminal code determines punishments (fines or imprisonment) for “willful actions inciting national, racial, or religious enmity and hatred, humiliation of national honor and dignity, or the insult of citizens’ feelings in respect to their religious convictions, and also any direct or indirect restriction of rights, or granting direct or indirect privileges to citizens based on race, color of skin, political, religious and other convictions, disability, sex, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, [or] linguistic or other characteristics.”

A new law adopted by parliament in September and signed by President Zelensky on October 7 defines the concept of antisemitism and reaffirms punishment for crimes motivated by antisemitism.  The law also reaffirms punishment for making false or stereotypical statements about persons of Jewish origin, producing, or disseminating materials containing antisemitic statements or content, and denying the facts of the persecution and mass killing of Jews during the Holocaust.  The state may charge those found guilty of violating the law with civil, administrative, and criminal liability.  Victims may also receive compensation for “material and moral damages.”  Parliament’s passage of implementing legislation of the law was pending at year’s end.

Religious organizations include congregations, theological schools, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and administrations of religious associations consisting of religious organizations.  To register and obtain legal-entity status, an organization must register either with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, which is the government agency responsible for religious affairs, or with regional government authorities, depending upon the nature of the organization.  Religious centers, administrations, monasteries, brotherhoods, missions, and schools register with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy.  Congregations register with the regional authorities where they are present.  While these congregations may form the constituent units of a nationwide religious organization, the nationwide organization does not register on a national basis and may not obtain recognition as a legal entity.  The constituent units instead register individually and obtain legal-entity status.

mendments to religious freedom legislation enacted in 2019 direct regional governments’ religious affairs departments to handle the dual registration.  The amendments require all religious organizations to update and reregister their statutes by January 31, 2020.  The amendments also specify reregistration requirements for organizations that wish to change their affiliation, particularly UOC-MP parishes seeking to join the OCU.  The amended law requires a quorum, as defined by each congregation and usually comprising two-thirds or three-fourths of a religious organization’s members, to decide on a change of affiliation.  The law also requires a vote by two-thirds of those present to authorize such a decision.  The law bans any transfer of an organization’s property until the affiliation change is finalized.

To be eligible for registration, a religious congregation must comprise at least 10 adult members and submit to the registration authorities its statute (charter), certified copies of the resolution that created it and was adopted by founding members, and a document confirming its right to own or use premises.

Registered religious groups wishing to acquire nonprofit status, which many do for banking purposes, must register with tax authorities.

Without legal-entity status, a religious group may not own property, conduct banking activities, be eligible for utility bill discounts, join civic or advisory boards of government agencies, or establish periodicals, nongovernmental pension funds, officially accredited schools, publishing, agricultural and other companies, or companies manufacturing religious items.  Religious groups without legal-entity status may meet and worship and may also publish and distribute religious materials.  In accordance with the stipulation against national registration, however, only a registered constituent unit of a nationwide religious organization may own property or conduct business activities, either for itself or on behalf of the nationwide organization.  The law grants property tax exemptions to religious organizations and considers them nonprofit organizations.

The law requires commanders of military units to allow their subordinates to participate in religious services but bans the creation of religious organizations in military institutions and military units.  The law prohibits UOC-MP priests from serving as chaplains on bases or in conflict zones, ostensibly due to concerns about their affiliation with Russia through the Moscow Patriarchate.

A law on military chaplaincy, adopted by parliament on November 30, defines selection criteria for clergy to become chaplains, their status in the chain of command, and their rights and duties in the Armed Forces, National Guard, State Border Guard Service, and other military formations.  The legislation institutionalizes military chaplaincy according to NATO principles, gives chaplains the status of full-fledged service members, and provides for the same type of financial and social security support as other service members.  The law protects the confidentiality of confession to a military chaplain and provides for the creation of interfaith councils on military chaplaincy as advisory bodies at the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Internal Affairs.

According to the constitution, organizers must notify local authorities in advance of any type of planned public gathering, and authorities may challenge the legality of the planned event.  According to a 2016 Constitutional Court decision, religious organizations need only inform local authorities of their intention to hold a public gathering and need not apply for permission or notify authorities within a specific period in advance of the event.

Government regulations on identity documents, including passports, allow religious head coverings in photographs.

The law allows religious groups to establish theological schools to train clergy and other religious workers as well as to seek state accreditation through the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance for their curriculum.  The law states theological schools shall function based on their own statutes.

Government agencies authorized to monitor religious organizations include the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and all other “central bodies of the executive government.”

Only registered religious groups may seek restitution of communal property confiscated by the former Communist regime.  Religious groups must apply to regional authorities for property restitution.  The law states authorities should complete their consideration of a restitution claim within a month.

The law prohibits religious instruction as part of the mandatory public school curriculum and states public school training “shall be free from interference by political parties, civic, and religious organizations.”  Public schools include “ethics of faith “or similar faith-related courses as optional parts of the curricula.  The law provides that Christian, Islamic, and Jewish-focused curriculums may offer ethics of faith courses in public schools.

The law provides for antidiscrimination screening of draft legislation and government regulations, including for discrimination based on religion.  The law requires the legal department of each respective agency responsible for verifying draft legislation to conduct screening in accordance with instructions developed by the Cabinet of Ministers to ensure the draft legislation does not contain discriminatory language and to require changes if it does.  Religious groups may participate in screening draft legislation at the invitation of the respective agency.

The law allows alternative nonmilitary service for conscientious objectors.  The law also allows government officials to deny a conscript’s application for alternative service due to missing the application deadline.  The law does not exempt the clergy from military mobilization.  Amendments to a law on military duty and service passed in April allows no exemption from military reserve service during the “special period” (i.e., while hostilities with Russia-led forces continue), even for conscientious objectors.

The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights (“Ombudsperson”) is constitutionally required to release an annual report to parliament containing a section on religious freedom.

The law restricts the activities of foreign-based religious groups and defines the permissible activities of noncitizen clergy, preachers, teachers, and other representatives of foreign-based religious groups.  By law, foreign religious workers may “preach, administer religious ordinances, or practice other canonical activities,” but they may do so only for the registered religious organization that invited them and with the approval of the government body that registered the statute of the organization.  Missionary activity is included under permissible activities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Since 2015, the government has exercised the right of derogation from its obligations under the ICCPR regarding the portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-led forces, including the ICCPR provisions pertaining to religious freedom.

Government Practices

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to call on the government to implement four 2020 ECHR decisions to ensure effective investigation of the hate crimes committed against the group and its places of worship between 2009-13 and to prosecute the perpetrators of those religiously motivated attacks.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, during the year the government paid compensation awarded by the ECHR to the victims in the cases Zagubnya and Tabachkova v. Ukraine, Migoryanu and Others v. Ukraine, and Tretiak v. Ukraine.  By year’s end, the government had not paid compensation to the victims in the case of Kornilova v. Ukraine.  Jehovah’s Witnesses stated the government took no specific measures to implement those ECHR judgments by improving the current practice of hate crime investigations.

