COBA

SOVA

Center for Information and Analysis
Print version. Published on www.sova-center.ru
Original: /en/religion/publications/2008/03/d12955/

Alexander Verkhovsky, Olga Sibireva. Restrictions and Challenges in 2007 on Freedom of Conscience in Russia

27 March 2008

Summary
Key Issues for the Freedom of Conscience in Russia
Legislation on religious organizations
State patronage of religious organizations
Difficulties with regard to places of worship
Other Examples of Discrimination
The Situation in the Army and the Penitentiary System
Religion and secular education
Insufficient protection from defamation and attacks
Excessive measures aimed at protecting religious sentiments
Abuse in regard to Efforts to Counter Extremism

The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis presents its second annual report on the freedom of conscience in the Russian Federation.[1] The goal of this report is to identify major trends and problems in this sphere, thus only the most significant and typical incidents are mentioned in this analysis. Events that occurred prior to 2007 were presented in the previous report[2]; therefore this report only contains further updates of earlier developments.


Summary

The 2007 events generally followed the trends of the past few years. Religious organizations and groups continued to face obstacles in their relations with authorities concerning the construction of religious buildings and the lease of facilities. In this context, the Russian Orthodox Church, and in some regions Muslim and Buddhist organizations, enjoyed increasing patronage of the authorities, whereas religious organizations viewed as :non-traditional; faced serious difficulties.

Amendments of the legislation on non-profit organizations triggered a series of inspections of such organizations, including religious groups (even though the Government agreed to simplify the cumbersome reporting requirements for religious organizations); therefore, organizations faced the problem of registration or revoked registration as before.

The Russian citizens experienced restrictions on the freedom of conscience - usually in those instances when religious practices differed from those of mainstream society. This is true of the religious behavior of representatives of religious minorities, of religious groups which have adopted positions opposed to those of the religious establishment (primarily Muslim groups), and of public expressions of religious or anti-religious intolerance, even though intolerance against certain convictions, including religious, is not against the Constitution.

Foreign (or partially foreign) religious groups faced visa problems and politically motivated restrictions, as in the case of Falun Dafa.

Last year religious organizations won three cases against the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), but so far these cases have not had an impact on the overall situation in the country. Admittedly, there are, in general, problems with the implementation in Russia of the Court's judgments.

The scope of vandalism against religious establishments increased in comparison to the previous year.

As it has done in previous years, the State has failed to protect religious groups and organizations from aggressive xenophobia (that particularly targets religious minorities) and itself has even engaged in discrimination. As a result, there is a perception in Russian society that religious inequality is a norm of public life. As before, the State waged an unselective and often unlawful fight against the threat of radical Islam, causing many Muslims to view government policies as having an anti-Islamic orientation.

Continuing discussion on all levels on the ways in which religion should be present in the public educational system remained rather non-constructive from both sides, at least in the public domain. In fact, we believe unlike most of those who take part in this discussion, that the purpose of the discussion is to address the forms of secularity, rather than focus on the secularity of society per se. Unfortunately, the discussion was burdened not only by anti-clerical and anti-secular emotions, but also by the issue's relevance to the construction of an official ideology.


Key Issues for the Freedom of Conscience in Russia
Legislation on religious organizations

As in previous years, there was a failed attempt to amend the Federal Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. The author of draft amendments, communist Victor Tyulkin, proposed deleting the phrase about :most respected religions; (usually referred to as :traditional;) from the preamble, simplifying registration procedures for religious associations, and ensuring equal rights of atheist organizations to engage in secular education alongside with religious organizations.. The Government did not support the initiative. The Duma has not considered the draft yet, but it will undoubtedly be rejected.

There were two attempts to increase punishment for crimes against priests. Such initiatives were launched by Alexander Chuyev, a member of the State Duma, and Issa Kostoyev, a member of the Federation Council. Neither initiative was supported.

On November 13 the State Duma adopted the first reading of a bill providing for state accreditation of religious school curricula. [3] According to the legislature, religious educational establishments may be state accredited without becoming a public (state-run) institution. Graduates of religious universities and schools would receive official diplomas without State symbols. This would allow graduates of religious schools to pursue professional employment opportunities in secular organizations, which these graduates were not allowed to do before.

This bill was criticized for violating the strict principle of separation of religion and public education, but in this particular case we find the digression from the strict principle well-founded because current regulations discriminate against religious educational establishments compared to other private schools. Incidentally, obtaining an educational license is more difficult for religious establishments, and the adoption of stricter controls over non-governmental organizations have made it even more challenging. [4]

On October 31 Federal Law No 212 (from July 24, 2007) came into effect, amending other legal acts of the Russian Federation by specifying conditions and procedures of state-owned land appropriation. The amendment allows religious organizations to retain their current land plots for unlimited use until January 1, 2010. Until the current amendment there was no legal mechanism for the privatization of land plots by religious organizations.

In July, November and December, a working group of the Governmental Commission on Religious Associations considered 2006 Ministry of Justice proposals concerning restrictions on missionary activities. Since the early 1990's, this issue had been the subject of numerous proposals and had been discussed by the Parliament and the Government many times. Ministry of Justice proposals had been returned by the Commission for further revisions.

The newly elected State Duma inherited several bills concerning religious organizations. Thus, on October 9 a bill amending articles 7, 24, and 38 of the Federal Law on Advertising was introduced in the Duma; the proposal would restrict advertisements for magicians, healers and sorcerers.

