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Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, guaranteeing equal rights irrespective of religious belief and the right to worship and profess one’s religion. The law states government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.” The law lists Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The law distinguishes between “religious groups,” which have the right to conduct worship services but may not engage in many other activities, and two categories of “religious organizations,” which obtain the legal status to conduct the full range of religious and civil functions through registration with the government. Government authorities continued to detain and fine members of minority religious groups and minority religious organizations for alleged extremism. The government also fined and issued deportation orders for a number of U.S. citizens for engaging in religious activity, in particular volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church). The authorities convicted and fined several individuals for “public speech offensive to religious believers.” In various cities across the country authorities threatened to revoke the status of registered minority religious organizations and dissolved or disbanded a number of minority religious associations, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, often on grounds they were conducting extremist activity. In the first cases under the Yarovaya Package, a new set of legal provisions officially directed against terrorism and extremism, but including measures against religious proselytizing and other activities, the government prosecuted individuals of various Protestant denominations, a bishop from the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church, and a member of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. According to representatives of religious minorities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Yarovaya legislation’s broad definition of missionary activity meant authorities could prosecute individuals for disseminating religious materials or preaching in addition to proselytizing. Compared to previous years, the Jewish community reported fewer government restrictions on religious activities. Police conducted raids on the private homes and places of worship of religious minorities, confiscating religious publications and property and blocking their websites. Religious minorities said local authorities used the country’s anti-extremism laws to add to the list of banned religious texts. Local officials continued to prevent minority religious organizations from obtaining land, denied them construction permits for houses of worship, and, in some cases, announced plans to confiscate or demolish places of worship. The government continued to grant privileges to the ROC not accorded to any other church or religious association, including the right to review draft legislation and greater access to public institutions.

Media and NGOs reported the killing of a deputy imam and a number of physical assaults based on religious identity. There were physical assaults on Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Muslims, and Jews, as well as other attacks on individuals, which may have been based on both their ethnicity and religion. NGOs reported overall there were fewer instances of violence based on religious identity than in prior years. A number of events, including television programs and social media postings, aroused societal criticism because of their portrayal of the Holocaust. Acts of vandalism motivated by religious hatred continued to occur, including against Jewish, Orthodox, Buddhist, and Islamic religious sites.

The U.S. Ambassador, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, and embassy officers met with a range of government officials, including the foreign ministry’s special representative for human rights, to discuss the treatment of religious minorities, particularly the use of the law on extremism to restrict the activities of religious minorities, and the revocation of registration of some minority religious organizations. Embassy officers raised consular cases with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs involving the discriminatory enforcement of the law against U.S. citizens who had engaged in religious activity, including preventing them from obtaining legal counsel, not allowing them to speak in their own defense at legal hearings, and not providing adequate translations into English so they could understand the nature of the proceedings against them. Consular officers attended several court hearings involving a U.S. citizen accused of violating the law on missionary activities. The Ambassador met with senior representatives of the four “traditional” religious groups, including the patriarch and the head of external relations of the ROC, the chair of the Federation of Jewish Communities, the head of the Russian Jewish Congress, the chair of the Russia Muftis Council, and the papal nuncio to discuss interfaith cooperation and ways to promote religious tolerance. Embassy officers met regularly with officials from traditional religions and from religious minorities, including ROC clergy and staff, rabbis, muftis, Protestant pastors, Catholic priests, U.S. missionaries, Mormons, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as with NGOs and civil society leaders, to discuss religious legislation and government practices with regard to religious minorities.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future