The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Although the Constitution also provides for the equality of all religions before the law and for the separation of church and state, in practice the Government does not always respect the provision for equality of religions, and in some instances the authorities, primarily at the local level, imposed restrictions on some religious groups.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion; however, some federal agencies and many local authorities continued to restrict the rights of some religious minorities in some regions.
Despite court decisions that have liberalized its interpretation, a complex 1997 law "On Freedom of Conscience and Associations" seriously disadvantages religious groups that are new to the country by making it difficult for them to register as religious organizations. Unregistered groups lack the juridical status necessary to establish bank accounts, own property, invite foreign guests, publish literature, or conduct worship services in prisons, state-owned hospitals, and among the armed forces. However, persons affiliated with unregistered faiths generally may rent facilities for holding religious services as individuals.
Religious matters are not a source of societal hostility for most citizens, although popular attitudes toward traditionally Muslim ethnic groups are negative in many regions, and there are manifestations of anti-Semitism as well as societal hostility toward newer, non-Orthodox, religions. There appear to be continued instances of religiously motivated violence, although it is often difficult to determine whether religious or ethnic differences were the primary cause of individual cases of violence. Relations between different religious organizations frequently are tense, particularly at the leadership level. Conservative groups encouraged by, or claiming ties to, the Russian Orthodox Church staged a number of anti-Catholic demonstrations throughout the country.
The U.S. Government has continued to engage the Government, a number of religious denominations and groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), and others in a steady dialog on religious freedom.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has a total area of approximately 6.5 million square miles and its population is approximately 144 million.
There are no reliable statistics that break down the country's population by denomination. Available information suggests that slightly more than half of all inhabitants consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians, although the vast majority of those are not regular churchgoers. By all estimates, Muslims form the largest religious minority; the highest counts are based on the aggregate population of traditionally Muslim ethnic groups. By some estimates, Protestants constitute the third largest group of believers. An estimated 600,000 to 1 million Jews remain in the country (0.5 percent of the total population) following large---scale emigration over the last 2 decades. Approximately 80 percent of Jews live in Moscow or St. Petersburg.
According to the most recent statistics released by the Ministry of Justice, as of January 1, 2001, 20,215 religious organizations were registered or reregistered, compared with approximately 16,000 in 1997. Religious freedom advocates accept the January 2001 figures as essentially accurate. According to those figures, the number of groups recorded as registered by the Ministry of Justice in January 2001 was as follows: Russian Orthodox Church--10,912 groups, Autonomous Russian Orthodox Church--65, Russian Orthodox Church Abroad--40, True Orthodox Church--65, Russian Orthodox Free Church--29, Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate)--10, Old Believer--278 (divided into 4 separate groups), Roman Catholic--258, Greek Catholic--5, Armenian Apostolic--42, Muslim--3,048, Buddhist--193, Jewish--197 (including 176 Orthodox and 21 Reform groups), Baptist--975, Pentecostal--1,323, Seventh-Day Adventist--563, other evangelical and charismatic groups--784, Lutheran--213 (divided into 4 separate groups), Apostolic--86, Methodist--85, Reformist--3, Presbyterian--192, Anglican--1, Jehovah's Witnesses--330, Mennonite--9, Salvation Army--7, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)--33, Unification Church--17, Church of the "Sovereign" Icon of the Mother of God--28, Molokane--19, Dukhobor--1, Church of the Last Covenant--15, Quaker--1, Church of Christ--19, Judaizing Christian--5, non-denominational Christian--156, Scientologist--1, Hindu--4, Krishna--106, Christian Scientist--2, Baha'i--19, Tantric--3, Taoist--9, Assyrian--1, Sikh--1, Coptic--1, Shamanist--6, Karaite--2, Zoroastrian--2, Spiritual Unity (Tolstoyan)--2, Living Ethic (Rerikhian)--2, pagan--41, other confessions--7. Buddhism is traditional to three of the country's regions: Buryatiya, Tuva, and Kalmykiya.
The number of registered religious organizations does not reflect the entire demography of religious believers. For example, due to legal restrictions, poor administrative procedures on the part of some local authorities, or intraconfessional disputes, an unknown number of groups has been unable to register or reregister. An estimated 500 to several thousand Muslim organizations remain unregistered; some reportedly are defunct, and many reportedly have concluded that they did not require legal status. The registration figures probably also underestimate the number of Pentecostal believers. New Pentecostal organizations are being formed rapidly, and unofficial estimates suggest that there are between 1,500 and 2,000 Pentecostal congregations nationwide, many of which are unregistered despite their efforts. The Unification Church has several organizations which it is unable to register. The Scientologists also have several groups that are registered as social organizations because they are unable to register as religious organizations.
In practice few citizens identify strongly with any religion. Many who identify themselves as members of a faith participate in religious life only rarely, if at all. For example, while an estimated 64 percent of respondents to a 2000 Public Opinion Foundation poll identified themselves as members of a particular faith, only 19 percent said that they visited a place of worship more than once or twice a year (many Orthodox believers attend church at Christmas and/or Easter). An estimated 11 percent of respondents said that they observed Lent or other fasts. Only 4 percent of respondents stated that they took communion more than once or twice a year (in the Orthodox tradition, taking communion requires personal preparation by fasting, confession, and prayer).
A large number of foreign missionaries operate in the country.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Although the Constitution also provides for the equality of all religions before the law and for the separation of church and state, in practice the Government does not always respect the provision for equality of religions, and in some instances the authorities, primarily at the local level, imposed restrictions on some religious groups.
There is no officially recognized state religion, although the preamble to the 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience identifies Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism as "traditional religions" and recognizes the "special contribution of Orthodoxy to the history of Russia and to the establishment and development of Russia's spirituality and culture." The law accords no privileges or advantages to these confessions; however, many politicians and public figures argue for closer cooperation with traditional religions, above all with the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow Patriarchate. Some officials also speak of the need to protect the "spiritual security" of the country by discouraging the growth of "sects" and "cults," usually understood to include many Protestant and newer religious movements. The Russian Orthodox Church has entered into a number of agreements, some formal, others informal, with government ministries on such matters as guidelines for public education, religious training for government employees and military personnel, and, in certain cases, law enforcement and customs decisions, that appear to give it a preferred position. Since 1999 there have been indications of a closer relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the State. Nonetheless, policymakers remain divided on the State's proper relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church and other churches.
A 1990 Soviet law, which became part of the Russian Federation's legal code, declared all religions equal before the law, forbade government interference in religion, and established simple registration procedures for religious groups. Registration of religious groups was not required, but groups could obtain a number of advantages by registering, such as the ability to establish official places of worship or benefit from tax exemptions. The 1990 law helped facilitate a revival of religious activity.
The 1997 religion law ostensibly targeted so-called "totalitarian sects" or dangerous religious "cults." However, the intent of some of the law's sponsors appears to have been to discriminate against members of foreign and less established religions by making it difficult for them to manifest their beliefs through organized religious institutions. Among the law's most controversial provisions are those that limit the rights, activities, and status of religious "groups" existing in the country for less than 15 years and require that religious groups exist for 15 years before they can qualify for "organization" status. Religious organizations that register with the state acquire the status of juridical persons and thus receive certain advantages over unregistered organizations.