On October 25 a bill on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation Concerning Activities of Non-profit Organizations was launched in the State Duma. The proposal would introduce a notification procedure (rather than seeking permission) to allow religious organizations to revise their non-constitutive documents. If adopted, this amendment would be relevant for religious, as well as other, organizations.

Regional legislative initiatives did not contradict those on the Federal level. Thus, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod adopted laws to regulate the transfer of property and land to religious organizations.

On November 22 the Moscow City Duma approved new Moscow City Code of Administrative Offences. They deleted a provision from the original draft, which had caused some concern, that established administrative liability for religious proselytizing in public.

In April the Government ratified administrative regulations relating to the 2006 Law on Non-Profit Organizations; this administrative regulation relaxed reporting requirements exclusively for religious organizations.


State patronage of religious organizations

As previously, it was common practice for various levels of government to provide financial support for religious organizations.

After some debate, the Nizhny Novgorod State Legislature took the practice even further by deciding to allocate a total of 11 million rubles to all organizations of traditional religions in the Oblast; the money was distributed based on the number of adherents in each of the four traditional denominations. They left it to the organizations' discretion how the money would be spent.

Most often authorities financed renovation of churches, many of which are cultural heritage sites. The governments of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Lipetsk and Tver Oblasts provided funds for this purpose in 2007. Most frequently, but not always, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) was the beneficiary. The administration of Agin-Buryat Autonomous Region granted 21 million rubles for the construction of a Buddhist complex in Chita.

There were reports of administrations forcing local businesses to donate to religious organizations. For example, in April several private Moscow-based internet blogs published letters urging local businessmen to :make charitable donations to finance the adornment of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior; and then to send copies of the receipts to the district administration. Businesses that failed to pay before the deadline received overdue debt warnings from the district authorities.

In Bashkortostan, authorities forced public sector employees to donate a portion of their wages to construction of a mosque.

In December, Head of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography, Mikhail Shvydkoi, urged more government funding to support the renovation of church buildings. Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at an official dinner celebrating 90 years of the restoration of Orthodox Patriarchy, said that in 2007 more than 1.5 billion rubles had been allocated to such renovations, and that between 2008 and 2010 an additional 6 billion rubles would be provided.

The government has expressed interest in the support of religious education within the framework of traditional religious organizations. This is especially true for Islamic education, due to competition with imported educational programs from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. The President's Administration claims to have spent 400 million rubles toward Muslim Educational Institutions (universities and madrasahs) in 2007.

Another form of support is donation of land plots to religious organizations for gratis use, including land adjoining monasteries and churches, as well as agricultural (e.g. in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast) and commercial designated plots. For example, the local Eparchy in Kemerovo Oblast received portions of a tourist route in the Alatau Mountains as a donation from the local authorities.

As previously, in 2007 more religious buildings were transferred to religious organizations. In most cases, we should note, that the transfers were legal and conducted in a civil manner, with prior relocation of the former occupants. For example, such was the case, f in Ulyanovsk Oblast, where the Oblast Archives were relocated from the St. German Cathedral, and in Ivanovo, where the Academy of Sciences buildings were handed over to the Eparchy.

On August 17, 2007, the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Legal Adherence in Mass Media, Communications and Cultural Heritage Protection (Rossvyazokhrankultura) signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Russian Orthodox Church. Rossvyazokhrankultura agreed to give prompt attention to the ROC's applications for appropriation of religious buildings, including architectural heritage sites. The Head of Rossvyazokhrankultura, Boris Boyarskov, noted the :exemplary care taken by the Russian Orthodox Church to protect federal heritage.; There are, however, many instances in which architectural treasures suffering irreparable damage after transfers to the Church. [5]

At the same time, transfer of buildings remained a major source of conflict. In 2005,a high profile clash over the Ryazan Kremlin Complex ignited between the Ryazan Kremlin Historical and Cultural Museum and the Ryazan ROC Eparchy. In August 2007 the Museum, instructed by the Federal Agency for Federal Property Management (Rosimushchestvo), ceded five churches of the complex to the Eparchy. Nevertheless, on December 10, Mikhail Shvydkoi, the Head of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography, fired Museum Director Lyudmila Maximova, explaining that :all directors of secular cultural heritage sites must be able to find a common language with the Church leadership.;

The Museum staff made numerous appeals to the Prime Minister, the City Council and the public, reporting frequent violations in the decisions which affected the Museum's fate, but none of the officials expressed any concern or took any measures. As of this writing, no final decision has been reached. The Eparchy continues to claim the non-worship-related buildings of the Complex. The Museum will cease to exist and a substantial part of its collection will be lost if the Museum is relocated out of the Ryazan Kremlin Complex.

In 2007 it was clear that another museum would cease to exist in its current form.. In November, M. Shvydkoi announced that the Solovki Museum would be transformed into Museum of the Russian North. In August, the Government decided to cede a large part of the Solovki Monastery complex to the ROC. As in case with the Ryazan Kremlin, museum staff was not invited to attend the meeting where the issue was discussed. The Roskultura agency will only keep some of the fortifications; the museum will be moved away from the monastery and transformed into :Malye Korely; Reserve. The Solovki Museum Director Mikhail Lopatkin reported that experts were dissatisfied with the maintenance of 58 buildings already transferred to the ROC.


