There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including reports of detentions and onerous financial penalties, and the government imposed numerous restrictions that affected members of minority religious groups. The authorities continued to detain and charge with “extremism” Jehovah’s Witnesses and adherents of the Islamic theologian Said Nursi, generally referred to as “Nursi readers.” The authorities continued to search and seize the property of members of minority religious groups such as Scientologists and Falun Gong. The MOJ’s list of “extremist” materials grew to 1,589 titles. The authorities continued to restrict the rights of minority religious groups to meet publicly and continued to limit the ability of religious organizations to register.
In February the authorities detained Nursi reader Amir Abuyev for 48 hours after raiding a private home in Kaliningrad where a group of Nursi readers were beginning prayers. In March and again in May, the Federal Security Service (FSB) sought to have Abuyev forcibly detained for psychiatric testing.
In January the authorities freed Nursi reader Asylzhan Kelmukhambetov after he served seven months of an 18-month sentence for “extremism” and hosting a madrasa for 15 students in his home. The court reduced his punishment to a fine, which does not have to be paid due to changes in the criminal code.
In September authorities fined a bookstore in Tolyatti 50,000 rubles ($1,629) for stocking an Islamic book that was on the federal list of “extremist” materials entitled Life of the Prophet.
According to a recent Jehovah’s Witnesses report, from September 2009 to December 2012, there were 1,511 cases of violations of the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The report also states that law enforcement officials detained 1,425 Witnesses, carried out 151 searches, and disrupted 38 religious services. At year’s end, there were six open criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses for “inciting hatred or enmity” and 12 civil cases regarding “extremist” publications. In May Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taganrog in the Rostov region were indicted for participating in the religious services of a dissolved religious organization. In July authorities in the Chuvash Republic placed four Jehovah’s Witnesses in pre-trial detention for “extremism.” Also in July, the Yoshkar-Ola city court in the Mari-El Republic acquitted Jehovah’s Witnesses member Maksim Kalinin of charges of “inciting religious hatred or enmity.” In October the prosecutor’s office sent a letter of apology to Kalinin for subjecting him to prosecution. The letter stated that he had the right to monetary compensation and the right to demand the publication of his exoneration by media that published information about his criminal trial.
The authorities continued to ban the Nurjular and Tablighi Jamaat organizations. The government maintained that Nurjular was a Muslim religious association of followers of Said Nursi, and banned it after concluding that Nursi’s works were “extremist” and promoted intolerance. Muslim adherents of Nursi stated that there was no Nurjular organization. The general prosecutor asserted that Tablighi Jamaat was a radical group whose goal was to reestablish an Islamic caliphate, but Tablighi Jamaat representatives and some human rights activists stated the organization followed the law and existed solely to educate persons about Islam.
Police across the country participated in raids on minority religious groups, often confiscating religious literature and other property in connection with the raids. In May investigators in Orenburg searched 15 homes and places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also in Orenburg, authorities seized Islamic literature. In July officials in Vladivostok searched the homes of four Falun Gong members, detained them, and seized Falun Gong literature. Authorities seized Scientology literature in Kalingrad, Vladivostok, and Novosibirsk, and searched the Scientology premises in Yekaterinburg.
The MOJ’s current list of “extremist” materials includes certain Islamic religious items, 68 Jehovah’s Witnesses items, four Falun Gong items, seven Scientology items, a series of neo-pagan materials deemed intolerant of other religious groups (Christianity in particular), and other media that are explicitly racist or anti-Semitic. Established in 2007, the list increased from 1,066 titles in 2011 to 1,589 at year’s end.
In March a court in Orenburg banned more than 65 Islamic works, the largest such ban of religious literature in a single court case.
