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HRWF (28.09.2018) – The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has just taken a courageous stand by adopting two prisoners of conscience in Russia sharing the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology. Article 18 declares that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. Article 18 defends the rights of individuals to believe what they want to believe in. It does not defend religions based on whether they are historical or not. HRWF does not either.

It is the right of an atheist to believe there is no God and no life after death.

It is the right of a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew to believe in God and to believe that he is the creator of the universe.

It is the right of a Catholic to believe that the body of Jesus Christ is present in the consecrated host that they swallow during the mass.

It is the right of a Muslim to believe in the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.

It is the right of a Buddhist to believe in reincarnation and to live accordingly.

It is the right of a Scientologist to believe in successive incarnations and in Dianetics.

It is the right of a Mormon to believe in the Book of Mormon and to live according to its teachings.

It is the right of a Jehovah’s Witness to refuse to kill and to perform military service.

It is the right of a Raelian to think that the human race was imported in our planet by aliens.

It is the right of Dennis Christensen to believe in the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses and it is the right of Ivan Matsitsky to believe in the teachings of Ron Hubbard.

The Russian Federation has however decided otherwise. It has banned a number of peaceful religious movements of foreign origin, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it has criminalized legitimate activities pertaining to religious freedom. The objective of this ‘xenophobic’ religious cleansing pursued by Moscow is to protect historical religions which have shaped the identity of the Russian people throughout the centuries and to reinforce their position in society under its vigilant control. The dramatic consequence is that persons who use their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion to challenge the religiously correct are arrested, sometimes tortured physically or psychologically, fined and sentenced to prison terms.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has courageously taken up the defence of a European citizen, the Dane Dennis Christensen, as it has done with an American citizen imprisoned in Turkey, pastor Andrew Craig Brunson. When will the EU and its member states campaign for the release of one of their citizens imprisoned since May 2017 in Russia? The EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief have been drafted for such a purpose.

Ivan Matsitsky (left) and Dennis Christensen (right)

USCIRF (26.09.2018) – https://bit.ly/2OhOYHD – Vice Chair Arriaga said, “These two cases are examples of the Russian government ‘securitizing’ religion—targeting religious communities it considers illegitimate on the pretext that they pose a national security threat

WASHINGTON, DC – Kristina Arriaga, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), today announced that she is adopting two religious prisoners of conscience in Russia, Dennis Christensen and Ivan Matsitsky, as part of USCIRF’s Prisoners of Conscience Project. Mr. Christensen, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was arrested in Oryol, Russia, on May 25, 2017, following the raid of a prayer service in which he was participating. As of September 13, 2018, Mr. Christensen has appeared 38 times before Oryol’s District Court. He faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Mr. Matsitsky, the director of the Church of Scientology in St. Petersburg, was arrested on June 5, 2017, on various charges including involvement in “an extremist conspiracy.” He has been held in pretrial detention since his arrest.

“The cases of Dennis Christensen and Ivan Matsitsky are emblematic of the Russian government’s complete disregard for religious freedom,” stated Vice Chair Arriaga. “I am committed to doing all I can to raise awareness of Ivan’s and Dennis’ cases and secure their speedy release.”

The government of Russia considers groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists “nontraditional” religious minorities, frequently targeting them with fines, detentions, and criminal charges under the pretext of combating extremism. In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization.

Vice Chair Arriaga added, “These two cases are examples of the Russian government ‘securitizing’ religion—targeting religious communities it considers illegitimate on the pretext that they pose a national security threat. But these religious communities only seek to practice their beliefs peacefully and without fear. When they arrested Dennis, he was reading the Bible with fellow believers. The international community must uphold internationally recognized human rights and press for the release of Ivan, Dennis, and the many others imprisoned in Russia for their religious identity or activities.”

In 2018 USCIRF again recommended that Russia be designated as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). To learn more about religious freedom conditions in Russia, click here.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at Media@USCIRF.gov or Javier Peña at jpena@uscirf.gov or +1-202-674-2598.

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Also:

HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries: https://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/ 
List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: https://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/  

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