Difficulties with regard to places of worship

As before, religious organizations often faced problems with construction of religious buildings and use of the existing facilities. In 2007, by Muslims, Russian Orthodox believers (both the ROC and the Old Believer Church), and Protestants faced such difficulties.[6]


Problems with construction of religious buildings. In October, the Russian Council of Muftis published a list of 13 cities in the Moscow region where Muslim communities faced resistance from local bureaucrats in constructing new mosques. Local authorities refused to allocate land, hindered construction on allocated sites, or failed to respond to the Muslims' requests. In particular, in Kolomna the local authorities demanded that the Muslim community should coordinate plans to construct a mosque with the ROC and that Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna endorse the construction. In Naro-Fominsk and Podolsk, land plots allocated to Muslims were later withdrawn by the authorities. According to Arslan Sadryev, the Head of the Moscow Region Muhtasibat, such discrimination could be explained by Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov's personal attitude and the reluctance of local administrations to oppose the Governor.

In 2007, the Muslims in the city of Sochi seeking permission to construct a mosque again failed to obtain permission.

In Dzerzhinsk, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, local public hearings issued a resolution to deny the Jehovah's Witnesses' request for land to construct a lecture hall.

In 2007, Orthodox Old Believers in Togliatti had to interrupt the construction of their church complex. The administration of Stavropol District challenged in court the Togliatti mayor's decision to allocate gratis land to the Old Believer community; the District administration claimed that 25 years ago the same land plot had been assigned to the Central District Hospital. In August, the Samara Oblast Arbitrary Court upheld the district administration's claims and quashed the decision to give the land to the Old Believers. It was the second time that a land plot was taken away from the Old Believers in Togliatti. (Later, in 2008, the Povolzhsky Arbitrary Court nullified prior judgments and sent the case back for reconsideration by a new panel of judges).

A few cases to the contrary were reported, when religious organization supported by the authorities insisted on construction of a house of worship against both public opinion and the law. For example, in February the construction of an Orthodox Cathedral began in the center of Bryansk, even though the building occupied a legally protected natural heritage site. The construction began amidst public protests and the Oblast Duma Committee on Ecology, however, senior city and oblast officials attended a ceremony to mark the laying of the first stone.


Problems encountered by active houses of worship. In Tyumen (the village of Matmasy) authorities attempted to demolish two mosques: one in use and one under construction. The first mosque was built in 2001 and lacked official permits. In 2003 the construction of a second mosque began adjoining to the first. The village's Muslim community was not formally registered, so they could not legalize the mosque as its property. The Head of Tyumen administration, Sergey Smetanyuk, requested a court order to demolish both buildings, and the court hearings began in January. In May the court had issued a preliminary ruling not to demolish the mosques.

There were reports of the government authorities instituting unreasonable demands regarding the use of churches and other houses of worship. Thus, the Fire Safety Agency (Gospozhnadzor) demanded that the iconostasis in a rural Orthodox church in the Vorkuta Eparchy be dismantled, because :the wooden screen; created a fire hazard. There were more complaints from the Vorkuta Eparchy about the Fire Safety Agency's demands with which it either was impossible to comply or would interfere with religious ceremonies such as: placing icon lamps in metal boxes, screwing candle holders to the floor, and moving the church building to another place.

The Church of Divine Grace in Kirovo-Chepetsk (Kirov Oblast) was fined by the Fire Safety Agency for 10,000 rubles; church representatives believe that the Agency's demands were without basis and unreasonable.

There was the controversial case of a Roman Catholic Church in Irkutsk, currently occupied by the City Philharmonic. The Catholic community claimed the church, but authorities resisted the idea of transferring to the Catholic diocese the newly renovated building which had an expensive organ and had been designated a cultural heritage site.


Positive resolution of conflicts involving houses of worship. At the same time, in 2007 several longstanding conflicts were fully or partially resolved in favor of religious organizations.

We note some progress in regard to the situation with Mosque No 34 in Astrakhan, which the local authorities sought to demolish. The Russian Supreme Court, having upheld the demolition ruling in 2006, agreed to reconsider the case in May 2007. On July 17 the European Court of Human Rights decided to prioritize the case of application for a hearing from the Astrakhan mosque.

In May, Muslims in Kostroma won a third suit concerning construction of a Muslim Spiritual and Cultural Center. The Nizhny Novgorod Arbitrage Court upheld the decision of prior court rulings in Kostroma and Kirov and denied the petition by the Kirov Oblast Prosecutor, Yuri Ponomaryov, to return to the city authorities the active mosque.

In October, the Bethany Church of Evangelical Christian Baptists (member of the Russian ECB Union) successfully defended in court its rights to a land plot, for the construction of a house of prayer, which officials s had opposed for years.

Sloppy paperwork and negligence of both secular and religious officials nearly caused liquidation of a ROC convent in the village of Razdolnoye, Primorsky Krai. The Church's rights to use the complex had expired, and the buildings were sold to a businessman. The convent was saved only when the buyer, after lengthy negotiations, agreed to transfer to the ROC the buildings he had acquired.

Such situations are not infrequent: as property is resold, its occupants, including religious organizations, are not fully protected from eviction, especially if their agreement with the previous owner concerning the use of the facility was more or less informal.

