WASHINGTON (QHA) -

The cases of abductions, torture and arbitrariness during the arrests of Crimean Tatar Muslims continue in the occupied Crimea, according to the report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)
The authors of the monitoring ranked Russia in the category of "countries of special concern", including due to the persecution of believers in the occupied territories of the Crimea and the east of Ukraine.

The report notes that under the pretext of fighting terrorism, the state of religious freedom is deteriorating.

“USCIRF's visit to Ukraine in December 2017 confirmed that cases of abductions, torture and arbitrariness during the arrests of Crimean Tatar Muslims continued in the occupied Crimea.

At the same time, Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine continued to hold expropriated church buildings and intimidate religious communities,” the report says.

The commission notes that the occupation authorities in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions remain deeply hostile to religious groups, except for the Russian Orthodox Church.

Thus, in February 2018, the leaders of the self-proclaimed "LPR" announced the need to re-register all religious organizations in the territory under their control, which, according to experts, is the beginning of oppression of religious minorities, similar to Russian practice.

“The official ideology of the occupation power in the Donbas is a mixture of Russian nationalism, Soviet nostalgia and Russian Orthodoxy, because only the Russian Orthodox Church recognizes the dominant,” the US Commission informs.

So, for the Christian minorities living in these occupied territories, including Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Greek Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses, the initial stage of the occupation was associated with targeted terror: abduction, torture and robbery were common for separatists who openly expressed their disrespect for religious beliefs of the victims," the study authors note.

It is further noted that due to religious persecution in the east of Ukraine, the Russia-backed separatists  confiscated more than 50 church buildings. Also, according to the estimated, the communities decreased quantitatively by 30-80%, as the believers fled from the areas controlled by the militants.

"Based on these particularly serious violations, in 2018 the USCIRF again considers that Russia deserves recognition as a" country of particular concern "under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA),” the report's authors summarize.

Summing up, the US Commission recalls that the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the invasion of the Donbas in 2014 led to a rapid deterioration in Russia's international relations, including with the United States. The US suspended its role in bilateral commissions with Russia and imposed numerous sanctions against Russian enterprises, government agencies and individuals.

Earlier it was assumed that in the future the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate could go underground in the occupied Crimea.

QHA