Some Jewish leaders and human rights activists continued to state concerns about what they considered impunity for hate crimes, including acts of antisemitism, and about the government’s long delays in completing investigations of these crimes.  They also objected to authorities’ prosecuting many antisemitic acts as hooliganism rather than as hate crimes.  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the lack of proper punishment for hate crimes “has long been a major problem, exacerbated by Article 161 of the criminal code [on incitement to enmity, religious, racial and other discrimination, etc.], which is notoriously difficult to prove and therefore most often avoided by the police and prosecutors.”  Some Jewish leaders said law enforcement authorities often charged antisemitic actors, if apprehended, with hooliganism or vandalism instead of a hate crime in what they assessed was an attempt to downplay the criminal behavior.  According to Freedom House, “Qualified professional legal assessment of hate crimes remains a serious problem:  a motive either being ignored immediately with the crime qualified under other articles of the criminal code, or it is ‘lost’ at the stage of judicial inquiry.”  Because it was harder to prove intent in hate crimes, some prosecutors reportedly chose to charge suspects with hooliganism instead.

Although the constitution and a law on alternative military service recognize the right to conscientious objection and provide the option of alternative civilian service, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the government did not uniformly recognize conscientious objection claims.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, officials frequently denied requests for alternative civilian service on the grounds of conscientious objection.  Despite courts and the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsperson protecting the right of Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors to perform alternative civilian service, Jehovah’s Witnesses said some military enlistment officials arbitrarily detained Witnesses summoned for military service, and some district and oblast state administrations denied them the right to alternative service.  Authorities also reportedly detained some Jehovah’s Witnesses for days while they faced criminal prosecution for “draft evasion.”  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, amendments to a law on military duty and service passed in April provided no possibility of an exemption from military reserve service during the “special period” (i.e., while hostilities with Russia-led forces continue), even for conscientious objectors.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, during the year, some local state administrations rejected applications for alternative civilian service, stating the applicants had missed the deadline for submission of their applications.  Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on June 1, military conscription officers escorted Arthur Garry to the Lviv Regional Enlistment Office and attempted to return him to his army unit after denying his right to conscientious objection in May.  Following a complaint filed by his attorney, the officers released him after three days.  In November, the local authorities approved his request for alternative service.

On June 1, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, military conscription officers escorted Myroslav Sobutskyy to the Rivne Regional Enlistment Office and tried to enlist him in the army after denying his right to conscientious objection in March.  The Witnesses reported that Sobutskyy fled to avoid forced conscription, which they said made him subject to possible criminal prosecution.  Following a local court order, the local government approved his request for alternative service.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on January 15, the Ternopil District Administrative Court closed a draft-evasion case against Ihor Zherebetskyy based on his refusal to report for military service after authorities in 2017 denied his request for alternative service, stating he had missed the deadline for making such a request.  On May 26, officials granted his request for alternative service, more than three years after he applied.

During the year, the State Service for Ethnopolicy and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), an office under the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, stated its commitment to promoting uniformity and transparency in the provision of administrative services to religious organizations, including the examination of their registration applications, and it initiated the creation of an electronic register of religious organizations.  On October 17, in response to press reports about alleged attempts by some oblasts’ state administrations, including the Kyiv Oblast State Administration, to impede the transfer of parish affiliations from the UOC-MP to the OCU, the DESS invited the congregations facing such obstacles to submit their reregistration applications to the DESS for assessment and offered to help resolve registration-related disputes.

On November 20, parliament passed a law on military chaplaincy, defining selection criteria for clergy to become chaplains, their status in the chain of command, and their rights and duties in the Armed Forces, National Guard, State Border Guard Service, and other military formations.  Members of various religious groups welcomed the new law.  In an interview with Radio Liberty, OCU Primate Metropolitan Epiphaniy stated, “In the Ukrainian army, about 80 percent of chaplains are chaplains of the OCU.  Therefore, we are grateful to the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] that we finally managed to adopt the relevant bill.”  The UOC-MP Legal Department head, Archpriest Alexander Bakhov, said the new law removed text from the initial draft that prohibited or restricted UOC-MP priests from serving as military chaplains; however, he said that during the implementation of the law “there may be surprises” that would discriminate against the UOC-MP.  The UGCC head, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav, expressed confidence that the UGCC would continue to take care of the spiritual and religious needs of soldiers at various levels, ensure proper pastoral care, and promote the personal integrity and spiritual growth of the defenders of Ukraine.

Some religious experts continued to call on the government to abolish the dual registration requirement that congregations apply for both entry into the State Register of Legal Entities database and for government registration of their statutes.  A September article written by columnist Dmytro Horyevoy, who follows religious freedom issues, called on the government to streamline and remove flaws in the registration process.  He emphasized the inconvenience of requiring in-person registration at both an oblast’s and a city center’s government offices, which, in some cases, were located hundreds of kilometers from one another, in a 24-hour period.

According to the International Center for Law and Religious Studies, the government continued to struggle to manage tensions between the OCU and the UOC-MP, which often competed for members and parishes.  The Orthodox Times, which states it is an independent news and information portal, reported that Russia continued to use a disinformation campaign to fuel further discord between the two Churches.  News sources reported that the UOC-MP continued to question the legitimacy of the OCU and the UOC-MP stated that the OCU was “stealing” its property.  The OCU stated the UOC-MP legally challenged the reregistration of parishes from the UOC-MP to the OCU.  The UOC-MP continued to report instances of “unlawful” reregistration by some local governments.  The OCU denied these charges.

The Constitutional Court continued reviewing a 2020 petition by a group of members of parliament questioning the constitutionality of 2018 amendments to the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations requiring the UOC-MP, formally registered as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), to rename itself to reflect its affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC).  The petition and a 2019 Supreme Court ruling in a separate suit by the UOC-MP Metropolitan Administration against the amendments prevented the government from enforcing the name change requirement for 267 UOC-MP organizations.  The organizations were a third party in the lawsuit filed by the UOC-MP Metropolitan Administration.  On February 5, the head of the Religion Department of the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers, Andriy Yurash, stated the courts’ failure to address the 2020 petition was criminal, saying that “not responding is a sign that this is either unprofessionalism, or unwillingness, or a conscious return to that scheme and an attempt to challenge the existing realities.”  In a May 8 Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) interview, Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko cautioned against attempts to escalate the debate over the renaming and said dialogue was the best way to address the situation.

Oblast-level religious affairs departments were still unable to meet the one-year registration deadline for congregations under the amended 2019 registration law, partly due to a lengthy restructuring of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy in 2020, including a transition from the Department for Religions and Nationalities to the DESS.  The law did not include a penalty for missing a reregistration deadline.  According to the Institute of Religious Freedom, congregations reregistered their statutes according to the new law when they needed to amend their statutes.

In September, authorities worked with Israeli and U.S. health authorities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Cherkasy Oblast.  An estimated 25,000-50,000 pilgrims celebrated Rosh Hashanah in Uman.  Officials estimated approximately 10,000 pilgrims arrived weeks ahead of the holiday to ensure they were in-country should Ukraine close its borders due to the pandemic, as it did in 2020.  In 2020, the government closed the country’s borders for the month of September, coinciding with the Jewish holidays when thousands of pilgrims travel to the country, and it extended domestic quarantine regulations by two months, limiting the number of travelers who could participate in the pilgrimage.