In 2007, the ECHR approved two cases brought by religious organizations against Russia. In January, the Strasbourg court found the abrogated rent contract with Jehovah's Witnesses in Chelyabinsk in 2000 to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In July the Court ruled illegal the ban imposed in 2003 by the authorities in the city of Chekhov (Moscow Oblast) on prayer meetings of the Evangelical Christian :Divine Grace.;


Other examples of discrimination

Liquidation of religious organizations. An increased staff and activity of the Federal Registration Service (FRS) in connection with the well-known 2006 amendments to the law on non-profit organizations has given rise to a wave of inspections, affecting, among others, religious organizations.

We are not aware of consolidated statistics specifically in regard to religious organizations, but in Tyumen Oblast alone 25 Muslim, several Protestant, one Russian Orthodox and one Roman Catholic organization were closed in 2007 at request of the FRS administration for failure to comply with reporting requirements. In the Republic of Chuvashia the FRS sent 11 petitions to courts asking for the liquidation of religious organizations and issued 28 warnings of non-compliance, not to mention minor violations. In Nizhny Novgorod Oblast 55 religious organizations were warned for non-compliance, but the violations were fairly minor : religious organizations missed reporting deadlines, digressed from their own charters, and used their property for purposes other than those officially designated; the Oblast FRS Office sent several petitions to courts seeking closure of religious associations.

Without challenging the specific decisions made by the FRS and the courts, one should note that such decisions are rarely without foundation, but almost always these violations are due to the fact that religious organizations (just as other non-profits), particularly smaller ones, find it understandably difficult to comply with the numerous norms and varied reporting requirements.

The type of sanctions for non-compliance vary, depending on the relationship between the organization in question and the regional authorities, and also on the attitudes of these authorities, especially the FRS (cf. their practices in Tyumen and Nizhny Novgorod Oblasts).

We are aware of only a few specific episodes in other regions. Thus, in the city of Balashovo, Saratov Oblast, the FRS and the Tax Inspectorate closed the Church of Evangelical Christian Baptists for failing over a long period to file tax returns. The organization was liquidated in absentia, without prior warnings of the violation. In Yaroslavl, a district Tax Inspectorate retroactively revoked the registration of an Old Believer Christian community, forcing the community to reapply for registration and repeat the entire procedure.

Some religious schools (educational establishments) were liquidated after they had operated for years without proper licenses to conduct education. Educational establishments closed by courts in 2007 for this reason included a madrasah affiliated with the Mordovia Muslim Spiritual Authority, a branch of the Saifulla Kadi Islamic University in Dagestan, and a Biblical Center of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) in the Republic of Chuvashia.

On July 12, the St. Petersburg City Court approved a suit brought by the City Prosecutor seeking a liquidation of the Scientology Center in St. Petersburg. The Court found violations in the Center's educational and religious activities because the Center was registered as an NGO. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in November.

While this ruling set an important precedent for scientologists, it may have wider implications. Indeed, the self-definition of Scientology as an :applied religious philosophy; - rather than as a religious, medical or educational establishment - does not fit into the established official categories of legal entities and types of activities. Scientology groups are registered in Russia under several categories, including religious as well as other, particularly if they encounter registration problems as religious organizations. This creates wide avenues for arbitrary decisions since the state has established a rigid system of licensing requirements for certain types of activities. More importantly, the state has set up a system of drawing a sharp distinction between religious and other types of organizations. without a uniform legal definition of a religion. Certain religious (and, more broadly, philosophical, worlds outlook) movements are not prepared to accept the rules proposed by the government. We note that in 2007 scientologists won a case against Russia in the ECHR for denial of registration of their religious organization in Moscow. Probably, persistent attempts to register such groups as religious organizations seem to have better chances of success.


Discrimination against :non-traditional; religious organizations. As previously, many officials continue to believe that there is a legal distinction between :traditional; and :non-traditional; religious organizations. On many occasions throughout the year, government and law enforcement officials have made negative statements about representatives of Protestant churches and new religious movements (NRM; in bureaucratic rhetoric, these movements are usually described as :non-traditional religions; or :totalitarian sects;), emphasizing their :alien; nature, foreign funding and accusing these groups of espionage.

More often then not, In acts of discrimination against :members of sects,; officials can count on ROC support. Provisions on the :fight against sectarians; are included in official cooperation agreements between the regional Departments of Ministry of Interior and the Orthodox Eparchies, for example, in Belgorod Oblast and in the Republic of Chukotka.

On February 26, Vladimir Evlanov, the mayor of the city of Krasnodar, said during an interview on the television station :Krasnodar+; that it was important to build ROC churches, but the possibility of constructing mosques and synagogues must be discussed in public hearings. :We do not have the right to refuse the representatives of other confessions, but for our city building churches has first priority,; declared the city's chief official.

In June, several Protestant churches in Tula Oblast were not allowed to hold a festival of Christian music in the town of Uzlovaya, even though the city administration had permitted it; the police demanded that the organizers halt preparations for the festival, and then the city administration withdrew their permission. According to the organizing committee chairman, Alexei Afonin, problems with the police began after the authorities received phone calls from the FSB. In the Republic of Yakutia, the first Christian Festival of original songs in the Yakut language was disrupted and stopped by the republic's authorities.