Publications declared “extremist” by a court were automatically added to the federal list of “extremist” materials. In some cases, items were not immediately added if an appeals process was underway. In March the Tomsk Regional Court rejected an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that the Bhagavad Gita as It Is, a holy book of the Hare Krishnas, was not extremist. The prosecutor’s office had attempted to have the book declared “extremist” after a group of officially designated academic experts, at the request of the FSB, analyzed the text and stated that it incited religious hatred. Although 29 Church of Scientology publications were removed from the federal list of “extremist” materials in 2011, seven Scientology publications were added to the list during the year. In May Falun Gong practitioners appealed the ban of their literature to the ECHR.
In June the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission expressed serious concern about the anti-extremism law, noting that the vague definition of “extremism” lent itself to broad interpretation and arbitrary application by authorities.
The government continued to decline to comply with an ECHR ruling that the requirement for a religious group to have existed in a community for at least 15 years in order to be registered as an LRO violates the European Convention on Human Rights’ provisions on the freedoms of religion and association.
In May the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC) lost an appeal of a lower court’s decision to award 800-year-old saints’ relics to the plaintiff, the Vladimir Territorial Authority in Suzdal. The plaintiffs argued that the relics were part of a government museum during the Soviet period and alleged the ROAC removed them illegally. Picketers from the Labor and Democratic Party demonstrated against the ROAC in Suzdal for its stance on the relics. The ROAC alleged systematic discrimination by authorities based on its refusal to acknowledge the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate.
On February 19, members of the rock group Pussy Riot staged a punk protest song, “Virgin Mary, Redeem Us of Putin” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. On August 17, Moscow's Khamovniki District Court sentenced three of the band members to two years in prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” a sentence widely criticized by human rights groups.
Some regional officials used contradictions between federal and local laws and varying interpretations of the law to restrict the activities of minority religious groups. The federal government only occasionally intervened to prevent or reverse discrimination at the local level. Some local authorities broadly interpreted the law prohibiting unsanctioned demonstrations to allow restriction of public worship. Lack of access to adequate places of worship and increased numbers of members meant that many Muslim groups spilled out onto the street during Friday prayers and had to rent special premises for major holidays. Several Muslim groups, including those in Maloyaroslavets (Kaluga Region) on the island of Sakhalin and in Primorye reported government insistence that public worship in spaces not designated for religious purposes required advance clearance under the law.
The struggle with Islamic separatists in some regions led to indiscriminate actions against Muslims on the part of local officials. Following the July 19 attempted assassination of a cleric and murder of his deputy in Kazan, Tatarstan, members of civil society and media reported that authorities conducted approximately 160 to 200 searches without warrants and detained between 400 and 600 Muslim men. Most were held for a few hours and released.
The government continued to use administrative resources to restrict religious freedom, particularly for members of minority religious groups. These restrictions included refusal to register religious organizations, denial of access to places of worship (including land and buildings), and lack of notification of court hearings.
The government continued to refuse to register fully the Church of Scientology and the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. Although the Church of Scientology was registered with the federal tax office, the MOJ continued to refuse to reregister its charter. And while a total of 407 local religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are registered in the 72 districts of the Russian Federation, the MOJ continued to tell the group that there was no legal basis to reregister it in Moscow.
On September 6, in the presence of police, unidentified persons razed the three-story Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church in Moscow. A 2011 Supreme Court ruling upheld a 2010 court order allowing removal of the building, constructed without permission on land given to the church in 1992 by the Moscow city government. Although a court order allowed the demolition, those who demolished the church were reportedly intoxicated and intimidated church members while looting the premises. Mikhail Odintsov, Religious Affairs Director in the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, publicly called the midnight demolition “barbarism” and “unacceptable.” Shortly after the demolition, police questioned Pastor Vasily Romanyuk for leading an unapproved service among the church’s ruins.
Many “nontraditional” denominations complained they were unable to rent or buy venues for worship from public or private vendors. Officials also denied construction permits. In the greater Moscow region, Muslim groups reported that the authorities limited them to only four official mosques despite the Council of Muftis’ plan to build 12 new mosques. The Moscow mayor stated that two-thirds of mosque attendees were not registered as Muscovites and argued against building more mosques to accommodate non-registered residents. In September city authorities in a Moscow suburb cancelled plans for a new mosque after several thousand people protested against it. The plans were in flux at year’s end.
