There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including detentions; the government selectively enforced existing legal restrictions on religious freedom. Certain laws and policies restricted religious freedom by discriminating against particular religious groups and denying them legal status.
Most detentions for religious practices involved Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were occasional reports of short-term police detentions of religious groups’ members on religious grounds, but such incidents generally were resolved within 48 hours.
On October 11, police in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk detained a group of about 15 Muslims dining at the home of Kamil Odilov. Police accompanied six of them to their homes, which were searched. While five were released that evening, Ilham Merazhov, a professor at a local university and member of the Science and Education Committee of the Muslim Board of Asiatic Russia, was detained for 40 hours while his home was searched. No banned materials were found.
Police across the country participated in raids on various minority religious groups, often confiscating religious literature and other property. For example, on August 4, government officials, including officers from the Federal Security Service (FSB), Special Operations State Militia (OMON), and Moscow police, entered the Moscow Scientology offices, destroyed office property, and reportedly assaulted several staff members, leading to one hospitalization. During the 13-hour raid, the security forces verbally abused and insulted the Scientologists and allegedly removed cash, cameras, personal computer equipment, and mobile telephones. Office computers and 63 hard drives were confiscated and not returned. After the raid, authorities summoned 45 Scientology staff and family members to the prosecutor’s office for questioning, including about the theological foundation of Scientology. Authorities previously interrogated Scientologists and confiscated literature at the center in March 2010.
Publications declared extremist by a court were automatically added to the federal list of extremist materials. It was often difficult to remove an item from the list and court decisions on removal were not always consistent.
On December 28, Judge Galina Butenko of Tomsk's Lenin district court rejected a suit from the prosecutor’s office to place a Russian translation of the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, a holy book of the Hare Krishnas, on the federal list of extremist materials. An analysis completed in October 2010 by three academics at Tomsk State University at the request of the FSB found that the book “contains signs of incitement of religious hatred and humiliation of an individual based on gender, race, ethnicity, language, origin, or attitude to religion.” On December 15, three experts from Kemerovo State University examined the book and one expert found no evidence of extremism. Russian Ombudsperson for Human Rights Vladimir Lukin commented that “the struggle with terrorism is a struggle with real terrorist planning and creation of groups, not with the interpretation of ancient holy books, of whatever faith.” The ruling was appealed by the prosecutor’s office and a decision will be made in 2012.
On April 14, the Surgut City Court of the Khanty-Mansiysk region overturned a 2010 ruling that classified the works of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard as extremist. Due to the ruling, all 29 Church of Scientology publications previously on the federal list of extremist materials were removed on April 26. However, the government appealed the decision, which was expected to be heard in the Moscow regional court in 2012. As of year’s end, no Church of Scientology publications were on the list.
Often at the behest of representatives of the majority religion, some regional officials used contradictions between federal and local laws and varying interpretations of the law to restrict the activities of religious minorities. The federal government only occasionally intervened to prevent or reverse discrimination at the local level.
On April 22, the Pervomaysky district court in the city of Krasnodar published a ruling finding four publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be “extremist,” despite a Rostov regional court ruling on September 11, 2009, that at least one of the publications had “no signs of extremist material.” According to the law, facts established by a court of law shall not be disputed by another court at the same or lower level.
On June 28, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutions of individuals on extremism charges should be carefully and narrowly framed. It ruled that it was important to consider an individual's intention in distributing written material, and if the intention was not to incite hatred or enmity or to humiliate the human dignity of others, the case should not be brought. Despite this ruling, the government continued to target minority religions on extremist-related charges.
For example, as of year’s end, 19 Muslim groups were labeled as terrorist organizations and banned. According to human rights groups, bans on Muslim groups for alleged ties to international terrorism made it easier for officials to detain some individual Muslims arbitrarily for alleged connections to these groups. The regions of Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan have laws banning “extremist Islamic Wahhabism.”
Muslims who read the works of Said Nursi continued to face criminal charges of extremism, in addition to detentions, raids, and fines during the year. On May 18, Ziyavdin Dapayev was convicted on extremism-related charges and given a three-year suspended sentence. On September 20, after denying Dapayev’s appeal, Judge Magomed Onzholov of Makhachkala's Lenin district court decided the 1,820 copies of books written by Said Nursi confiscated from Dapayev in 2010 should be handed to the Dagestan Muslim Board to decide whether or not the materials should be destroyed. Magomedrasul Omarov, spokesperson for the board, stated that they “can conduct an expert analysis of books according to the canons of Sharia, but we can't destroy books” and they would reject any order to destroy religious books. At year’s end, no further information was available.
On January 17, Jehovah’s Witnesses member Maksim Kalinin was charged with incitement to hatred and enmity. In 2010 Russian Special Forces received a warrant to install audio and video surveillance equipment in Kalinin’s home and linguistics experts from Kemerovo State University used the recorded conversations to corroborate Kalinin’s “extremist beliefs.” On September 27, 2010, the Yoshkar-Ola city court in the Mari-El Republic ruled that the personal searches made by police during the raid were unlawful. Nonetheless investigators filed criminal charges against Kalinin. Kalinin is scheduled to be tried on January 25, 2012.
On December 22, an Altay Republic Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict in a case against Aleksandr Kalistratov, a Jehovah’s Witness convicted in November of inciting religious hatred and sentenced to 100 hours of community service in a second trial. He had been declared innocent earlier in the year on the same charges, but prosecutors appealed the first verdict and were granted a retrial.