In April, the Federal Service for Intellectual Property, Patents and Trade Marks (Rospatent) refused to register the emblem of the Svet Probuzhdenia (:The Light of Awakening;) Association of Christian Churches in Altai Krai as a trade mark. Rospatent explained that official registration of the emblem would be :against the public interest,; because the emblem was being used by :a sect.;

In several cases, similar attitudes of local governments restricted the access of religious organization to the mass media. In January, President Kirsan Ilumzhinov of Kalmykia, speaking about inter-faith relations in the Republic, referred to his own directives prohibiting :all broadcasts of sectarian video; on local television stations. :Kalmykia is no place for sects,; he said.

In August, the Saratov Oblast Duma members supported the appeal by Bishop Longin of the local ROC Eparchy to the Governor, Chairman of the local legislature, and the Oblast Prosecutor. The Bishop urged them to terminate an agreement between the Regional Ministry of Investment Policies and the Perm TVC broadcasting company for allegedly :offering air time to sectarian TV channels.; The contract with the TV Company was eventually terminated.

One should also note the discrimination against the followers of Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) who are consistently denied temporary asylum by the Federal Migration Service.

Moreover, Falun Dafa members were effectively denied freedom of assembly. In May and September, Falun Dafa followers were detained by police in Nizhny Novgorod for performing their exercises in the city park and distributing leaflets with information about their movement and persecution in China. Police accused the Falun Dafa members of conducting an unsanctioned public meeting.

In March, Falun Dafa followers were denied permission to hold public rallies during Chinese President Hu Jintao's official visit to Moscow. The Russian authorities based their refusal on article 8 of the Russia-China Treaty for Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation of July 16, 2001, whereby :neither of the contracting parties shall allow the setting up of organizations or gangs in its territory which harm the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the other contracting party.; Activists who attempted to hold individual pickets which do not require special official permission were detained by police.

At the same time, Moscow authorities and police prevented Buddhists from staging a protest outside the buildings of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy. The Buddhists had wished to express their protest against the situation of Tibetans in China. A bus bringing Buddhists from Kalmykia was denied entry to Moscow. Two women protesters were detained outside the Chinese Embassy.

Even members of :traditional; religious groups may face discrimination, however, especially given the lack of a clear distinction between :traditional; and :non-traditional; organizations. For example, in the village of Akbashevo, Argayashsky District, Chelyabinsk Oblast, police opposed the ceremony of the laying of the first stone to mark the construction of a new mosque; the police alleged that the ceremony organizers were Wahhabis and insisted that :no mosque will ever be built here.; Notably, in 2006, police and the staff of the Ministry of Emergency Situations prevented a Christmas service in a Protestant church in the same village.

Visa restrictions faced by foreign religious workers deserve a separate mention. As in previous years, the Russian Foreign Ministry refused to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, once again denying the Russian Buddhists an opportunity to meet with their spiritual leader.

In October, a Russian Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed concern over entry visa restrictions faced by Catholic priests; many were only issued visas valid for 90 days during a six-month period, making their ministry in Russia virtually impossible.


The Situation in the Army and the Penitentiary System

As previously, legal provisions have not been adopted to regulate the issue of the presence of religious workers in the army.

The ROC clergy predominate over representatives of other denominations offering spiritual guidance to military servicemen. The Muslim clergy come second; imams are only present in troops located in regions with a high proportion of Muslim population. In 2007, a number of ROC Eparchies and Muslim Spiritual Directorates signed cooperation agreements with the agencies of various uniformed services.

A new development was the signing December, of a cooperation agreement between the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities (RFJC). The agreement ensures the presence of rabbis in army units located in seven Military Districts. The agreement demonstrated that clergy of denominations with few adherents in the military may still gain access to army units. As far as representatives of other religious confessions, including those with considerable numbers in the army, are still denied entry to their adherents in the military.

A number of military and police institutes taught courses on the Fundamentals of Russian Orthodoxy; in some regions, teaching courses for police on the traditional religions were organized.

In addition to national conferences, a conference of religious workers in the military was held in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast in 2007.


The situation in the penitentiary system has not changed substantially since 2006. R OC were established in many, and mosques were organized in some, penitentiary institutions.[7]

A few cases of discrimination against believers in prisons, however, particularly against Muslims, were reported. For example, the administration of Prison Colony No 13 in Khabarovsk Krai banned Muslim prisoners from receiving religious literature and cult objects. A few complaints concerning discrimination of Muslims came from prison colonies in Tatarstan, Nizhny Tagil, and Kemerovo Oblast. Usually, the Muslim Spiritual Authorities (MSA) do not interfere in such conflicts; moreover, in a few cases such complaints from Geidar Djemal's Islamic Committee were denied by the MSA of Tatarstan. Possibly the difference of opinion was due to differences among Muslim leaders in their assessment of the literature in question and the prisoners who brought the complaints.

In August, the directors of the Federal Penitentiary Service Head Office (GUFSIN) in Kemerovo Oblast refused to sign an agreement with the local Kazyat Muslim Authority, dismissing the proposal as :destructive.; The GUFSIN was advised by its operative division after receiving :an instruction from Moscow; to stop cooperation the believers' request to allow lectures on religious topics in the penitentiaries.

In April, the administration of penitentiary institutions in the north of Tyumen Oblast terminated a 2-year agreement between the Oblast Penitentiary Department and the local Muslim community, explaining that the penitentiary lacked trained staff and material resources to offer such services to prisoners.