In March, the Ministry of Internal Affairs said it would adhere to general recommendations by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance to reduce or eliminate criminal profiling, following an appeal by the Umma Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine about the State Migration Service and the police practice of worshiper profiling near one of Kyiv’s largest mosques during Friday prayers in 2020.  In the annual presentation of a report to parliament in March, the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsperson requested the Ministry of Internal Affairs review the Umma’s appeal.  The ombudsperson requested the ministry consider recommendations by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance to counter ethnic profiling.

In February, UOC-MP-associated media reported local supporters continued to face resistance from the Zolochiv Municipal Council, Lviv Oblast to their request to build a church in the town.  On March 9, an administrative court ruled against Zolochiv authorities’ request that the court declare the construction of the parish church illegal.  On March 12, the Zolochiv regional police department closed criminal proceedings against local deputies accused of “hooliganism” and “inciting religious hatred” in connection with the construction.  Lawyers for the UOC-MP said they believed that the closure of the criminal case indicated local authorities had improperly pressured the investigators and said they planned to appeal.  In 2020, the Zolochiv Municipal Council refused to allow the construction on the grounds that many UOC-MP representatives had supported Russia’s war against the country.

Law enforcement authorities continued to report no progress in the investigation of allegations that the Kyiv Islamic Cultural Center of the Umma Spiritual Administration possessed materials promoting “violence, racial, interethnic, or religious hatred.”  The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the Kyiv city procuracy originally searched the center in May 2018.  A lawyer for the Umma described the search as an attempt to undermine the Umma’s reputation and called the charges baseless.

In July, the Kryvyy Rih City Council approved a change to a zoning plan in favor of designating land for Jehovah’s Witnesses to use for a Kingdom Hall.  This decision resulted from a 2019 ECHR judgment that ruled against deputies of the Kryvyy Rih City Council who had refused to lease land to Jehovah’s Witnesses for the Kingdom Hall’s construction.

On November 11, media reported the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy agreed to return the Roman Catholic parish of St. Nicholas Cathedral to the parish for permanent use on June 1, 2022.  Soviet authorities took over the cathedral in the 1930s.  The congregation shares the cathedral with the National House of Organ and Chamber Music.  The ministry stated it would return the church after completing necessary emergency repairs following an electrical fire on September 3.

In May, the Volyn Oblast State Administration returned a synagogue to the Jewish community in Lutsk confiscated by the Soviet-era government.  According to Hanna Matusovska, a representative of the Jewish Community of Lutsk, the community was considering creating a synagogue/museum in the building with financial support from Ukrainian communities living in Israel, Europe, and the United States.

Small religious groups stated local authorities continued to discriminate when allocating land for religious buildings in Sumy, Mykolayiv, and Ternopil Oblasts, and the city of Kyiv.  Roman Catholics, OCU members, UGCC members, Jews, and Muslims continued to report cases of discrimination.  UGCC representatives said local authorities in Bila Tserkva were still unwilling to allocate land for a UGCC church at year’s end, a request originally made in 2008.

Kyiv’s Muslim community said the local government, responsible for allocating land for cemeteries, had still not acted on the community’s request from 2017 for additional free land in or near Kyiv for Islamic burials, which the Muslim community considered its legal right because by law local authorities may designate cemetery land for the use of a specific religious group.  Consequently, some Muslim families living in Kyiv reportedly had to bury their relatives in other cities.

All major religious organizations continued to appeal to the government to establish a transparent legal process for addressing property restitution claims.  According to observers, the government made little progress on unresolved restitution issues during the year.  Representatives of some organizations said they experienced continuing problems and delays reclaiming property seized by the former Communist regime and said a review of claims often took far longer than the month prescribed by law.  Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups stated several factors continued to complicate the restitution process, including intercommunity competition for particular properties, current use of some properties by state institutions, the designation of some properties as historic landmarks, local governments disputing jurisdictional boundaries, and previous transfers of some properties to private ownership.

Muslim community leaders continued to state concern about the continuing lack of resolution of a restitution claim involving the site containing the ruins of an historic mosque in Mykolaiv, in the southern part of the country.  According to Muslim leaders, the local government was reluctant to resolve the issue.

Jewish community leaders continued to report illegal construction on the site of the old Jewish cemetery in Uman, where businesspersons had purchased old houses bordering the cemetery to demolish them and build hotels for Jewish pilgrims.  According to news reports, developers had reportedly made deals with local government officials to obtain building permits.  A representative from the Uman mayor’s office said in October that the government could not stop the sale of or ban digging on privately owned land and that it was impossible to stop illegal construction.  The official said, however, that the government had not issued new building permits and had agreed not to sell any municipality-owned cemetery property.

The Jewish community continued to express concern about the ongoing operation of the Krakivskyy Market on the grounds of an historical Jewish cemetery in Lviv.  City authorities, Jewish community members, and market kiosk owners agreed to install three memorials to renowned rabbis buried beneath the active market.  Construction on the first memorial started on October 20.  Despite a 2020 Ministry of Culture and Information Policy order that a local developer halt construction of a private health clinic on the protected site, Lviv authorities allowed construction to continue during the year, stating that the renovation of the clinic did not require excavation.  Jewish community representatives said they feared the Lviv government would sell more of the public land to private groups, which could further diminish their ability to protect the cemetery.  The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) continued to urge the government to halt permanently the construction of a multistory commercial building on the cemetery grounds separate from the health clinic construction that had been ordered suspended in 2017.  According to local authorities, the commercial building project in question involved reconstruction of an existing building and required no excavation.

The UCSJ continued to express its concern about the possible continuation of construction of a high-rise building at the site of the World War II Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Lviv.  In 2016, a court suspended the project after human remains were reportedly found and removed from the site.  In the past, the UCSJ had requested the remains be reburied on the site but as of year’s end, the remains had not been reburied.  Lviv authorities denied the construction had unearthed any remains.

Jewish community leaders said they continued to experience difficulties with the Ternopil municipal and district governments regarding property restitution.  The Ternopil District Council continued to reject requests from the local Jewish community to return a prayer house confiscated during the Soviet era.

According to observers, government investigations and prosecutions of vandalism against religious sites continued to be generally inconclusive, although the government condemned attacks and police arrested perpetrators.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on January 24, unidentified individuals wrote the word “sect” on a fence surrounding a Kingdom Hall in Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Volyn Oblast.  A local court ordered police to open an investigation, which they did, adding it to the investigations of three similar acts of vandalism committed against the Kingdom Hall in 2020.  According to the privately owned court verdicts database, on January 14, police began to investigate the three 2020 incidents as “hooliganism,” following the filing of a complaint of religiously motivated hate crimes.  The cases remained pending at year’s end.

On June 7, Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives reported unidentified vandals damaged the facade of the local Kingdom Hall in Tismenytsya, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, with stones.  The police did not initiate an investigation by year’s end.