The 1997 law is very complex, with many ambiguous and contradictory provisions. It creates various categories of religious communities with differing levels of legal status and privileges. The law distinguishes between religious "groups" and "organizations," and creates two categories of organizations: "regional" and "centralized." A religious "group" is a congregation of worshipers that is not registered and consequently does not have the legal status of a juridical person: it may not open a bank account, own property, issue invitations to foreign guests, publish literature, or conduct worship services in prisons and state-owned hospitals. A "group" does not enjoy tax benefits and other rights extended to religious organizations, such as the right of its members to proselytize. The law does not address directly the rights of individual members of groups in other respects. For example, a member of a religious group may buy property for the group's use, invite personal guests to engage in religious instruction, and import religious material. In this way, groups theoretically are permitted to rent public spaces and hold services. Nonetheless, in practice, some unregistered groups encounter significant difficulty in exercising these rights. The 1997 law provides that local congregations that have existed for 15 years and have at least 10 members who are citizens may register as local "organizations." A confession that has three functioning local "organizations" in different regions may found a "centralized religious organization." A centralized organization has the right to establish affiliated local organizations without adhering to the 15-year rule, although it must assume fiscal responsibility for them. In implementing that provision, the Government has extended the definition of a centralized organization to include a "registered centralized managing center."
There is evidence that the Procurator General has encouraged local prosecutors to challenge the registration and reregistration of some non-traditional religious groups. In a number of such cases, local courts have upheld the right of non-traditional groups to register or reregister.
In practice the registration process, which involves simultaneous registration at both the federal and local levels, has proven to be onerous for a number of confessions, because it requires considerable time, effort, and legal expense. International and well-funded domestic religious organizations, in particular, began the reregistration process soon after publication of the regulations governing reregistration. However, other religious groups faced significant problems in registration and reregistration, and local officials refused to register some groups.
The 1997 law, as amended, required all religious organizations previously registered under the more liberal 1990 law to reregister by December 31, 2000, or be subject to the legal process of "liquidation", i.e. deprivation of juridical status. By the deadline, an estimated 2,095 religious groups were subject to liquidation and the Ministry of Justice reported that by May 2002, approximately 980 of them had been liquidated. The Ministry asserted that most liquidated organizations were defunct; however, religious minority denominations and NGO's contended that a significant number were active.
On March 7, 2002, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Moscow Department of the Justice Ministry was not justified in liquidating the Salvation Army on the basis of its non-reregistration when the group had made an active attempt to comply with the 1997 law's requirements. In April 2002, the Church of Scientology cited this ruling to challenge successfully its liquidation by a Moscow court. The extent to which the Salvation Army ruling may affect the reregistration cases of yet other religious organizations remains unclear. Despite the Court's ruling the Salvation Army still was not registered by the end of the period covered by this report.
Contradictions between federal and local law in some regions, and varying interpretations of the law, provide regional officials with pretexts to restrict the activities of religious minorities. Discriminatory practices at the local level also are attributed to the relatively greater susceptibility of local governments to lobbying by local majority religions, as well as to discriminatory attitudes that are held widely in society (see Section III). There were isolated instances in which local officials detained individuals engaged in the public discussion of their religious views. Such instances often were resolved quickly. President Vladimir Putin's articulated desire for greater centralization of power and strengthened rule of law has led to some improvements in the area of religious freedom in the regions.
The State does not require religious instruction in schools, although in some regions the Russian Orthodox Church uses public buildings after hours to provide religious instruction to pupils on a voluntary basis. In January 2002, at the Tenth International Christmas Readings held in the Kremlin, Education Minister Vladimir Filippov cited a 2000 policy document binding the Government to "ensure the spirituality and morality of the coming generation." In the spring of 2002, the Pokrov publishing house issued the pro-Orthodox "Bases of Orthodox Culture" textbook and accompanying materials for use in state schools. According to an April 26 press report, the Coordinating Council for the Cooperation of the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation and the Russian Orthodox Church recommended the materials for use in state schools. At the end of the period covered by this report, distribution plans were uncertain.
Discussion continued during the period covered by this report on the efficacy of creating a government ministry or organ for religious affairs. Many religious organizations emphasized that such an institution would be unwelcome if it emulated its Soviet predecessor's repressive activities; many-including some minority religious groups and their advocates-noted that such a body could ensure equal treatment for all faiths under the law. In May 2002, Minister without Portfolio Vladimir Zorin stated that it might be "expedient" to have a "compact, analytical government committee of approximately 60 persons." He also said that the creation of such a committee would require "coordinated action" by the Government and religious organizations.
Officials of the Presidential Administration, regions, and localities have established consultative mechanisms to facilitate government interaction with religious communities and to monitor application of the 1997 law. At the national level, groups interact with a special governmental interministerial commission on religion, which includes representatives from law enforcement bodies, on matters involving implementation of the laws and similar questions. On broader policy questions, religious groups interact with a special department within the Presidential Administration's Directorate for Domestic Policy. The Presidential Council on Cooperation with Religious Organizations is composed of members of the Presidential Administration, secular academics who are specialists on religious affairs, and representatives of faiths comprising the majority of believers in the country.
The office of federal Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov contains a department dedicated to religious freedom issues, which receives and responds to complaints from individuals and groups about infringements of religious freedom. Mironov has criticized the 1997 law publicly on many occasions and recommended changes to bring it into accordance with international standards and with the Constitution. In some regions, there also are local human rights ombudsmen with a mandate to address religious freedom issues.
Avenues for interaction with the authorities also exist at the regional and local levels. The administrative structures of at least some of the offices of the Plenipotentiary Presidential District Representatives (polpreds) of the seven districts of the Russian Federation include offices that address social and religious issues. Regional administrations and many municipal administrations also have designated officials responsible for liaison with religious organizations. However, it is at the regional and municipal level that religious minorities often encounter the greatest problems.
The Government has implemented partially an interagency program to combat extremism and promote religious and ethnic tolerance. The original plan called for a large number of interagency measures, such as the review of federal and regional legislation on extremism, mandatory training for public officials on how to promote ethnic and religious tolerance, and new educational materials for use in public educational institutions. Implementation of the plan, which is guided by an interagency commission on combating extremism headed by the Ministry of Education, was sporadic. Nevertheless, at least one NGO was able to work in parallel with the program, participating in training law enforcement and other government officials (both local and federal) in promoting tolerance. The Saint Petersburg NGO Harold and Selma Light Center, in conjunction with a foreign-based NGO, conducted successful programs in Petrozavodsk, Ryazan, and Kazan.
On June 27, an anti-extremism bill supported by the President passed a final vote in the Duma. It was prompted by instances of religious and ethnic intolerance and the activities of ultra-right-wing parties and organizations. It included provisions prohibiting public speech that advocates the superiority of any group based on religion, race, nationality, language, or other attributes. However, some critics charged that the legislation would sanction a dangerous expansion of police power and that the Government appeared to lack the political will to use existing legislation to its full potential. The legislation was awaiting approval by the upper chamber and signature of the President at the end of the period covered by this report.