Conflicts involving other religious communities are rare, but also possible. For example, the administration of a SIZO (pre-trial detention center) in Saratov denied an Old Believer Orthodox priest permission to give communion to a prisoner, but the conflict was eventually resolved.


Religion and secular education


In 2007, debates continued over the teaching of the Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture (FOC) in schools.

Compared to previous years, the geographic range of schools teaching this subject on an obligatory basis expanded at a slower rate. Throughout 2007, FOC courses were included in the required school curricula in Voronezh Oblast and the city of Ulyanovsk (but not the surrounding Oblast). Religious instruction in the form of an Orthodox Christian course (:God's Law;) was introduced as part of the standard curriculum in the Cadet Corps and Cossack schools in Rostov Oblast. Many regions, however, preferred courses covering a few - usually, :traditional; - religions, rather than the FOC course that just focused on Orthodox Christianity Schools in some republics with majority Muslim populations offered Islamic courses, but we do not have information on further expansion of this practice to include other regions of Russia.

According to the Ministry of Education and Science, various disciplines relating to religious culture were taught in all constituent regions of the Russian Federation in 2007. The teaching of such disciplines was particularly widespread in the Central and Southern Federal Districts; courses in the Central Federal District mostly included the basics of Christian Orthodoxy, whereas schools in the Southern District preferred to teach History of Religions or World Religions. Generally, however, according to Tatiana Petrova, Deputy Head of the Department for Educational Policy and Regulation of the Ministry of Education and Science, :the farther they are from Moscow, the less active regions are in this respect.; She also said that :approximately in one region out of ten, the number of students taking these courses exceeds ten thousand. In one region out of five the number is between one thousand and ten thousand school students.:[8]

Advocates and opponents of the FOC school course continued their advocacy through open letters, protests, and appeals to various authorities. In June, several patriotic organizations set up operative headquarters to unite efforts for defending FOC courses. The most high profile protest against religious instruction in schools was the Letter from Academicians, published in July 2007, by ten members of the Russian Academy of Sciences who expressed their concern over the :growing clericalization of the Russian society; and :the Church's active penetration into all spheres of public life.; The letter was in response to the proposals of the 11th All-Russian Popular Assembly to include theology in the registry of academic specialties maintained by the State Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles (VAC), and to make FOC an integral part of general school curriculum recognized in the Federal educational standard.

Citizens concerned over the introduction of religious disciplines into the school curriculum were more active in defending their position than in previous years. A staff member of the Russian Ombudsman's Office, head of the Freedom of Conscience Division, Mikhail Odintsov, speaking at a press conference in Yekaterinburg on October 4 said that the Ombudsman's Office had received many complaints from citizens in 16 Russian regions concerning the introduction of FOC in schools. Some violations of applicable legislation were effectively corrected; for example, in Belgorod Oblast, where FOC had been taught on obligatory basis since 2006, the Oblast Department of Education made such lessons optional for students and subject to parental' consent starting in September 2007. School administrations are now organizing class daily schedules so that FOC is either the first or the last lesson. According to the Slavic Legal Center, schools now ensure parental consent for their children's participation in activities of a religious nature.


Throughout the year, officials at various levels, including the President himself, have made numerous statements in support of teaching about the foundation of religion in schools, but only with consent of the students and their parents. In August, the Department for Educational Policy and Regulation of the Federal Ministry of Education and Science, sent out a :Model Cooperation Agreement between educational authorities in the constituent units of the Russian Federation and centralized religious organizations.; This document also stressed the need :to ensure citizens' right to free and voluntary introduction of their children to the values and traditions of the Orthodox culture in public and municipal schools, taking into account legitimate interests and rights of members of other religious organizations and non-religious part of the society; (later, in response to critics who challenged the fact that the document mentioned only the Orthodox culture, officials said that the document was not a regulation, but only a model which may be used to draft agreements with other religious organizations).

On 1 December, the Russian President signed a Law Amending Certain Russian Federation Legal Acts to Modify the Concept and Structure of the State Educational Standard, adopted by the State Duma on 14 November on third reading and approved by the Federation Council on November 23. The law terminated the division of educational standards into federal, regional and institutional components and established uniform requirements for the structure and implementation of school curricula.

Since the teaching of FOC and other basic courses in religion had usually been a part of the regional component, the law was adopted amidst numerous protests from FOC advocates.

At the same time, interested parties began looking for new opportunities to introduce religious instruction in schools. The Church leadership once again urged that the FOC be included in the standard school curriculum, but already on November 7, the chief administrator of the Moscow Patriarchy, Metropolitan Clement (Kapalin) of Kaluga and Borovsk, approached the Minister of Education and Science, Alexander Fursenko, with a proposal to introduce a new bloc of subjects to be taught in schools. Under Clement's proposal, religion would be included :in the basic curriculum as part of an educational initiative... with a provisional title of Spiritual and Moral Culture.; The proposal also said that the subject would be taught as a required course, but :on a voluntary basis, with an alternative of studying, in parallel, other subjects from the same field focusing on the history and culture of other religions or on non-religious ethics.;

In this way, the ROC has adopted a dramatically different approach to promoting religious instruction in schools and, therefore we should look at it in some detail. [9]


Formerly, the ROC had promoted culture-focused subjects, such as FOC, even though the actual teaching of such courses was not always focused on culture. A natural alternative to such courses was the History of Religions in which lessons provided similar knowledge of culture and history about a number of religions, rather than just one. Accordingly, the History of Religions was the main target of FOC advocates' criticism and the main alternative promoted by their opponents.