On August 6, media reported unidentified vandals had desecrated the grave of the daughter of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov with “pieces of pigs, including a skull” in Kremenchuk.  A Breslov Hasidic resident who was visiting the grave saw the vandalism and reported it to the police.  “This is not the first time that antisemites have harmed the grave,” Breslov Hasid Rabbi Avraham Chezin said, adding that he hoped the vandals would be found and taken to court.  According to the Kremenchuk Jewish community, law enforcement officials identified the perpetrators and solved the case.

On October 6, President Zelenskyy and the privately funded Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC) cohosted an 80th anniversary commemoration ceremony in honor of Holocaust victims of the September 1941 Babyn Yar massacre, held at the Babyn Yar Historical Memorial Preserve in Kyiv.  The presidents of Israel, Germany, and Albania spoke at the event, and prominent members of the Jewish community, including Natan Sharansky and Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and all Ukraine Yaakov Bleich, also spoke or attended.  Jewish community members and historians continued to express concern that the BYHMC’s symbolic “pop-up” synagogue, opened on May 14 and commemorating the Babyn Yar massacre, stood on historical Jewish and Christian Orthodox cemeteries.

On October 25, the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that a court in Zaporizhzhya sentenced to seven years in prison a local resident who in 2019 organized an attempt to set fire to a local UOC-MP church.  The SBU prevented the arson attack.  Law enforcement authorities said the “DPR Ministry of State Security (MGB)” directed and paid the individual.  According to the SBU, the “MGB” instructed the offender to post a video of the arson that media would portray as an attack on a UOC-MP church by the laity of the newly established OCU.

On January 2, Israeli Ambassador Joel Lion tweeted his criticism of decisions by some parliamentarians and government authorities to commemorate and honor on January 1, Ukrainian figures and organizations who were also associated with antisemitism and the killing of tens of thousands of Jews and Poles during World War II.  On January 7, after the Israeli ambassador condemned the commemoration, dozens of protesters rallied outside the Israeli Embassy in Kyiv, which was closed for Orthodox Christmas, to demand that Jews apologize for Soviet oppression and that they assume responsibility for the Holodomor, the Stalin-engineered famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s.  “Israel deliberately spreads antisemitism in Ukraine,” said Vladislav Goranin during a speech at the rally.  He said Jews and Israel must “repent for the genocide” of Ukrainians.  A VAAD copresident said a pro-Russian group had funded the protest; a member of the protest subsequently denied that claim on news.

Media reported that on April 28, hundreds of persons attended marches celebrating Nazi SS soldiers, including the first such event in Kyiv.  The March of Embroidered Shirts took place on the 78th anniversary of the establishment of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division (1st Galician) of the SS, also known as the Galicia Division – a force set up under the German occupation composed of ethnic Ukrainian and German volunteers and conscripts.  The marchers held banners displaying the unit’s symbol.  One of the participants used a Nazi salute.  Police identified the suspect and charged him with Nazi propaganda and petty hooliganism.  President Zelenskyy condemned the marches honoring the Waffen SS unit, stating they were illegal.  “We categorically condemn any manifestation of propaganda of totalitarian regimes, in particular National Socialism, and attempts to revise the truth about World War II,” he said in a statement on April 30.  ollowing the April 28 march, Anton Drobovych, director of the Ukraine Institute of National Memory (UINM), an executive body under the Cabinet of Ministers, condemned the glorification of the SS forces as unacceptable and expressed confidence that the absolute majority of Ukrainians did not support such glorification.  On May 1, the Kyiv City-State Administration issued a statement saying, “There can be no justification for the propaganda of totalitarian regimes.”  According to the administrators, organizers of the gathering had described the planned event to the local government as an ordinary March of Embroidered Shirts, an annual event that celebrates national identity.

In his opening speech to the All-Ukrainian Forum “Ukraine 30:  Humanitarian Policy” in Kyiv on July 13, President Zelenskyy referenced the beginning of the Babyn Yar massacre, calling it “a terrible symbol of the Holocaust on our Ukrainian land.  We cannot get rid of it, but we can win by honoring the memory of all the victims, all the deceased… We are responsible to all past and all future generations for historical justice.”  In his speech, he said 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews were murdered, including those murdered at Babyn Yar.  He continued, “We have no right to forget and will not forget this.  It is extremely important for Ukraine to honor, at a high level, all the victims of this tragedy.”  Speaking about the Babyn Yar 80th anniversary commemoration ceremony, he added, “We will hospitably receive on our land everyone who comes on this day to share with us our common pain, to honor the memory of the tragedy that shocked the whole world, to remember the dead, to thank, first of all, our Righteous.”  In reference to the planned BYHMC memorial complex, he said, “It is our duty to make Babyn Yar a place of memory, not a place of oblivion… As a state, we strive to make this place worthy of the memory of more than 100,000 Holocaust victims.  It is very important that these aspirations are shared by our community.  I am sure that all Ukrainians share them.”

Media reported that in an August 21 meeting in Kyiv with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, President Zelenskyy called Ukraine a unique example of the peaceful coexistence of many religious denominations.  President Zelenskyy also stated that Russia used religion as a “hybrid weapon” against Ukraine by violating fundamental human rights and freedoms, in particular freedom of religion, in Ukrainian territory controlled by Russia.

At a September 1 visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., President Zelenskyy lit candles at the Babyn Yar memorial and gave the museum digitized copies of 43 Yiddish letters from the country’s Unread Letters 1941 collection.  He said, “Most of the authors of the letters, including children, died in August 1941 during the first mass executions of the Jewish population in Ukraine.  Today, we are providing copies of these valuable documents, which preserve human pain and hope, to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.  Today we are doing everything to make ‘Never Again’ really mean – never again.”  Zelenskyy said that of the six million Jews who died in Europe, every fourth person was from Ukraine.  He told the story of four brothers, three of whom, together with their families, were shot by the German invaders.  The fourth brother served on the frontline through World War II, contributing to the victory over Nazism.  “His grandson became President of Ukraine.  And now he is standing in front of you,” President Zelenskyy said.  He also said that in modern Ukraine, the ideology of racism and intolerance had no chance, referencing his own election as a president with Jewish ancestry.  He continued, “The people of Ukraine cannot have the germs of antisemitism and Nazism at the genetic level.  It cannot be in the heart or in the soul of the Ukrainian people who survived Babyn Yar on their land.”

Media reported that in President Zelenskyy’s October 5 meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, the presidents had agreed to continue to cooperate to preserve and enrich the cultural heritage and traditions of the Ukrainian and Jewish peoples.  President Herzog noted what he stated were the systematic efforts of Ukraine to create appropriate conditions for Jewish pilgrims to visit historical and holy places on its territory and perform religious rites, including the annual pilgrimage of Hasidim to Uman.  Both parties stressed the need to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and the importance of educational efforts at the national and international level to prevent a recurrence of such horrific crimes.  The presidents noted the role of the Righteous Among Nations from Ukraine (gentiles who assisted Jews) in the rescue of Jews during World War II.  They condemned all manifestations of intolerance, xenophobia, and antisemitism.  President Herzog praised the efforts of President Zelenskyy and his government to fight antisemitism, specifically noting the country’s September 23 adoption of the Law on Preventing and Combating Antisemitism, which defines antisemitism as hatred of Jews and bans it.  The law also states that manifestations of antisemitism could encompass actions against Jewish individuals as well as their property, religious buildings, or communities.