The President acknowledged Orthodox Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan, and the Buddhist New Year with greetings to representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist communities, respectively.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Critics continue to identify several aspects of the 1997 law on religion as problematic for religious freedom. They criticized in particular the provision allowing the State to ban religious organizations, the reregistration requirement, and the liquidation procedure. They also are critical of the provisions that not only limit the rights, activities, and status of religious "groups" existing in the country for less than 15 years, but also require that religious groups exist for 15 years before they can qualify for "organization" status. Implementation of the 1997 law has been a source of concern to many religious minorities, especially those headquartered outside the country. Although the situation is somewhat better for groups that were registered prior to 1997, groups that did not manage to register under the old law or groups that are new to the country are hindered severely in their ability to practice their faith. The federal Government generally has attempted to apply the 1997 law liberally and most allegations of restrictive practices are directed at local officials; however, there is evidence that the Procurator General has encouraged local state prosecutors to challenge the registration and reregistration of some non-traditional religious groups. Implementation of the 1997 legislation has varied widely in the regions, depending on the attitude of local offices of the Ministry of Justice which are responsible for registering new organizations, reregistering existing organizations, liquidating those that do not manage to register, and banning groups deemed a threat to society.
Under the 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience, the Government may seek to ban a religious organization deemed a threat to society. Unlike liquidation, which involves only the loss of an organization's juridical status, a ban prohibits the activities of an entire religious community. Banning proceedings require judicial review. Since 1998 Moscow's Northern Circuit's procuracy has been seeking to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses as a threat to society. Although that office's 1998 suit to ban the organization at the local level was dismissed in February 2001, a retrial opened at Moscow's Golovinskiy intermunicipal court in October 2001. As of June 30, 2002, the retrial still was ongoing. In December 2001, Jehovah's Witnesses filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg to protest, among other issues, the banning-related litigation as state interference in the freedoms of religion and expression, and the resultant prevention of reregistration as state interference in the freedom of association. Moscow Helsinki Group Chair Lyudmila Alekseyeva and the Keston Institute have criticized the litigation as a campaign of oppression. In March 2002, the Council of Europe's Monitoring Committee issued a report stating that "[t]he co-rapporteurs regard the length of the judicial examination in this case as an example of harassment against a religious minority and believe that after 6 years of criminal and legal proceedings the trial should finally be halted."
The 1997 law also required all previously registered organizations to reregister by December 31, 2000. A large majority of groups previously registered under a more liberal 1990 religion law managed to reregister successfully under the 1997 law; however, the process was often problematic, and some groups failed to reregister by the deadline. The registration process, which involves simultaneous registration at both the federal and local levels, requires considerable time, effort, and legal expense. Many international and well-funded domestic religious organizations began the reregistration process soon after publication of the applicable regulations, concluding the process relatively quickly. Other religious groups chose not to pursue reregistration. Some Pentecostal congregations refused to register out of philosophical conviction; local officials refused to register others. According to spokespersons for the country's two most prominent muftis, some Muslim groups decided that they would not benefit from reregistering. Other religious groups faced significant problems in registration and reregistration. Local officials, reportedly sometimes influenced by close relations with local Russian Orthodox Church authorities, either refused outright to register groups or created prohibitive obstacles to registration. A lack of specific guidelines to accompany the 1997 law and the shortage of knowledgeable local officials contributed to the problem.
A 1999 amendment to the 1997 law required the Justice Ministry to seek the liquidation of groups that failed to register; under the law's original wording, groups were merely "subject to" liquidation. Liquidation is initiated by the Justice Ministry and reviewed by a court of law. According to the Justice Ministry, approximately 980 organizations had been liquidated through court proceedings as of May 2002. The Ministry asserted that most liquidated organizations were defunct; however, religious minority denominations and NGO's contended that a number were active. Some organizations appear to have been liquidated after local departments of the Justice Ministry had refused to approve their reregistration applications.
On March 7, 2002, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Moscow City Court had acted improperly in liquidating the local branch of the Salvation Army, since that group had made repeated and timely attempts to reregister under the 1997 law. The liquidation process was initiated by the Moscow branch of the Department of Justice (MDJ), a local branch of the federal Justice Ministry. According to the Salvation Army's lawyers, the Moscow City Court still had not rescinded its liquidation order, and the MDJ still had not registered the organization by the end of the period covered by this report. Moscow officials had obstructed actively the Salvation Army's attempts to register, claiming deficiencies in the documentation accompanying its applications and alleging that the Salvation Army was a paramilitary organization. Shortly before the Constitutional Court decision, the Keston news service published allegations from several religious groups that the MDJ's Vladimir Zhbankov had encouraged each of them individually to engage the services of a law firm with which he was affiliated for "expert advice" on their registration difficulties. Zhbankov reportedly continues to work at the MDJ, although he has been reassigned to a different office.
On April 30, 2002, the Moscow organization of the Church of Scientology successfully challenged a liquidation order by Moscow's Nikulinskiy intermunicipal court. The MDJ argued that the Church had failed to reregister by the deadline and therefore must be liquidated. Invoking the March 7 Constitutional Court ruling, the Scientologists' legal team argued that it had attempted to reregister under the 1997 law but that the MDJ had prevented it from doing so. The authorities continued to impede the operation of its centers in Dmitrograd, Khabarovsk, Izhevsk, and other localities.
In September 2001, a court in Kirov ordered the local department of the Ministry of Justice to register the Volga-Vyatsk church, a Pentecostal congregation.
Jehovah's Witnesses have managed to reregister the vast majority of their previously existing religious organizations and a religious center, however they have experienced problems registering in a few locations. When newly registered organizations are added to those that successfully reregistered, the Witnesses organization recorded a total of almost 400 registered local organizations and 1 central organization as of the end of the period covered by this report. In Moscow, the MDJ continues to refuse to register or reregister any community of Jehovah's Witnesses under the 1997 religion law. The Moscow City Court has twice denied the applications on appeal, most recently on February 20,2002, relying on the ongoing banning trial in the Golovinskiy Court. In addition to Moscow, Jehovah's Witnesses indicate that they have experienced problems with registering in such locations as Tula, Tver, Novgorod, Kabardino-Balkariya, Chuvashiya, and Chelyabinsk. Local officials in Chelyabinsk, Chuvashiya, Tver, and Novgorod denied registration to Jehovah's Witnesses. The Tula community eventually managed to register without going to court. The authorities registered the three local organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Kabardino-Balkariya following court decisions in favor of the communities. Litigation was under way in Chuvashiya and Chelyabinsk at the end of the period covered by this report. In Chuvashia a judge sent the application for registration to a group of experts to verify the authenticity of the founders' signatures. In Chelyabinsk a court ruled that the authorities' refusal to register the group was illegal but declined to order registration on technical grounds. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) has succeeded in registering 38 local religious organizations; however, in several regions local officials impeded registration. For example, since 1998 the Mormons have attempted unsuccessfully to register a local religious organization in Kazan, Tatarstan. The local Department of Justice in Chelyabinsk continues to reject the local Mormons' registration application, alleging that Mormon activities are incompatible with federal law.
On May 15, 2002, the Magadan city court ordered the local department of justice to rescind its warnings to the local Catholic parish threatening to revoke the parish's registration. Local justice authorities claimed that Father Michael Shields could not serve as the chief administrator of a Russian parish because he is a foreigner. Shields' lawyers argued that, while the law requires a minimum of 10 citizens to register a local religious organization, it says nothing about the nationality of that organization's chief cleric. Furthermore, the lawyers charge that local authorities have denied Shields' request for permanent residency, inappropriately suggesting that the celibate priest marry a Russian woman to gain citizenship, a suggestion that senior Roman Catholic officials deny was made. According to the Slavic Law Center, which represented the parish, several other clerics of the Catholic and other faiths have received similar warnings from local departments of justice. An estimated 85 percent of Catholic clergy in Russia are foreigners. Since the Catholic seminary in St.Petersburg graduated its first class only in 2000, it is expected to be over a decade before substantial numbers of native Russian priests will be available to service the Catholic community.
