Russia Religion News (01.04.2018) / RBK (30.03.2018) – – In 2017, Russian authorities began infringing more often the rights of adherents of religious sects, the majority of whom are not “destructive cults,” the SOVA Center thinks.


The SOVA Center for News and Analysis prepared a report (RBK possesses it) about problems of the exercise of freedom of conscience in Russia in 2017. In the opinion of experts of the center, the ban of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was the “most massive repressive action with respect to believers in all of the post-soviet period” and placed under threat of criminal prosecution several tens of thousands of persons.


The experts of the center noted “a decrease in the level of discrimination against Muslims apart from the context of the struggle with extremism,” while the attention of the government to new religious movements and protestant organizations grew. Also 2017 was marked by a number of scandals associated with the increased activity of “Orthodox activists,” the experts indicated.


In 2017 SOVA found much less news about attacks on religious grounds than the year before, three as opposed to 21. At the same time, in two cases out of the three, attacks were committed against preachers of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow and vicinity.


The experts found 29 cases of vandalism against religious objects, while 14 of them (including three arsons) were connected with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Orthodox churches suffered another 11. In two cases, protestant churches—Lutheran and Pentecostal—were objects of vandalism.


The report is based on the monitoring of public information (reports of law enforcement agencies, religious organizations, and news media), which SOVA conducts continually.



Closing of Jehovah’s Witnesses


The trend toward “antisectarian struggle” had been noticed in recent years and received widespread continuation in 2017. In particular, it led to the prohibition of the chief and regional organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the authors of the report note.


On 20 April of last year, the Supreme Court, on the basis of a lawsuit by the Ministry of Justice, liquidated the administrative center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and 395 local organizations, ruling them to be extremist. The Ministry of Justice concluded after a series of inspections that the organizations were conducting their activity with violations of, among others, anti-extremist legislation. The Supreme Court agreed with its arguments. This decision was supported by 79% of Russians according to data of a survey by the Levada Center.


“This decision placed tens of thousands of believers under the threat of criminal prosecution simply for the fact of continuing religious activity,” the SOVA report notes.


Employers “forced Jehovah’s Witnesses to resign from work or threatened them with dismissal, citing their religious confession.” SOVA found such cases in Tatarstan, Smolensk oblast, Perm territory, and the Moscow region. In Bashkiria and Rostov oblast, “schoolchildren were forced to give explanations regarding their faith,” and the director of a school in Tomilino near Moscow “threatened to report to police and to transfer an eight-year-old pupil to another form of education for the face that she sang Jehovah’s Witnesses songs and talked about God with classmates. “In Kirov oblast two sixth grade sisters were expelled from class for refusing to sing a song about war for religious reasons,” the report says.



Hurting believers’ feelings


During 2017 courts issued no fewer than five sentences on the basis of part 1 of article 148 of the Criminal Code of RF (public actions expressing clear disrespect toward society and conducted for the purposes of offending the religious feelings of believers). In particular, the blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky was convicted for “hunting Pokemons” in an Ekaterinburg church; Sochi resident Viktor Nochevnov, for caricatures of Christ; and a resident of Angarsk, for publishing a video where a wall was painted with the help of an Orthodox icon.


Convictions were handed down for publications connected with insulting Orthodoxy on the basis of both the “extremist” article 282 of the Criminal Code of the RF and rules of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law. For example, a resident of Belgorod was fined for a photograph where she lights a cigarette from a candle in an Orthodox church and a criminal case was opened against a resident of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka for a caricature of deputy Natalia Poklonskaia with a dildo in the form of Nicholas II.


The protest of various “Orthodox activists” (including the National Liberation Movement and Forty-Forties) against the film “Matilda” by Aleksei Uchitel resulted in the use of force more dangerous than previously, SOVA notes. Thus, representatives of the organization “Christian State—Holy Rus” sent to directors of Russian movie theaters about 1,000 letters with threats, and then they threw bottles with an inflammable mixture into the building where Uchitel’s studio is located in St. Petersburg. Activists set fire to two automobiles parked near the office of Uchitel’s lawyer’s office in Moscow and also distributed leaflets saying “Burn for Matilda.”


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