In April, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ representatives held a series of virtual academic and press events to mark the 70th anniversary of Operation North, the 1951 Soviet deportation of 9,793 Jehovah’s Witnesses to Siberia.  Participants, including foreign scholars and government officials, unanimously condemned the Soviet deportation.  The head of UINM, Anton Drobovych, noted that, thanks to individuals who actively defended their values, the country’s laws considered the specific dimensions and needs of different religious groups.  For example, the law provided for alternative service for those who could serve in the military due to their religious beliefs.  A religious scholar called on the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses to create information materials, brochures, exhibitions, and videos to teach the history of Operation North and assured them UINM would support such promotional work.

The Constituent Assembly of the Congress of Muslims held its inaugural meeting on November 27.  According to representatives of the congress, its composition and further activities would be based on the principles of equality for representatives of all Islamic scientific and legal trends and ethnic groups for the development of the country’s Muslim community.  In an address, representative of the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers Ivan Papayani read a welcoming address from Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stating, “On behalf of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and on my own behalf, let me congratulate you on the start of this important Congress for Muslims of our state.  Islam has always been and will continue to be a significant component of the religious and confessional space of Ukraine.”

During the year, the Russia-instigated conflict in eastern Ukraine continued, with parts of the country’s Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-installed “authorities” in the “DPR” and “LPR.”  According to press reports, religious groups not approved by Russia continued to face restrictions, especially religious groups that were legal in Ukraine but illegal in Russia, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the independent Muslim congregation Hizb ut-Tahir, whose members continued to face arrest, detention, and harassment.  In its oral update on Ukraine in October, the OHCHR highlighted that the self-proclaimed “republics” continued to restrict freedom of religion, in particular of evangelical Christian denominations.

Sources reported that Russia-supported “authorities” in the “DPR” and “LPR” continued to detain and imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as leaders of other religious groups.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the “DPR” continued to label the group as an extremist organization, while the “LPR” “Supreme Court” refused to acknowledge the Witnesses as an organization.  According to Protestant and Jehovah’s Witnesses groups, many of their members continued to flee these areas to escape oppressive conditions and to seek greater religious freedom in government-controlled territory.  The Jehovah’s Witness annual report stated that, “In general, Jehovah’s Witnesses practice their faith freely in Ukraine.  They are legally registered, and the government does not restrict their religious activity.”  In the occupied territory of Donetsk, however, their report stated, “[t]here is a real threat of kidnapping, torture, and imprisonment at all times for every Jehovah’s Witness.”  In Luhansk, the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported “authorities” did not allow the group to officially register, and any religious activity without official registration was strictly prohibited.

The OHCHR reported that a majority of religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law continued to be unable to reregister because of stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration.  Many religious groups continued to refuse to reregister because they did not recognize the Russia-installed “authorities” in the “DPR” and “LPR.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said the group had limited access to information on the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the “DPR” and “LPR” during the year.  They said that since 2014, “LPR” and “DPR” “authorities” had seized 14 Kingdom Halls in Russia-controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, official and de facto bans on their activities in the “DPR” and “LPR” deprived their congregations of houses of worship.  Russian-led military units destroyed some of those buildings, and occupied others.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, none of the buildings could be used due to threats of kidnapping, torture, and imprisonment.

Russia-established “LPR” “authorities” continued to deny the reregistration applications of Baptist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventist groups, in accordance with a 2018 law by “LPR” “authorities” that required religious communities, with the exception of the UOC-MP, which was recognized “within the framework of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” to reregister with “LPR” “authorities”.  In denying the applications, “authorities” also cited a 2015 decree that banned mass events while the area was under martial law.  According to Forum 18, an international religious freedom NGO, the latest figures from December 2019 reported 195 religious organizations registered by “LPR” “authorities.”  Of these 195 organizations, 188 belonged to the UOC-MP, four were Muslim, and there was one each of Old Believers, Jews, and Roman Catholics.

Religious leaders continued to say “LPR’s” reregistration denials represented a complete ban on their religious activities, since without reregistration, religious groups were not able to hold services, even in believers’ homes.  According to “LPR” “authorities,” to be eligible for registration, a local religious organization must have at least 30 adult members, while a centralized religious organization must be composed of at least five such local organizations.  These requirements effectively disqualified some smaller religious associations.  The law also required Christian Orthodox congregations to register as part of a “diocese recognized by the Orthodox Churches around the world within the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” thereby forcing several remaining OCU parishes to conduct any activities underground.

“LPR” “authorities” continued to ban many religious leaders from outside their territory from reaching their congregations, according to Forum 18.

On July 20, the office of the “LPR” “Prosecutor General” announced that the Dovzhansk (formerly Sverdlovsk) “City and District Court” of the “LPR” had banned some missionary publications distributed by the Luhansk Oblast branch of the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Baptist Christians (Union of Churches Baptists).  The office deemed the materials to be extremist.  The court declared that the Baptist organization was functioning without proper registration.  The declaration indicated that the publications could incite religious discord, contained “propaganda of exceptionalism, superiority, and inadequacy of the individual on the basis of religious adherence or attitude to religion,” and violated “the rights, freedoms and legal interests of a person and a citizen depending on his religious adherence or attitude to religion.”  According to Forum18, the declaration noted that the Union of Churches Baptists had conducted its activities in the region without Justice Ministry registration.  According to Forum18, the “State List of Extremist Materials” contained 26 items:  18 published by Protestants and six by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On May 15, the Novosti Donbassa news website posted photographs of tombstones reportedly destroyed by a tank of Russia-led forces at a cemetery in Perevalsk, in a Russia-controlled part of Luhansk Oblast.  The website quoted eyewitnesses as saying the tank went deep into the cemetery, turned around, and left the area, crushing multiple tombstones and uprooting trees.  According to local residents, occupation “authorities” had ignored their complaints following a similar incident in the cemetery in 2020.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 1, an elderly Jehovah’s Witness visited the migration service of the Kirovsky District of Donetsk to receive a passport.  The service staff checked her phone and began to question her.  When she said she was a Jehovah’s Witness, “authorities” took her to the prosecutor’s office, where another employee of the migration service questioned her.  The woman later said she believed “DPR” representatives were trying to link her to the Ukrainian security services.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, in May, “L” and her adult daughter, who was not a Jehovah’s Witness, returned from government-controlled Ukraine to the “DPR.”  Upon crossing the border, “DPR” “MGB” officers detained L’s daughter on charges of espionage for Ukraine and then searched L’s house in connection with her daughter’s case.  During the search, the “MGB” confiscated Watchtower and Awake magazines and the New World Translation Bible.  The “MGB” summoned L and questioned her about other fellow believers, Witnesses elders, and religious services.