According to spokespersons for the country's two most prominent muftis, most of the Muslim religious organizations that wanted to register have been able to do so. In the remaining cases, procedural irregularities and mutual accusations of "Wahhabism" by the two principal Muslim groups, the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims in European Russia and Siberia, based in Ufa and led by Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin, and the Moscow-based Russian Council of Muftis, led by Chief Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, appears to have hindered reregistration efforts by Muslim organizations and complicated the process, since this label may have made local officials and ethnic Russians more wary of Muslim religious organizations in some regions (the word "Wahhabi" refers to a branch of Sunni Islam that has become a pejorative term in Russia because of persistent allegations that "Wahhabi extremism" was to blame for terrorist attacks linked to the war in Chechnya). The regions of Kabardino-Balkariya and Dagestan have laws banning extremist religious activities, described as "Wahhabism," but there were no reports that these laws were invoked to deny Muslim groups registration during the period covered by this report.
Under the 1997 law, representative offices of foreign religious organizations are required to register with state authorities. They are barred from conducting liturgical services and other religious activity unless they have acquired the status of a group or organization. Although the law officially requires all foreign religious organizations to register, in practice foreign religious representative offices (those not registered under law) have opened without registering or have been accredited to a registered religious organization. However, those offices may not carry out religious activities and do not have the status of a religious "organization."
The Moscow Jewish Community, which is involved in an ongoing dispute with another Russian Jewish organization, is registered as a local religious organization. It tried to change its status to that of a centrally registered organization; however, the MDJ refused to allow such a change. The community is attempting to deposit a modified version of its bylaws with the MDJ; however, at the end of the period covered by this report, the MDJ still had not responded to the community's most recent application.
In a number of cases the Procurator General in Moscow appeared to have encouraged local state prosecutors to challenge the registration and reregistration of some non-traditional religious groups. The Procurator distributed a 1999 manual entitled "Activities of Religious Groups: Psychological and Juridical Aspects: Informational Resource Work for Procurator Personnel" to all regional branches of the procuracy. The manual contains biased descriptions of groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Unification Church, and Scientology. In addition, the manual appears to provide instructions on how to generate criminal cases against these groups, including sample letters from distraught parents of members of these denominations. Despite this guidance, in a number of instances local courts have upheld the right of non-traditional groups to register or reregister.
In addition to its provisions for banning and refusing registration to some religious groups, some other aspects of the 1997 law and its application also restricted religious activity. Critics charge that the law's 15-year rule--which requires that religious groups exist for 15 years before they can qualify for "organization" status--limits the rights, activities, and status of new religious "groups." In 1999 the Constitutional Court upheld the 15-year provision, however, it declared that the rule did not apply to organizations that had been registered at the time of the 1997 law's passage. The ruling effectively "grandfathered in" a number of previously registered religious organizations that had not been able to prove 15 years of operation in Russia. For example, in the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, the 15-year rule no longer prevented the registration of newly created local Jehovah's Witnesses religious organizations, nor reregistration of organizations that were registered at the time of implementation of the 1997 law but less than 15 years old.
Nonetheless, the 1999 ruling does not enable independent churches with less than 15 years in the country to register as religious organizations unless they were registered before the passage of the law or affiliate themselves with existing centralized organizations. The Institute for Religion and Law and other NGO's note that this is a significant restriction for small, independent religious communities and foreign-based "new religions."
According to lawyers for the Church of Scientology, the organization has filed an application with the ECHR to protest the denial of registration to a chapter in Surgut, Tyumen Oblast. In an effort to avoid the 15-year rule, that chapter first attempted to register as a social organization and then as a non-profit organization, yet was told each time that it needed to apply for registration as a religious organization. However, that application was denied on the basis of the 15-year rule.
Some domestic human rights activists are concerned by language in the 1999 ruling that upholds the right of the Government to place certain limits on the activity of religious groups in the interests of national security, citing 1993 and 1996 ECHR decisions regarding religious sects. In 2000 the Security Council adopted a National Security Concept including a specific warning on the allegedly negative impact of foreign missionary activity. Supporters of the 1997 law claim that individual members of unregistered "groups" may still establish bank accounts, invite foreign guests, and rent or purchase property on behalf of their congregations; however, in practice, it has been difficult for many groups to function effectively on such a basis.
Despite the efforts of most agencies of the federal Government to implement the 1997 law liberally and to provide assurances that religious freedom would be observed, some local officials continued to apply the law restrictively. The vagueness of the law and regulations, the contradictions between federal and local law, and varying interpretations provide regional officials with a pretext for restricting the activities of religious minorities. Discriminatory practices at the local level were made possible by the decentralization of power that occurred during the Yeltsin era. They also are encouraged by majority religions' lobbying efforts and by negative attitudes toward "non-traditional" religions. The Putin Administration has attempted to rectify the situation to some degree by strengthening ties between the regions and the center. As part of this effort, President Putin divided the country into seven districts overseen by the polpreds and introduced a federal register of laws to ensure that local legislation conformed to the Constitution and federal laws.
Many of the restrictions on religious freedom are associated with the 1997 law; however, there were others, particularly at the local level, involving such matters as access to venues for religious observances, visas for foreign religious workers, questionable "deprogramming" practices, and issues of property restitution, that were not always related directly to the 1997 law. Since 1994 many of the country's regional governments have passed laws and decrees intended to restrict the activities of religious groups. The federal Government sometimes challenges the legality of local legislation. As a result, some laws have been rescinded, and others have been brought into conformance with federal law. The federal Government works through the Procuracy, Ministry of Justice, Presidential Administration, and the courts to force regions to comply with federal law. The Government often is active in preventing or reversing discrimination at the local level, by disseminating information to the regions and, when necessary, by reprimanding the officials at fault. For example, the Presidential Academy of State Service has worked actively with religious freedom advocates such as the Slavic Center for Law and Justice to train regional and municipal officials in properly implementing the law.
In April 2001, according to the Keston News Service, the authorities evicted three registered and one unregistered Protestant congregations in Kazan, in the Republic of Tatarstan, from state-owned premises which they had been renting for worship services.
In May 2001, local legislators in the Belgorod region passed a law restricting missionary activity, including the use of venues in which religious meetings may be held. Foreigners visiting the region are forbidden to engage in missionary activity or to preach unless specifically allowed to do so according to their visas (some groups reportedly sent religious workers on business or tourist visas in order not to alert the authorities to their activities). In December 2001, the Supreme Court rejected the Belgorod local procurator's challenge to the law. In August 2001, the Belgorod regional court ruled to strike one article of the law which stated that groups receiving repeated violations would be banned. No information was available concerning any attempts to enforce this law by the end of the period covered by this report.
There were reports that some local and municipal governments prevented religious groups from using such venues as cinemas that are suitable for large gatherings. In many areas of the country, government-owned facilities are the only available venues. As a result, some congregations that do not have property effectively have been denied the opportunity to practice their faith in large gatherings. Hare Krishna leaders in Moscow have sought unsuccessfully for several years to acquire property to build a new temple and center. Jehovah's Witnesses and Baptists in Moscow and other regions continue to encounter difficulty leasing assembly space and obtaining the necessary permits to renovate buildings.