The government continued to use administrative resources to restrict religious freedom, particularly for minority religions. These restrictions included failure to register religious organizations, denial of access to places of worship (including land and buildings), denial of visas for foreign religious personnel, lack of notification of court hearings, and government raids on religious organizations and detentions of individuals from those organizations.
Several religious groups faced difficulties in holding public activities, including the Falun Gong and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government denied Falun Gong practitioners permission to hold public activities, citing Article 8 in the 2001 Treaty of Friendship with China. For example, in October a scheduled art exhibit was disrupted when authorities demanded that the paintings be removed and they cut electricity to the building showing the exhibit.
The Church of Scientology continued to face difficulties registering its religious organizations. The government continued to ignore three ECHR rulings that it must register the Church of Scientology in Moscow, Surgut, and Nizhnekamsk. The ECHR declared that the 15-year requirement for registering an LRO violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ provisions on the freedoms of religion and association and awarded monetary compensation for damages and legal costs to the groups. As of the year’s end, the government compensated the church for damages and legal costs but did not register the church.
There were credible reports that individuals within the FSB and other law enforcement agencies harassed certain minority religious groups, investigated them for purported criminal activity and violation of tax laws, and pressured landlords to renege on contracts with those groups. In some cases the security services were thought to have influenced the MOJ to reject registration applications.
Since December 2009, authorities denied the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC), which does not recognize Patriarch Kirill, access to at least 15 churches in Suzdal that the ROAC claims the government gave it in the 1990s. On March 28, the Federal Service of Court Bailiffs of the Vladimir region replaced the locks on the confiscated St. John the Baptist church to prevent ROAC members from continuing to use the facilities. An investigation into the property rights of the ROAC was ongoing at year’s end.
Law enforcement officials, the ROC, and legislative bodies called for protecting the “spiritual security” of the country by discouraging the growth of “sects” and “cults.” Within the MOJ there is a council of experts for conducting state religious studies expert analysis. The head of the council, Alexander Dvorkin, was an outspoken proponent of categorizing minority religious groups as “extremist cults” and “totalitarian sects.” Among the groups so labeled were Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, neo-Pentecostals, and Mormons.
During the year, the Slavic Center for Law and Justice and a number of minority “nontraditional” religious leaders asserted that the government and majority religious groups increasingly used the mass media, conferences, and public demonstrations to foment opposition to minority religious groups, characterizing them as threats to physical, mental, and spiritual health, and asserting that these groups threatened national security. Television channels broadcast several programs about “dangerous cults and sects” and implied that these groups included Pentecostals and other proselytizing religious groups.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who declared in 2010 that Chechnya “would be better off” if it were ruled by Sharia (Islamic law), ceased public support during the year for vigilantes who assaulted women who did not wear headscarves, but successfully enforced a rule that women who work in or enter government buildings (including offices, libraries, and schools) must wear headscarves.
Additionally, in February, Mufti Sultan Mirzayev, the spiritual leader of Chechnya, requested that women dress more “modestly” and only show their face and hands. While his requests carry no legal weight, they are generally followed due to his status within the Muslim community and his close relationship with Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
Many religious groups were unable to regain property confiscated during the Soviet era or acquire new property. The 2010 law granting religious organizations ownership of all historical property in their use was implemented inconsistently. Although authorities have returned many properties used for religious services, including churches, synagogues, and mosques, all four “traditional” religious groups continued to pursue restitution cases. The SOVA Center, an NGO that seeks to combat extremism and nationalism, reported that problems with property restitution were most prevalent among Muslim and Protestant groups.
On December 28, the Vladivostok city administration notified the Vladivostok Central Church of Evangelic Christian-Baptists and the Seventh-day Adventist Church that they must vacate their building by January 2, 2012. The notice to vacate came shortly after the churches requested that the city cede the building permanently to them in accordance with a law to provide property to religious groups. The churches have jointly used the two-story building, owned by the city, since 1976. The city of Vladivostok asserted that it was time to return the property to its “rightful owner.” Deputy Mayor Aleksey Sukhov explained that the property was not for religious use, although a local Baptist minister contended that the building registration document established it as “a house of prayer.”
Many “nontraditional” denominations frequently complained that they were unable to rent or buy venues for worship from public or private vendors. Officials also have denied construction permits. For example, in the greater Moscow region, Muslim groups complained that they had been limited to only four official mosques. By the end of 2010, there were 241 official mosques throughout the country. According to public comments by Mufti Gainutdin, 7,200 unofficial mosques have been built in the country in the last 20 years.
Seventh-day Adventists reported continuing challenges for schoolchildren who observe Saturday as their Sabbath day. Saturday is a partial school day throughout most of the country. In some schools, authorities refused to allow these children to take exams on a different day.
According to the SOVA Center, unlike in previous years, authorities have increased prosecution and sentencing of those arrested for attacks and vandalism against religious minorities, including hate crimes.
In May the website antisemitism.org reported on a plan by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send “spiritual and ethical literature” to Russian diplomatic representatives in 25 countries, including the anti-Semitic texts The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Kabbalah: Conspiracy against God. According to the ministry, the plan was abandoned and the anti-Semitic literature was never purchased.
There were reports that the government prosecuted individuals for anti-Semitic crimes, including statements and publications, during the year. On June 22, the central regional court of Khabarovsk convicted Vyacheslav Kravchenko and Yevgeniy Smolyakov of committing arson on a local synagogue and attacking a police officer who had been investigating cases of extremism in 2009. Kravchenko and Smolyakov received 24- and 27-month conditional sentences, respectively, and were released on probation.