Forum 18: RUSSIA: Three prisoners of conscience stripped of citizenship

Forum 18:

Authorities have stripped Russian citizenship from three men jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief: Muslim Yevgeny Kim in January 2019, and Jehovah’s Witnesses Feliks Makhammadiyev and Konstantin Bazhenov in April 2020. Kim and Makhammadiyev are now stateless. Russia has been trying to deport Kim since 2019, and might try to deport Makhammadiyev and Bazhenov when they complete their jail terms.

The stripping of Russian citizenship from two men in April – both Jehovah’s Witnesses currently in jail (one of them Russian-born) – brings to three the number of people known to have been stripped of Russian citizenship and passports as a direct consequence of being jailed under the Extremism Law for exercising their freedom of religion and belief.

The detention of stateless persons awaiting an impossible deportation is a common problem in Russia, where thousands of people do not hold any valid citizenship. They are often former Soviet citizens who for some reason have been unable to obtain any other passport.

Although Kim and Makhammadiyev’s cases differ from many others’ in that they did become Russian citizens, many years before they were prosecuted, their convictions and the consequent stripping of their citizenship mean that they are now in the same legal limbo. They are unable to live legally in Russia and unable to leave the country legally, unless they manage to obtain identity documents.

It seems likely that Bazhenov’s valid Ukrainian passport will allow him to travel to Ukraine or a third country and avoid detention after his release, but authorities have not confirmed any specifics of either Jehovah’s Witness’ situation, Jehovah’s Witness lawyers told Forum 18 on 29 June.

Meanwhile, Russia has issued Red Notices through Interpol seeking the detention and return to Russia of at least three individuals (two Muslims and one of another faith) who have left the country. All three face criminal prosecution under the Extremism Law for exercising freedom of religion or belief if they are returned (see forthcoming F18News article).

Read more: Forum 18