Muslims outside of Moscow reported persistent difficulties building mosques to meet growing numbers of Muslim worshippers. Sochi, a city in which 20,000 Muslims reside, has no mosque. The deputy mayor of Sochi denied a 2010 request to construct a mosque, stating that a mosque 20 kilometers away was sufficient for the needs of the city’s Muslims. During the year, authorities denied multiple requests for land plots for a future mosque.
Border authorities denied entrance to two Falun Gong members from Ukraine who planned to attend an annual Falun Gong conference.
The authorities denied the requests of several religious groups, including Falun Gong and Jehovah’s Witnesses, to hold public activities. On July 18, authorities in the Chelyabinsk region denied an application from a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses to hold an annual conference involving more than 2,000 individuals on the grounds that the wildfire danger was too high.
On January 18, Kachkanar Buddhists in Sverdlovsk region petitioned federal authorities to protect their monastery from the expansion of an adjacent factory’s operations, approved by local authorities in 2007. The regional government continued to refuse to register the monastery. At year’s end, the federal government had not responded to the Buddhist community.
While neither the constitution nor the law accord explicit privileges or advantages to the four “traditional” religions, in practice the government cooperated more closely with the ROC than with other religious organizations. The ROC had a number of formal and informal agreements with government ministries giving it greater access than other religious organizations to public institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, police, and the military forces. Nearly all religious facilities in prisons were Russian Orthodox.
The government provided the Russian Orthodox patriarch with security guards and access to official vehicles, a privilege accorded no other religious organization.
The Slavic Center for Law and Justice and several “nontraditional” religious leaders asserted the government and “traditional” religious organizations increasingly used 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 they threatened national security. State television broadcast programs about “dangerous cults and sects” and implied that these groups included Pentecostals and other proselytizing religious groups.
Religions organizations continued to seek restitution of property. The Russian Orthodox Church noted that the government had acquired many of its pre-revolution structures and sold them to private entities, complicating the restitution process. According to Forum 18, as of June the government had reportedly transferred 22 items of property: 19 to the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), two to the Catholic Church, and one to a Muslim organization.
Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists in Vladivostok received a favorable ruling from a higher court regarding a church building city officials had attempted to acquire for use as municipal property. The two churches had occupied the building since 1976 and 2010, respectively. Pursuant to the federal law on restitution, the city had earlier transferred the property to the church organizations.
The Ministry of Justice added numerous anti-Semitic items to its list of “extremist” materials, including a video clip entitled “The Truth about Jews and Hebrews.”
In a meeting with Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar of the Chabad community, President Putin said, “For us, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, it is very important that members of even the smallest nation, the smallest ethnic group, feel and perceive Russia as their homeland. This is only possible when every individual, no matter what denomination, no matter what ethnic group he belongs to, feels completely comfortable and protected, and that his rights are protected socially and legally.” President Putin also stated that anti-Semitism has been eliminated at the level of the state but remained a societal problem.
Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and Religious Affairs Director Odintsov made public statements in support of the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses, readers of Said Nursi, and Hare Krishnas. Odintsov received 2,500 to 3,000 complaints, most of which concerned registration of land, law enforcement, the anti-extremism law, returned religious property, and educational texts on religion in schools. Lukin frequently interceded on behalf of those filing complaints.
In October a United Russia deputy in the Smolensk City Council resigned amid controversy about an anti-Semitic comment recorded during a city council meeting and posted on the Internet. During a debate on whether to allow transport privileges for Holocaust survivors, he reportedly asked, “Why? For the simple reason that they were not finished off?” United Russia officials condemned the comment.
The government supported construction of a new state-of-the-art Museum of Jewish History and Tolerance Center in Moscow. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Israeli President Shimon Peres opened the museum in November.