According to media, on May 8, Olha Solodovnik, the “head of the Khartsyzsk Department of Education,” instructed kindergartens in the town of Zugres to immediately provide “lists of students and their parents who may belong to prohibited organizations.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on July 31, when Jehovah’s Witness “D” entered the “DPR” from Russia’s Rostov Region, an MGB representative examined his phone and tablet and found Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications on it.  The “MGB” arrested D and took him to Chystyakove (formerly Torez) for questioning.  During the interrogation, an “investigator” mentioned to him the names of other believers.  “MGB” representatives beat the detainee, hitting his head in a manner that did not to leave bruises.  They seized his Ukrainian passports, mobile phone, and tablet.  During a second interrogation on August 3, the “MGB” sought to recruit D as an informant and asked questions about other believers and religious services.  The “MGB” said “DPR” “authorities” would soon open criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses and carry out searches, without specifying the kinds of searches.  The “MGB” did not return the confiscated items to D.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, throughout the year, “DPR” “authorities” often required male believers to undergo military training and threatened those who refused with large fines.  For several hours, “MGB” representatives intimidated a Jehovah’s Witness from the city of Makiyivka after he refused to participate in training and fined him.

The “DPR’s” law on worship and religious associations continued to “ban all religious organizations that did not meet a March 2019 registration deadline and to require previously registered religious groups to reregister.”  The law accords the “Ministry of Culture” authority to “monitor the registration of religious associations in the region and to abolish such groups on various grounds.  Any newly created religious association not seeking legal entity status must submit written notification to “DPR” “authorities” detailing its function, location, administration, and the names and home addresses of its members.”  According to the law, “authorities” have 10 days either to put the group on the register of religious groups or to cancel its legal status.  “Authorities” have a month to examine the application documents of a religious association seeking legal status.  In either case, a state religious expert may conduct an evaluation of the documents, which could take up to six months, or deny a registration request on several grounds, including on the grounds that application materials lacked required information or that the group was previously banned.  All religious organizations and religious groups must notify “authorities” annually of their continued viability.  The law allows the UOC-MP to undergo a simplified legalization procedure without reregistration and state religious expert evaluation.

On March 30, the “DPR” amended the law defining what constitutes a religious association, upholding the stipulation that religious associations exist only if they are registered.  The amendments tightened the definition of a religious association, restricting its activities to only “participants and/or members.”  The amendment defines a religious association’s activities as holding religious beliefs, conducting worship services and other religious rites and ceremonies, and “the teaching of religion and the religious education of its participants and/or members.”  The amendment removed the definition of religious activity as “missionary practice and religious educational activity, including the spread of religious knowledge, the provision of professional religious education and the religious education of its participants.”

According to Forum 18, “DPR” “authorities” denied registration to almost all religious communities, apart from the UOC-MP.  As of September 2019, “DPR” “authorities” had registered only 36 non-Moscow Patriarchate religious communities.  On September 28, the “Justice Ministry” told Forum 18 it was no longer responsible for the registration of religious communities.  On March 16, the “Minister of Culture,” which assumed responsibility for the registration of religious groups, reported to the “DPR” “parliament” registrations of religious organizations it handled in 2020.  The “DPR” had not published new registration statistics by year’s end.

According to religious organizations and civil society activists, “DPR” authorities continued to harass Protestant congregations attempting to host public religious events, even if such groups possessed a DPR registration.  “DPR” authorities charged that the United States government might be funding such events, and they publicly labeled congregations “American agents.”  Protestant leaders and religious experts said they attributed such activities by the Russia-administered “DPR” (and “LPR”) as attempts to undermine the strong prewar presence of Protestants in the region.

Forum 18 reported that a wide range of religious groups, in particular Protestant groups, preferred not to discuss their situation in the “DPR.”  Religious communities also told Forum 18 they feared that meeting in private homes for worship could lead to raids and possible punishment.

According to Forum 18, in June, the “DPR” “Justice Ministry” released an updated “List of Extremist Materials” containing 97 items, some of them religious.  Most publications banned by the “Supreme Court” – including Jehovah’s Witness and Muslim publications – also appeared on the list.  “DPR” “authorities” did not respond either to Forum 18’s inquiry into who initiated the suit to ban six publications by the Latvian-based Pastor Aleksey Ledyayev, head of New Generation Protestant Church, or to its request for a copy of the court’s 2020 verdict against Ledyayev.

According to Forum 18, on June 25, “Culture Minister” Mikhail Zheltyakov instructed all institutions under the ministry’s control to publicly display the lists of banned organizations and banned publications in their institutions.

Forum 18 reported that Article 329 of the “DPR” criminal code punished “organizing an extremist organization” with fines, compulsory labor, or imprisonment of up to eight years.  “Participating in an extremist organization” carried a maximum punishment of four years’ imprisonment.  Recruiting others to join such an organization carried a maximum punishment of six years’ imprisonment.  Forum 18 also reported that Article 330 of the criminal code punished “organizing the activity of an extremist organization,” including religious organizations that a court had banned.  Organizing such activity carried a maximum eight-year prison term, participation in such activity a maximum four-year prison term, and recruiting others a maximum six-year prison term.

Forum 18 reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses remained on the “DPR” list of 53 “liquidated or banned social and religious associations and other organizations.”  According to Forum 18, on June 17, “DPR” authorities banned two Protestant churches, Good News Baptist Church and the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, due to violations of the registration requirement of the Religion Law.  On June 25, “authorities” also tried to ban the activity of the Church of the Awakening, a Baptist church in the town of Yenakievе, as well as any branches or sub-divisions.  According to Forum 18, the Church of the Awakening was still able to meet for worship while it tried to reregister.  “Officials” from the “Prosecutor General’s Office,” “the Arbitration Court,” and Religion and Nationalities Department of the “Culture Ministry” in Donetsk did not answer Forum 18’s telephoned or written inquiries about the closures of the churches.

“DPR” “authorities” continued to use seized places of worship for their own purposes.  According to Forum 18, the “authorities” used a former Donetsk Church of Jesus Christ building as a registry office and the former Makeyevka New Life Baptist Church as a Red Guard district registry office.

On November 30, Ukrainian media reported pro-Russia Donetsk militants had converted a Church of Jesus Christ building into a “Russian house” in order to “strengthen ties with Russia.”  According to Ukrainian journalist, Denis Kazansky, “It is symbolic that it is located in a captured Mormon temple.  Mormons once built the house at their own expense.  But the Russians do not think so.  Why build something if you can just squeeze someone else?”

According to media reports, all but one mosque remained closed in the “DPR.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The NMRMG reported a decrease in antisemitic violence, with one suspected case reported during the year compared with four cases in 2020.  As of September 1, the NMRMG recorded four cases of antisemitic vandalism, compared with seven incidents during the same period in 2020.