The Mormons also encountered difficulty obtaining permission to build and then occupy an assembly hall in Volgograd. The building eventually was completed, but municipal officials have delayed issuing permission to use the completed building.
Following objections by the archbishop of the local Russian Orthodox Church to the building of a Catholic church in Pskov, city authorities placed a "temporary ban" on construction. Opponents of the church's construction argue that the church is too large, that the belfry is too prominent, and that the church infringes on the city's historic center. According to proponents of construction, the local parish had submitted blueprints for the church and received all the permits required by law before beginning construction. In April 2002, the governor of the province met with parish officials and assured them that the authorities did not intend to prohibit the completion of the church. As of May 2002, the dispute still had not been resolved. Following the April 19, 2002 cancellation of his visa, Catholic bishop Jerzy Mazur was unable to attend a ceremony to consecrate the ground for Buryatiya capital Ulan-Ude's first Catholic church. According to an April 24 Interfax-Yevraziya press agency report, representatives of the city's small Catholic community claimed that they were unable to proceed with construction plans unless the ground was consecrated.
Since 1998 the Buddhist Kuntsechoyney Datsan (monastery) in St. Petersburg has been the subject of a property dispute between its former and present occupants. According to a spokesperson for the former abbot and monks, who are affiliated with the Traditional Buddhist Sangha of Russia, the country's largest Buddhist organization, the St. Petersburg Datsan's current administrators represent none of the country's traditionally Buddhist groups and took the Datsan by force. The same spokesperson alleges that the Datsan's current leader acquired the deed by fraudulent means. The Traditional Buddhist Sangha of Russia is based in the Ivolginskiy Datsan in Buryatiya and is headed by Pandido Hambo Lama Damba Ausheyev.
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which does not recognize the Moscow Patriarchate's authority, also has had numerous problems obtaining access to places for gathering.
The 1997 law's preamble, which some government officials insist carries no legal weight, recognizes the "special contribution of Orthodoxy to the history of Russia and to the establishment and development of Russia's spirituality and culture." It accords "respect" to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism as inseparable parts of the country's historical heritage. Many citizens firmly believe that at least nominal adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church is at the heart of what it means to be Russian. This belief appears to have manifested itself in a church-state relationship that is detrimental to non-Orthodox denominations.
The Russian Orthodox Church has made special arrangements with government agencies to conduct religious education and to provide spiritual counseling. Although other denominations, such as Protestant groups, have been granted access to military personnel, it is much more limited than that accorded to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church has signed agreements with the Ministries of Education, Defense, Health, Interior, Emergency Situations, and Tax, with the Federal Border Service, the Main Department of Cossack Forces under the President, and other bodies. The details of these agreements are far from transparent, but available information indicates that the Russian Orthodox Church appears to receive more favorable treatment than other denominations.
Government protocol and other anecdotal evidence from religious minority groups suggest that the Russian Orthodox Church in some cases enjoys very close cooperation with state bodies and officials. For example, in early 2002, the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) received Patriarch Aleksiy at the service's Lubyanka headquarters, where the prelate blessed a church that had been restored. In public statements on that occasion, both figures spoke of the need to defend Russia's "spiritual security" against "sects" and "cults." On February 11, 2002, the Vatican announced that it was upgrading its four existing apostolic administrations to dioceses; the Russian Orthodox Church vehemently protested the decision (see Section III). The Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling upon the Vatican to refrain from such a move and "to settle the matter with the Russian Orthodox Church." In April 2002, the Russian Orthodox Church denied responsibility for the cancellation of the visas of Catholic Bishop Jerzy Mazur and Catholic priest Stefano Caprio, but heatedly defended the cancellations as a state prerogative and an appropriate response to Catholic "encroachment." Press reports on the cancellations cited vague allegations by unnamed sources in the security services that the two ecclesiastics had been spying. On December 13, 2001, the Russian Orthodox Church and other organizers of the World Russian People's Congress symbolically combined church and state. For example, the President attended for the first time and entered together with the Patriarch. The Congress, an occasional forum of prominent public figures, took place in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. In May 2002, numerous prominent federal officials-including the President, the Speaker of the upper house of Parliament, the Chair of the Constitutional Court, and the Minister of Defense-attended an Orthodox Easter service presided over by the Patriarch in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Nonetheless, policymakers appear divided on the question of the proper relationship between the State and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Human rights groups and religious minority groups have criticized the Procurator General for encouraging legal action against some minority religions and recommending as authoritative materials that are biased against Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and others. Some Protestant groups and newer religious movements have accused the FSB, Procurator, and other official agencies, of harassment. Churches have faced investigations for purported criminal activity, landlords have been pressured to renege on contracts, in some cases the security services are thought to have influenced the Ministry of Justice in registration applications, and some religious personnel have experienced visa and customs difficulties while entering or leaving the country. For example, in March 2002, Riga-based Pentecostal pastor Aleksey Ledyayev flew to Moscow to address a conference of religious ministers; however, the authorities detained him at the airport for an estimated 9 to 11 hours before returning him to Riga. Authorities reportedly left Ledyayev's Russian visa in his Latvian passport without canceling it. According to Ledyayev, he received no explanation of the decision to deny him entry. Also in March 2002, according to Pastor Martinez of the Kingdom of God church in Moscow, 2 persons dressed as police officers and 10 in civilian clothing broke down the doors of the church, disrupting a worship service. One individual in the group identified himself as an FSB officer and gave his name and rank; the others refused to do so, saying that their names were state secrets. They conducted a documents check and seized a medicine cabinet in order to look for narcotics.
Church officials and religious freedom advocates reported a that the head of the Khabarovsk administration's Department of Religion continued to engage in a campaign against the region's Pentecostals, hindering the church's registration efforts and harassing visiting foreign missionaries with bureaucratic requirements, such as repeated document checks and challenges to valid visas, in an attempt to discourage missionaries from staying in the region.
In April 2002, two Roman Catholic religious workers--Bishop Jerzy Mazur of the diocese in Irkutsk and Father Stefano Caprio, a priest in Vladimir--discovered while traveling abroad that the authorities had declared them personae non gratae and canceled their visas. Caprio claimed that his visa was removed physically from his passport during exit formalities on April 5, when he was traveling from Moscow to Milan. Federal Border Service workers canceled Mazur's visa on April 19, during his stopover in Moscow on the way from Warsaw to Irkutsk. According to the office of Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, many foreign Catholic clergy working in Russia subsequently were afraid to leave the country, concerned that they would not be allowed to return. Foreign religious workers without residency permits typically must go abroad once a year to renew their visas; some receive multiple-entry visas or are able to extend their stays.
Like other religious workers, Catholics have experienced problems in obtaining residency permits and visas. Celibate Catholic clergy do not have the option to gain permanent residency or citizenship on the basis of marriage to Russian citizens, unlike other religious workers who have done so.