:Spiritual and Moral Culture; is a bloc of subjects focused on personal development and on the ethical aspects of religion or any other belief system, so the History of Religions does not provide an alternative. Since it may not be possible to provide time for two courses on religion (the proposed course will take at least two hours of classes per week between grades 1 and 11reassigned from the current regional and institutional components ), we can assume that if this current religion-based approach is adopted, schools will have no room in the schedule to teach the cultural and historical aspects of religions.

Secular ethics are mentioned in the proposal as an alternative to courses about a given religion, but the reference to the term :spiritual; in the title refers to religious traditions, which is key for the future from ideological, rather than practical, perspective. The term :spirituality; is already included in the text of the Federal Law of December 1, 2007 mentioned above.

Of course, religious minorities face slim chances of taking a school course related to their faith outside the regions where their communities live in large numbers : under the proposal, for a certain religion to be taught, there must at least be 12 to 14 students who wish to take the course, otherwise, religious minorities would be enrolled in the Philosophy and Ethics course. Followers of minority belief systems within mainstream religious traditions would also be excluded, because teachers would require approval of the respective traditional religious organizations. The latter provision seems to digress from the principle of secularity and may not be adopted in the near future. In the long term, however, the latter provision may be important not only to the religious establishment, but also to the state attempting to ensure that radical religious political theories do not find their way into schools.

The authors of this proposal understand that its introduction will be gradual, due to lack of teachers, textbooks, and enthusiasm at the local level. As a temporary substitute, they propose the introduction of :regional courses focusing on history, social sciences, spirituality and ethics,; or, where such courses cannot be organized, the mere addition of a few hours to regular history lessons.

According to Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the idea behind the new bloc of courses is to deliver the perception of reality inherent in a given religion or creed.[10] Effectively, this constitutes religious instruction - or instruction in a certain creed - albeit without rituals and priests.

On December 5, the Russian Minister of Education, Andrei Fursenko, invited religious organizations to take part in the development of state educational standards. The Minister explained that the new law provided for creation of new standards for universities, secondary, and elementary schools. Religious organizations could take part in competitions to participate in the preparation of standards. (By that time, Metropolitan Clement's proposal had already been presented to the Ministry of Education).

On December 24, Patriarch Alexii II announced that a Conference in Kaluga entitled :A New Generation of Education Standards in the Context of the Development of New Moral and Spiritual Values of Students; had agreed to include the bloc of subjects in Spiritual and Moral Culture proposed by Metropolitan Clement in the standard school curriculum. The Ministry of Education and Science, however, did not confirm this information. According to the Ministry spokesperson, the ROC proposal had only been sent for consideration to the Russian Federation Academy of Education responsible for the development of standards.[11]


Insufficient protection from defamation and attacks

Attacks and vandalism. In 2007, several priests were killed, but there is no evidence that the killings were motivated by religious hatred. In addition, numerous attempted killings and assaults of priests were reported in the North Caucasus, and at least some of them may have been linked to conflicts between different groups and trends in Islam, but no reliable information is available to us. Nevertheless, a number of less dangerous but notable incidents occurred throughout the year which could accurately be described as aggressive acts motivated by religious hatred.

In April, unidentified attackers opened gunfire against Evangelical Christians attending a Sunday service in Moscow. No one was killed or wounded.

On June 11, Rabbi Tsvi Hershovich, a Canadian national visiting a local Jewish community in the city of Ivanovo, was attacked by a group of young men described as skinheads as he walked in the street alongside members of the local Jewish community. The Rabbi and his family were not harmed, but some of those people accompanying him sustained injuries.

On July 5, unidentified young men sprayed pepper gas in a church during Baptist service in Kirovo-Chepetsk (Kirov Oblast). The Russian Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists (RUECB) reported a number of less serious attacks in other communities, including in the cities of Novgorod and Kaluga.

In April, unidentified attackers sprayed pepper gas near the entrance to an Orthodox Christian chapel in Norilsk, interrupting the service.

In August, an attack against the Orthodox Cultural and Educational Center was reported in Istrinsky District, Moscow Oblast. Three young men attacked the building supervisor and used a metal pipe to break the windows. The Center staff tried to convince the attackers to stop the destruction, but the young men said that they had come from Moscow specifically to beat the :Jehovists.; (The incident occurred immediately following the :anti-sectarian; campaign launched by the Mestnye (Locals) movement, see below).

In Voronezh Oblast in September, David Perov, a first grade school student, son of the local Christ Community Protestant Church, was beaten by his classmates for refusing to take part in an Orthodox prayer led by a priest whose son was David's classmate.

In Moscow on December 16, unidentified attackers fired a pneumatic gun at a charity bus with Orthodox Christian symbols painted on its sides, as the bus made its regular nighttime city tour to help homeless people. The homeless people and the charitable workers inside the bus were not injured. It has not been determined at the time of this writing whether or not it was a hate attack.

In 2007, a total of 27 incidents of vandalism were directed at houses of worship and churches, including Jewish (seven), Orthodox (six), Protestant (six), Muslim (four), Catholic (two), Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons (one each).