The United Jewish Community of Ukraine (UJCU) reported 49 cases of antisemitism in 2020 (the last year for which data was available), compared with 56 cases in 2019.  The difference in the count of antisemitic acts between the NMRMG and the UJCU was due to variations in methodologies.  NMRMG said it counted vandalism only on Jewish property, such as synagogues, cemeteries, or memorials, while the UJCU included a wider range of incidents, such as a Jewish student’s dormitory being vandalized with swastikas, as well as verbal disputes involving antisemitic epithets.

On July 21, NMRMG reported a man attacked a Hasidic man in a park in the village of Torhovytsya in Kirovohrad Oblast.  The attacker approached the man as he walked with his wife and nine children and aggressively demanded to shake the hand of the man’s wife.  According to the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, when the woman refused, the attacker began punching and kicking the Hasidic man, breaking his nose.  The attacker and a second individual pursued the victim and his family by car as they drove to the hospital, aggressively pulling up alongside them.  Police detained the suspected attacker and his accomplice on charges of attempted robbery.

According to the local Jewish community, as of year’s end, the person armed with an ax who attempted to enter a synagogue in Mariupol in July 2020 remained in a psychiatric hospital in Rostov-on-Don while a Russian district court reviewed the case against him.  According to media, law enforcement authorities had previously identified the suspect, and a Mariupol court had sanctioned his arrest, but he subsequently fled to Russia.  In August 2020, Russian authorities detained him in Rostov-on-Don.

On June 2, media reported an unknown gunman shot at a synagogue in Kremenchuk on May 1.  According to Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, local Jewish community leaders kept the incident quiet for nearly a month to avoid panic.  Local Rabbi Shlomo Salamon said, “It was one bullet…. We suddenly saw that the window had a hole, and the guard didn’t hear it.  The bullet didn’t penetrate the second pane of glass and go into the synagogue.”  Salamon said he decided to discuss the attack after he was contacted by the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, which said its “policy is to make it public, to attract attention.”  Asked about how his congregants responded to the news, Salamon replied that while some persons were concerned, others downplayed the incident.  “When I go in the street with a kippah, I don’t feel any antisemitism,” he said.

In July 12, the Kherson City court found two local residents guilty of deliberate destruction of property by arson motivated by national and religious intolerance in connection with an April 2020 arson attack on a synagogue.  According to law enforcement, the perpetrators supported Nazi ideology and carried out the attack to mark Hitler’s birthday.  The suspects received four-year suspended sentences, with one year of probation.  During their trial, the Chief Rabbi of Kherson requested leniency for the teenaged suspects, which the judge granted.  After meeting with the individuals, the rabbi said he decided to give them a second chance in life, stating, “What would happen to those young empty-headed men in prison?  Most likely they will turn into criminals.”  A few weeks before their court hearing, local television channels broadcast the suspects’ public apology to the Jewish community.

According to the UJCU, on October 14, two unidentified individuals raised a large banner in front of President Zelenskyy’s office reading, “Jewish President Zelenskyy” and condemning the country’s “occupation and robbery” by “the Dnipro Jewish clan of Vova [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy.”  Michael Tkach, UJCU executive director, said the banner was an act of incitement and called on authorities to punish those responsible for it.  Police opened an investigation, which continued through year’s end.

Media reported that during Hanukkah (November 28-December 6), individuals vandalized several public menorahs in different cities.  On November 24, Yuriy Tebenko attempted to vandalize a menorah at Independence Square (Maidan) in Kyiv.  Municipal security guards stopped him.  According to the UJCU, Tebenko was accompanied by Andriy Rachok, a vandal who toppled the menorah in Kyiv’s Podil district in 2020.  During the year, Rachok continued to post antisemitic statements on his Facebook page.  Police reportedly briefly detained Rachok and Tebenko.  On December 22, Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court upheld an UJCU complaint regarding police inaction in response to UJCU’s report on the incident.  The court ordered police to open an investigation.

According to media, on November 30, unidentified persons cut electric cables on a menorah in Mykolayiv, making it impossible to light.  Chief Rabbi of Mykolayiv Sholom Gottlieb said, “We have been lighting these Hanukkah candles in the city center for many years.  Thank God everything is calm, cozy, and pleasant.  We have support and state support, including to celebrate this holiday in peace.  But the fact is that it happened to us and in other cities at the same time – this may indicate that someone is trying not to let this holiday go smoothly.”  Also on November 30, unidentified vandals toppled a Hanukkah menorah in Kyiv’s Troyeshchyna District.

On December 4, unidentified individuals destroyed an electrical switch and light bulbs on a menorah in Rivne.  After installing the menorah, the local Jewish community reportedly received threats from a local resident who expressed support for the menorah vandalism Andriy Rachok committed in Kyiv in 2020.  According to press reports, police were investigating the case as hooliganism.

On December 5, unidentified individuals threw an eight-meter (26-foot) menorah into the river in Uzhhorod.  Representative of the Jewish community in Transkarpattya, Yuri Galbert, speaking of the vandalism said, “Uzhhorod residents, in my subjective opinion, they couldn’t have done that.  I’ve already heard that there are several such cases in Ukraine.  Apparently, it was coordinated in some way.  I would like to know the answer to these questions from law enforcement agencies.”  The vandals who overturned the Uzhhorod menorah left swastika graffiti nearby and posted a leaflet there accusing Jews of orchestrating the Holodomor.  According to the local Jewish community, police initially referred to the incident as hooliganism, refusing to investigate it as a hate crime.  After police identified the suspect, the prosecutor’s office charged him with committing a hate crime.  The suspect entered a plea bargain and on December 30, the Uzhhorod City and District Court handed him a one-year suspended sentence.

According to sources, the ROC, including the UOC-MP, continued to describe the OCU as a “schismatic” group, despite its recognition by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Church of Greece, the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, and the Church of Cyprus.  The ROC continued to urge other Orthodox churches not to recognize the OCU.  UOC-MP and OCU representatives continued to contest some parish registrations as not reflecting the true will of their congregation.  The UOC-MP continued to file lawsuits aimed at challenging the process of congregations transitioning from the UOC-MP to the OCU.

On October 2, the OCU website posted Metropolitan Epiphaniy’s address to a congregation in the town of Vorzel near Kyiv.  The Metropolitan spoke on the independence of his Church despite resistance from Russia, saying, “the self-proclaimed ‘older brothers’ believe that there is no Ukrainian people.  We were disgraced, they tried to erase our Church and cultural identity and destroy by famines.  But with God’s help, our people persevered and proved that we are a strong and resilient nation that is working together to build its state and an independent local Church… Unfortunately, not everyone has realized the reality that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has its own canonical territory and all parishes in Ukraine belong to this Church.”