The Mormons also have had difficulty in securing visas for some of their foreign missionaries coming to Russia, particularly with the Vladivostok branch of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They also have had problems in procuring residency permits for missionaries in regions such as Chelyabinsk and Kazan. Church lawyers presume that officials in some areas, such as Chelyabinsk, have impeded foreign religious workers from registering in order to restrict foreign proselytizing. In a number of other cases, the authorities continued to refuse visas to missionaries, apparently as a result of earlier conflicts with the authorities. Individuals denied visas include Dan Pollard, formerly of the Vanino Baptist Church in Khabarovsk region, and David Binkley of the Church of Christ in Magadan, whose applications were rejected despite their acquittal on tax and customs charges, and Charles Landreth of the Church of Christ in Volgograd, who had been accused in the local press of being a spy. A fourth missionary, Monty Race of the Evangelical Free Church of America, who entered the country legally with a visa sponsored by a Moscow congregation, was refused registration to reside in Naberezhnyy Chelnyy, Tartarstan. Race, who is married to a Russian citizen and has two children, also has been refused permission to register as a resident foreign spouse of a citizen. The letter of refusal he received from the Interior Ministry's local passport control office cites "national security" concerns. In January and May 2002, according to Dan Pollard, courts in Khabarovsk acquitted him of all remaining charges and upheld his right to return to the country.
In late March 2002, four foreign missionaries for Jehovah's Witnesses arrived in Moscow with valid religious worker visas and attempted to register with the local police, as required by law. The officials who received them initially refused to register their visas, citing the banning trial that was under way at the time. The four missionaries eventually were relocated to other cities within the country. According to a spokesperson for Jehovah's Witnesses, such incidents are not a frequent problem, and the community is working with the local Office of Visas and Registration to resolve the matter.
The Buddhist community has had difficulty in realizing a planned visit by the Dalai Lama. In September 2001, according to an Interfax news agency report, President Putin promised the Kalmyk President that he would order the Foreign Ministry to review its denial of a visa to the Tibetan holy man. In February 2002, a Buryat cultural organization announced that such a visit might take place as early as the summer of 2002. The Lama's last visit to the country was in 1991.
Some religious groups cite disputes concerning the return of religious property confiscated during the Soviet era as a source of concern. According to the Presidential Administration, since the 1993 decree went into effect, 4,000 buildings have been returned to religious groups. Approximately 3,500 of these were returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Approximately 15,000 religious articles, including icons, torahs, and other items, have been returned to religious groups. For the most part, properties of other faiths used for religious services, including synagogues, churches, and mosques, have been returned as well, although some in the Jewish community assert that only a small portion of the total properties confiscated under Soviet rule have been returned. The Jewish community is seeking the return of a number of synagogues around the country, of religious scrolls, and of cultural and religious artifacts, such as the Schneerson book collection (a revered collection of the Chabad Lubavitch).
During the summer of 2001, city authorities in Kazan, Tatarstan sought to prevent the immediate repair and continued use of a Jewish school building that had been damaged by fire. The fire, which some Jewish leaders suspected to be the result of arson, damaged the roof and upper floor of the school. On July 18, municipal authorities issued a decree closing the school for the upcoming academic year and transferred the students to another school. Offers by parents and others in the Jewish community to repair the school at their own expense initially were rejected by the city authorities, who ostensibly were concerned that the building had suffered structural damage; however, the officials also openly voiced their discomfort with the location of a Jewish school in an historically Tatar neighborhood. On August 21, 2001, the Vakhitovskiy regional court found that the authorities had acted improperly in decreeing the transfer of the Jewish students. The city authorities did not prevent parents from completing essential repairs before the school year opened on September 1, 2001. In May 2002, the school was formally returned to the Jewish Community in Kazan.
According to human rights activists and NGO's, anti-Semitism is still a significant part of the mindset of some politicians. For example, Communist Duma deputy Vasiliy Shandybin often has made derogatory references to Jews in public. Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev claimed in public that there was a Zionist plot in his province, although very few Jews live there. As in previous years, nationalists distributed anti-Semitic literature in Moscow and elsewhere during the Victory Day holiday in May 2002.
A spokesperson for the Independent Psychiatric Association criticized Golovinskiy intermunicipal court's commissioning of "expert studies" to determine whether the religious literature of Jehovah's Witnesses was harmful to members or non-members. The court commissioned the studies in connection with a trial to determine whether the Jehovah's Witnesses should be banned in Moscow. As parties to the case, Jehovah's Witnesses must share the cost of such studies.
In April 2002, following a meeting with Catholic archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Sergey Abramov, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration responsible for domestic policy, stated that "The Presidential Administration is disturbed by violations of legislation with respect to Catholics," and that it would "always come to the defense of Russian laws." Kondrusiewicz visited Abramov in his Kremlin office to protest anti-Catholic statements by Orthodox representatives and Duma deputies, as well as the Pskov city administration's prevention of the completion of a Catholic church in that city. In April 2002, Duma deputy Viktor Alksnis submitted a draft resolution calling upon the President to direct the Justice Ministry and its local departments to pursue the legal ban of the Catholic Church's four apostolic administrations (dioceses) in the country. The following month, the 450-member Duma failed to pass the resolution with the necessary 226 votes, with 169 lawmakers voting in favor, 37 against, and 4 abstaining.
Although the Constitution mandates the availability of alternative military service to those who refuse to bear arms for religious or other reasons of conscience, in practice no such alternative exists. In October 2001, according to press reports, authorities in Nizhniy Novgorod established an alternative service program for conscripts. There were no reports that such programs existed in other regions. President Putin criticized the Nizhniy Novgorod program as extralegal, and on June 28, 2002, national legislation on alternative service was approved by the Duma and forwarded to the upper chamber for action. It would establishe alternative civilian service and alternative military service in unarmed units.
While most conscripts looking for exemptions from military service sought medical or student exemptions, the courts provided relief to others on the grounds of their religious convictions. The Slavic Law Center represented several of the conscripts. On April 19, 2002, the Surazhskiy regional court in Bryansk Oblast upheld the complaint of evangelical Sergey Dorokhovyy against the local draft board. Dorokhovyy, who asserts that he is unwilling to perform his military service on the grounds of his religious convictions, had protested against the local draft board's decision to deny his request for alternative service, arguing that no law provided for such an exemption. Prior to the April 19 ruling, lower courts had twice upheld the draft board's decision. On December 25, 2001, the deputy chair of the Supreme Court lodged protest with the presidium of the Bryansk Oblast court, which then ordered a retrial of Dorokhovyy's case in a lower court.
In March 2002, a city procurator in Mednogorsk, Orenburg Oblast, charged Muslim Arslan Khasanov with evasion of military service. Khasanov, the son of a Mednogorsk mullah, refuses to perform his military service on the grounds of his personal moral and ethical convictions, which stem from his opposition to the use of force against Muslims in Chechnya. On February 8, 2002, the presidium of the Supreme Court of Chuvashiya dismissed charges against Pentecostal Aleksandr Volkov for evasion of military service, allowing an August 8, 2001 acquittal by the Novocheboksaryy city court to stand. On January 22, 2002, the deputy chair of the Supreme Court lodged protest with the high court in Chuvashiya against continuing, hostile litigation against Volkov. Volkov refuses to perform his military service on the grounds of his religious convictions.
According to the Slavic Law Center, on November 12, 2001, officials from the local military commissariat ("voyenkomat") in Lipetsk forcibly detained Baptist Sergey Kovyazin. In December 1999, the local procurator had denied the town military garrison's request to open a criminal case against Kovyazin for evasion of military service. On November 12, Kovyazin appeared at the recruitment office in response to the latest series of summons and stated his objections to military service on the grounds of his religious convictions. On November 14, Kovyazin was released.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
There were isolated instances in which local officials detained individuals engaged in the public discussion of their religious views. Such instances often were resolved quickly.
There were no official reports of religious prisoners; however, Mormon missionaries throughout the country frequently were detained for brief periods or asked by local police to cease their activities, regardless of whether they were actually in violation of local statutes on picketing. For example, in Vladivostok on January 21, 2002, three men, two of them in police uniform, stopped and physically assaulted two Mormon missionaries who were proselytizing in accordance with their religious worker visas. Neither victim reported serious physical injuries. Officials at the district police station refused to accept their complaint. Later intervention by the city police chief led to the case's resolution.
The Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia could confirm no instances of the forcible use of psychiatry in "deprogramming" victims of "totalitarian sects" during the period covered by this report.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
The Russian Academy for State Service held multiple conferences during the period covered by this report to examine the issue of religious tolerance, including one in December 2001 entitled "Religion and Problems of National Security in Russia." A broad range of participants with differing views attended the conferences.
Some religious communities continued to reclaim ground lost during the Soviet period. For example, in May 2002, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, Finnish President Tarja Halonen, a Russian Orthodox Church representative, and others gathered to mark the restoration of the Church of St. Mary, belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingriya, one of four Lutheran groups registered in the country. The restored building, dating from 1805, replaced a previous structure from 1733, and was built on land given to the Finnish community by Empress Anna. The Soviet regime forced the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingriya to end its operations in 1938. The Catholic St. Andrew Kim parish, which is made up of Russian citizens of Korean descent, successfully registered with Moscow authorities.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Religious matters are not a source of societal hostility for most citizens, although popular attitudes toward traditionally Muslim ethnic groups are negative in many regions, and there are manifestations of anti-Semitism as well as societal hostility toward newer, non-Orthodox, religions. There continue to be instances of religiously motivated violence, although it is often difficult to determine whether religious or ethnic differences were the primary motivation for individual instances of violence. Relations between different religious organizations are frequently tense, particularly at the leadership level. Conservative groups encouraged by, or claiming ties to, the Russian Orthodox Church staged a number of anti-Catholic demonstrations throughout the country. Many citizens firmly believe that at least nominal adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church is at the heart of what it means to be Russian, and in conservative nationalist circles, Russian Orthodoxy is considered the de facto official religion of the country.
According to the Procuracy General, as of November 1, 2001, 37 criminal cases of incitement to national, racial, or religious hatred had been opened pursuant to the Criminal Code. As of July 1, 2002, according to the statistical department of the Supreme Court, the Procuracy had brought five such cases to court, but none of the accused was convicted.
Popular attitudes toward traditionally Muslim ethnic groups are negative in many regions, and there are manifestations of anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic sentiments, as well as societal hostility toward newer, non-Orthodox, religions. Federation of Jewish Communities head Rabbi Berel Lazar has taken a strong public stance against groups such as "Jews for Jesus," and has collaborated with the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy, Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin, and other religious leaders to fight the spread of so-called "cults" and "foreign missionaries."
There is no large-scale movement in the country to promote interfaith dialog, although on the local level, religious groups successfully collaborate on charity projects and participate in interfaith dialog. Russian Pentecostal and Baptist organizations, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church, have been reluctant to support ecumenism. Traditionally the Russian Orthodox Church has pursued interfaith dialog with other Christians on the international level. However, the Patriarch and other Russian Orthodox Church representatives expressed grave displeasure at the Vatican's February 2002 decision to upgrade its four apostolic administrations to dioceses (see Section II). Clerics, parliamentarians, and members of conservative "front groups" identifying themselves as Russian Orthodox and Muslim made numerous hostile statements opposing the decision. Prior to the Vatican's decision, the Patriarch had conditioned any future visit to the country by the Pope on the settlement of outstanding issues, which include each church's relationship to Ukraine's eastern-rite Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church, which recognizes Rome's authority, and allegedly "aggressive" Catholic proselytizing in the country. The Russian Orthodox Church objected strongly to the papal visit to Ukraine in June 2001.
In May 2002, 10 faiths came together to stage the Second Interconfessional Exhibition in Moscow's All-Russian Exhibition Center, where they displayed and distributed literature, videocassettes, devotional articles, and goods produced by religious business enterprises. The participants included the Russian Orthodox Church, the Spiritual Directorate for Muslims in the European Region of Russia (DUMER), the Coordination Center for Muslims of the Northern Caucasus, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia, the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations of Russia (KEROOR), the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptists (RSEKhB), the Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) in Russia (SKhVER), the Western Russian Union of Churches of Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia.
Muslims, the largest religious minority, continue to encounter societal discrimination and antagonism in some areas. Discriminatory attitudes have become stronger since the onset of the conflict in the predominantly Muslim region of Chechnya and since the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings, for which the mayor and others quickly blamed Chechen separatists. Muslims have claimed that citizens in certain regions have an irrational fear of Muslims, citing cases such as a dispute in Kolomna over the proposed construction of a mosque. The authorities, journalists, and the public have been quick to label Muslims or Muslim organizations "Wahhabi," a term that has become equivalent with "extremist." Such sentiment has led to a formal ban on "Wahhabism" in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkariya (see Section II). On September 12, 2001, law enforcement officials in Sverdlovsk Oblast called for a stricter national immigration policy to control the inflow of illegal immigrants from Central Asian countries, a move apparently aimed against a perceived Muslim terrorist threat. In the fall of 2001, several prominent human rights activists expressed concern about the rise of anti-Islamic attitudes.
A continuing pattern of violence, with either religious or political motivations, against religious workers in the North Caucasus was evident during the period covered by this report.
Although Jewish leaders have stated publicly that the state-sponsored anti-Semitism of the Soviet era no longer exists, there continued to be instances of prejudice and social discrimination against Jews, as well as vandalism and occasional violence. On May 28, 2002, 28-year-old Tatyana Sapunova stopped her minibus by the side of the Kiev highway, approximately 15 miles south of Moscow, to remove a sign with an anti-Semitic slogan. As she pulled on the sign, she triggered an explosive device that detonated and injured her severely. Spokespersons for the country's major Jewish organizations strongly criticized the attack and called upon the authorities to take more forceful action against anti-Semitism. As of the end of the period covered by this report, no group had claimed responsibility for rigging the sign. Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov pledged to take the case under his personal control. On September 23, a dozen skinhead youths beat up four yeshiva students in Moscow, and in the city of Orenburg, unknown assailants attacked a group of Orthodox Jewish schoolboys.
On May 5, 2002, in Rostov, there was an arson attempt on a 130-year-old synagogue, and a window was broken. According to the rabbi, the synagogue's windows had been broken five times in the preceding weeks. According to the Moscow office of the Union of Councils of Soviet Jews, the synagogue is located in a sparsely populated and little-patrolled part of the city and is therefore vulnerable to such attacks. There were other incidents of synagogue vandalism in March and April 2002 in Ulyanovsk, Orenburg, Yashkar-Ola (Republic of Mari-El), and Kostroma. In each case, the perpetrators left anti-Semitic graffiti on the building. On August 16, 2001, in a widely publicized case, there was an arson attack on the synagogue in Ryazan. There were no casualties, but the fire caused approximately $25,000 (788,500 rubles) worth of damage, according to Ryazan Jewish leaders. Jewish leaders noted the quick reaction of local authorities.