In February 2021, UGCC priest Andriy Mykhaleyko estimated in an article published by the Religious Information Service of Ukraine that the UOC-MP had approximately 12,000 registered churches, compared with the OCU, which had approximately 7,000 parishes.  Of the 541 UOC-MP congregations that had joined the OCU since its creation in 2018, most were in the western and central oblasts.  UOC-MP representatives, however, often contested parish reregistrations, stating some local government officials allowed individuals unaffiliated with the UOC-MP to vote in meetings to change the affiliation of local parishes to the OCU.  UOC-MP representatives said such officials also helped OCU supporters take possession of disputed UOC-MP church buildings before the change of affiliation was officially registered.  OCU representatives accused the UOC-MP of contesting legitimate changes of parish affiliation, including through numerous lawsuits.  They said these suits were part of the UOC-MP’s strategy to discourage OCU followers from joining the new Church.  According to the government and the OCU, the UOC-MP often falsely described eligible voters at such congregation meetings as unaffiliated with the parish, saying they rarely or never participated in religious services.  These lawsuits remained unresolved through year’s end.

According to the UOC-MP, some local authorities continued to transfer parish affiliations from the UOC-MP to the OCU against the will of parishioners.  According to the UOC-MP, almost all voting in favor of the OCU was illegitimate and “against the will of the parishioners.”  In September, social media posts by Right Sector, commonly characterized as a violent radical group, stated that since 2014, it had helped members of approximately 50 UOC-MP congregations leave the “church of occupiers” and join the former Kyiv Patriarchate, and then the OCU.  The group called on Ukrainians to “deal new blows” to the UOC-MP.

On April 6, the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court in a cassation appeal upheld the Khmelnytskyy Oblast State Administration’s decision to register a statute of an OCU congregation in Sutkivtsi village that changed the parish’s affiliation from the UOC-MP to the OCU.  The Grand Chamber ruling overturned separate 2020 decisions by the Kyiv City Economic Court and Northern Appellate Economic Court in favor of the congregation’s remaining UOC-MP parishioners.  According to the UOC-MP’s website, in May, the head of the UOC-MP’s Legal Department, Archpriest Oleksandr Bakhov, said, “The religious community of the village of Sutkivtsi, Khmelnytsky Oblast intends to continue to protect its rights and once again go to court.”

On April 8, the OCU stated that since 2019, the UOC-MP had initiated more than 100 lawsuits against oblast government decisions to register UOC-MP congregations that joined the OCU.  The UOC-MP stated that local residents not belonging to respective UOC-MP parishes should not have been allowed to vote on the change of affiliation.

According to the UOC-MP, on May 10, OCU supporters seized a UOC-MP church in Zabolottya village, Rivne Oblast, following a two-year church ownership dispute between residents remaining in the UOC-MP parish and those who had joined a newly created OCU congregation in 2019.  Members of the OCU rejected the accusation, saying the church’s congregation had lawfully changed its affiliation from the UOC-MP to the OCU, and that the UOC-MP had therefore lost its ownership rights of the building.  Two OCU supporters reportedly discharged fire extinguishers and noxious gas at their opponents, who tried to enter the disputed church where the OCU parishioners were holding a religious service.  Members of the OCU congregation left the church building when police arrived at the scene and deescalated the situation.  According to the Rivnenews website, a local news outlet, approximately one dozen persons sought medical assistance after the skirmish.  One of them was hospitalized.  The local authorities sealed the church entrance pending a court decision on the church affiliation dispute.

According to the UOC-MP, on February 22, approximately 350 representatives from village parishes who were split on the proposed change of affiliation from the UOC-MP to the OCU met at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the UOC-MP’s headquarters.  Many representatives gave speeches detailing what they described as the seizure of their parish and their efforts to build new UOC-MP churches cosponsored by the “Favor” (Tabor) Fund.  According to the UOC-MP, the fund had helped build new UOC-MP churches in dozens of communities.  At the February 22 meeting, parishioners from Zadubrivka village in Chernivsti Oblast spoke about their three-year efforts to protect their parish from the OCU.  According to priest Vitaly Durov, the rector of St. Michael’s the Archangel Church, after a May 2020 attack in which the UOC-MP successfully defended its parish from the OCU, the UOC-MP had grown stronger, and more worshippers attended church regularly.  Durov said that despite threats, discrimination, and insults such as being called “Muscovites,” “we continue to live.”

On March 13, the UOC-MP-linked Union of Orthodox Journalists reported that six OCU supporters attacked a parishioner in Zadubrikva village because of his affiliation with the UOC-MP.  According to UOC-MP-linked media, the rector, Vitaliy Durov, said the attack stemmed from a conflict between the late grandfather of one of the attackers and the former rector, Archpriest Leonid Delikatny of St. Michael’s the Archangel Church.  According to a March 23 report by the Dukhovny Front (Spiritual Front) media outlet, the police report concluded the assault occurred at the hands of a group of inebriated teenagers, who were offended that the victim would not drink with them.  The victim of the attack, however, stated, “with respect to this statement, the village is divided [between OCU and UOC-MP], and everything that is happening has religious grounds.”

The ownership dispute between UOC-MP and OCU members in Zadubrivka village concerning St Michael’s the Archangel Church also continued in the courts.  On May 12, the Zastavna District Court rejected a UOC-MP petition to revoke the registration of a newly created OCU parish in Zadubrivka and to transfer ownership of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel from the UOC-MP to the OCU.  On July 29, the Chernivtsi Appellate Court overturned the May 12 ruling and referred the case to the Kyiv City Economic Court, where it remained pending at year’s end.

There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls.  According to the news website, on the eve of Metropolitan Epiphaniy’s visit to Chernihiv on October 21, unidentified individuals overturned a cross at a site designated for construction of an OCU church.  According to the OCU, on July 13, unidentified persons damaged a statue of the Virgin Mary near an OCU church in Kyiv’s Vynohradar District.

AUCCRO and AUCRA continued to meet regularly to promote religious diversity and discuss issues affecting the country, such as the continued COVID-19 pandemic, the religious situation in the temporarily occupied territories in the eastern part of the country, and peacemaking efforts in the Donbas.  AUCCRO is an interfaith organization representing more than 90 percent of all religious groups in the country, including the OCU, UOC-MP, UGCC, RCC, All-Ukraine Baptist Union, Ukrainian Church of Evangelical Pentecostal Christians, Ukrainian Union Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church, Ukrainian Lutheran Church, Ukrainian Evangelical Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Ukrainian Diocese, Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine, Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, Ukrainian Bible Society, and the Trans-Carpathian Reformed Church.  The council rotates its chairmanship.

On December 15-16, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine sponsored the third annual Kyiv Jewish Forum to highlight the global fight against antisemitism.  The conference featured speeches by prominent Jewish leaders from around the world, including President Zelenskyy, President of Israel Herzog, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, the President of the World Jewish Congress, and Soviet-era dissident and human rights activist Natan Sharansky.  Panel discussions addressed opportunities and challenges for the Jewish world in 2022, combatting antisemitism and hate speech, and empowering the next generation of Jewish leaders through education.

In October, Limmud FSU, an international organization working with the Russian-speaking Jewish diaspora, hosted a four-day festival celebrating Jewish life in Lviv.  Mayor Andriy Sadovyy provided a video recorded welcome.  This was the first event Limmud FSU sponsored in the country, and it focused partly on giving young adults the opportunity to revitalize and restore Jewish learning and to strengthen Jewish identity in their communities.

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