Cemetery desecration remained one of the most common types of anti-Semitic attacks. On August 19, 2001, in Krasnoyarsk, vandals desecrated 32 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery by painting them with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sent letters to Krasnoyarsk leaders, including then-Governor Aleksandr Lebed, urging swift investigation and a clear stand against anti-Semitism. The authorities helped the Jewish community remove the graffiti, but no arrests were reported. Several other Jewish cemeteries, including those in Nizhniy Novgorod and Samara, also were vandalized during 2001. In another high-profile case, on September 23, 2001, vandals spray-painted swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti on the front columns of the main entrance to Moscow's Choral Synagogue. This act was perpetrated just days after the Rosh Hashanah visit to the synagogue of Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov and other dignitaries. On September 24, 2001, vandals carved anti-Semitic insults on the front door of the office of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Communities of Russia.
Numerous other anti-Semitic incidents occurred in September 2001. On September 22, a group of youths assaulted an Israeli rabbi and three other visiting Israelis on a street in the Siberian city of Omsk; the youths pushed off the rabbi's hat and shouted Nazi slogans at the four Israelis, but no one was injured.
The ultranationalist and anti-Semitic Russian National Unity (RNE) paramilitary organization, formerly led by Aleksandr Barkashov, which propagates hostility toward Jews and non-Orthodox Christians, appears to have splintered and lost political influence in many regions since its peak in 1998. Although reliable figures on RNE membership were not available, the organization claimed tens of thousands of members in many regions in 2000. The RNE continued to be active in some regions, such as Voronezh, and RNE graffiti has appeared in a number of cities, including Krasnodar. Representatives of the Church of Scientology accuse RNE and other ultranationalist organizations of violence or threats of violence against their activities in a number of Russian cities, including Nizhniy Novgorod, Barnaul, and Yekaterinburg. The cities of Tver and Nizhniy Novgorod registered "Russian Rebirth," a splinter group of the RNE, which in turn prompted protests from human rights groups, including the Union of Councils (UCSJ). However, in several regions such as Moscow and Kareliya, the authorities successfully have limited the activities of the RNE by not registering their local affiliates.
Some local publications around the country continued to carry anti-Semitic themes, unchallenged by local authorities. However, traditionally anti-Semitic publications with large distributions, such as the newspaper Zavtra, while still pursuing such anti-Semitic themes as the portrayal of Russian oligarchs as exclusively Jewish, appear to be more careful than in the past about using crude anti-Semitic language. On May 1, 2002, approximately 10,000 nationalists gathered on Moscow's Teatralnaya Ploshchad for a May-Day rally. According to the Moscow office of the UCSJ, vendors displayed dozens of anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist titles such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf. Anti-Semitic leaflets, graffiti, and articles continued to appear in some regions, such as St. Petersburg, Ryazan, and Krasnodar.
As so-called "nontraditional" religions in the country continued to grow, many citizens, encouraged by conservative politicians, journalists, and clergy, continued to express hostility toward "foreign sects." Hostility toward "nontraditional" religious groups sparked occasional harassment and even physical attacks. On September 16, 2001, perpetrators hurled a Molotov cocktail into the Moscow headquarters of the Church of Scientology; the church had received bomb threats by telephone prior to the incident. By year's end, the police had arrested five suspects, and in January 2002, a court sentenced a member of the extremist National Bolshevik Party to a 2-year jail term for the crime. On September 22, 2001, a group of teenagers attacked two Mormon missionaries in Krasnodar; both victims required stitches and one required minor surgery. The local police registered the victims' charges against their assailants. According to the pastor of an evangelical church in the town of Chekhov, Moscow Oblast, the authorities arrested no suspects in an April 2001 arson case directed against the church and had abandoned the investigation. Most parishioners still were afraid to attend services with their families.
Members of some religions, including some Protestant groups, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church, Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and the Mormons, continued to face discrimination in their efforts to rent premises and conduct group activities (see Section II).
There were press reports of several anti-Catholic demonstrations in the weeks following the Vatican's February 2002 decision to upgrade its apostolic administrations to dioceses (see Section II). On Sunday, April 21, 2002, members of the Russian All-National Council picketed a Catholic Mass in the Siberian city of Irkutsk and called for the closure of the Polish consulate. Many of Siberia's estimated 50,000 Catholics are ethnic Poles and Lithuanians. On April 28, 2002, a series of public protests were held in numerous cities and towns against Catholic "expansionism." A gathering on that date on Moscow's Slavyanskaya Ploshchad attracted approximately 1,500 participants, including nationalist Duma deputies and members of conservative Orthodox groups.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government continued to engage the Government, a number of religious groups, NGO's, and others in a steady dialogue on religious freedom. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the Consulates General in Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg, and Vladivostok were active throughout the period covered by this report in investigating reports of violations of religious freedom, including anti-Semitic incidents. U.S. Government officials engaged a broad range of Russian officials, representatives of religious groups, and human rights activists on a daily basis. In the period covered by this report, such contacts included: government officials, representatives of over 20 religious confessions, the Institute for Religion and Law, the Slavic Law and Justice Center, the "Esther" Legal Information Center, the Anti-Defamation League, lawyers representing religious groups, journalists, academics, and human rights activists known for their commitment to religious freedom. In May 2002, President George Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, and Secretary of State Colin Powell met with religious leaders from numerous faiths in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. The U.S. Ambassador addressed the theme of religious freedom in talks with the Jewish community on a number of occasions, including Rosh Hashanah. He also did so in remarks to members of the Muslim community at the end of Ramadan, at an event sponsored by the Council of Muftis. In addition the Ambassador spoke of the importance of religious freedom at a Sakharov Center conference in April 2002.
The Embassy has worked with NGO's to encourage the development of programs designed to sensitize law enforcement officials and municipal and regional administration officials to discrimination, prejudice, and crimes committed on the basis of ethnic or religious intolerance. Embassy officials met with numerous Russian and American groups affiliated with the many religious denominations present in the country, participating in exchanges of opinion and conducting briefings on the status of religious freedom. Senior embassy officials discuss religious freedom with high-ranking officials in the Presidential Administration and the Government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, raising specific cases of concern. Russian federal officials have responded by investigating those cases and keeping embassy staff informed on issues they have raised.
The Embassy and consulates have investigated problems such as the refusal of visas to foreign missionaries and impediments to registration. As part of its continuing efforts to monitor the implementation of the 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience, the Embassy maintains frequent contact with working-level officials at the Ministry of Justice, Presidential Administration, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In Washington as well as in Russia, the U.S. Government presses for the country's adherence to international standards of religious freedom. Officials in the State Department meet regularly with U.S.-based human rights groups and religious organizations concerned about religious freedom in Russia, as well as with visiting Russian representatives of religious organizations. Officials in Washington also met in early 2002 with officials, clerics, academic experts, and human rights NGO leaders from Muslim regions of Russia. The visitors were participants in the U.S.-sponsored International Visitors Exchange program. The 1997 law has been the subject of numerous high-level communications between members of the executive branch of the U.S. Government and the Russian Government, involving various senior U.S. officials.
In April 2002, an official of the Office of International Religious Freedom visited numerous government officials, NGO advocates for religious freedom, and representatives of major and minority faiths, to whom she emphasized the importance of respecting the rights of minority religions.