In some cases, icons were also desecrated and graffiti was painted on walls and these attacks could have caused human casualties. Thus, on February 5 in the city of Kuibyshev, Novosibirsk Oblast, an unidentified man set fire to the office of Jehovah's Witnesses. In March, an arson attack against the building of God's Assembly Evangelical Christian Church occurred in Moscow. On the night of May 5, an explosive device went off in a synagogue in Saratov. In December, unidentified attackers broke windows in a synagogue in Makhachkala and in a Muslim house of prayer in Sergyev Posad; attackers broke a bedroom window in a rabbi's house in Derbent - the rabbi's entire family, including a nine-month—old child, were in the room during the attack.

In 2007, acts of vandalism of cemeteries vandalism increased dramatically: 34 (as opposed to 24 in 2006) incidents of vandalism took place against Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish cemeteries. Many vandals were children and teenagers engaging in vandalism because they were bored. Such incidents occurred in Altai Krai, Omsk, and in Novosibirsk, Ryazan and Chelyabinsk Oblasts.

Moreover, on five occasions, vandals targeted crosses installed at the construction sites of an Orthodox cathedral (St. Petersburg) and an Orthodox Charitable Center (Penza), a Civil War monument (Orenburg Oblast) and a Pentecostal Church information poster (Voronezh).

It should be pointed out that some religious buildings and installations were targeted more than once. In November 2007, a mosque in Vladimir was attacked after being targeted twice in 2006. In 2007, a criminal investigation of the first attack was closed because the investigators failed to find evidence of a crime, and the other investigation was suspended due to failure to identify the suspects. The 2007 attack was qualified by the law enforcement agencies as :hooliganism; (a public order offence, rather than a hate crime), even though the attackers were heard yelling chauvinistic slogans. Vandals painted swastikas on a synagogue in Vladivostok in 2007 and in 2006. A synagogue in Astrakhan was attacked by vandals twice, in 2006 and 2007. Offenders broke a cross installed at the construction site of an Orthodox cathedral in St. Petersburg twice within one year, in June and in September. A Catholic chapel in the Krasnodar region Krai was set on fire twice. The above-mentioned Baptist church in Kirovo-Chepetsk was vandalized a number of times.


Defamation and exclusion from the public domain. As in the previous year, the mass media continued to publish xenophobic articles in 2007;with the most frequent targets being, Protestant churches, new religious movements and Muslims.

In 2007, negative reports about Protestants and new religious movements appeared, in particular, on the :Russia; TV Channel and :The Third [TV] Channel;, and in newspapers such as Izvestia, Komsomolskaya Pravda (Rostov version), and Krasnoye Znamya (Syktyvkar version).

Mass media in Tula Oblast were particularly aggressive in xenophobic attacks against Protestants. Many local papers quoted Governor Vyacheslav Dudka claiming that a US military intelligence agent had been detected in a Protestant missionary group, and also Alexei Yarasov from the Missionary Department of the ROC Tula Eparchy dwelling on the dangers of :sects.; Later, the Oblast administration denied that the governor had referred to a US intelligence agent and insisted that the story had been invented by journalists. At the same time, according to Protestant pastors in Tula, the :anti-sectarian; rhetoric in the mass media provoked several attacks against Protestant believers.

Journalists frequently seek advice from the ROC when preparing reports about Protestant organizations; as a result, secular media transmit the ROC outlook on Protestants as dangerous :sectarians.;

In addition, government officials often discuss the danger of :sects; and :wrong; Islamic trends.[12] While :sectarianism; may be the subject of private conversations or statements by religious leaders and scholars, it is absolutely inappropriate for state bureaucrats to publicly use this vague terms which carry negative connotations.

Even Orthodox believers, who do not belong to the Moscow Patriarchy, are sometimes described as :sectarians.; For example, NTV and TVC television channels aired programs which tried to discredit the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC).

Rybinsk-40, a TV channel in Yaroslavl Oblast, refused to air a paid advertisement of a upcoming prayer service in an Old Believer church without the written endorsement of the ROC Eparchy. Marina Baskakova, chief of the channel's advertising department, confirmed in a phone conversation with a representative of the Mayor's Office that the advertisement of the Old Believer church had been rejected because it belonged to a different faith than that of Ms. Baskakova.

:Anti-sectarian; rhetoric in the mass media is just one type of defamation targeting Protestant believers and new religious movements. For example, in December a brochure was distributed in Obninsk, Kaluga Oblast, entitled :Beware: Sects!;, containing 17 : characteristic features of a totalitarian sect; and emphasizing the danger of organizations having at least one of these features. A few Protestant groups were mentioned as examples of dangerous totalitarian sects. Local Protestants suspected that the Holy Christmas Orthodox parish was behind the publication.

In Tyumen a local Theater of Puppets and Masks terminated their contract with Seventh-Day Adventists and cancelled the show they had prepared after they received a letter from Archpriest Sergy Shvalev of the ROC Eparchy's Tyumen District. The Archpriest stated in his letter that the Seventh-Day Adventist Church was a :totalitarian sect; causing :serious harm to the spiritual and mental health of Tyumen residents; (similar letters had been sent to all authorities in the region).

We also note public :anti-sectarian; actions staged by pro-Kremlin youth movements. In 2007, Mestnye organized a public action :No to Sects in the Russian Land!; outside Moscow, Nashi held an :anti-sectarian; picket in St. Petersburg, while the Young Guard picketed against Mormons in Saratov.


Excessive measures aimed at protecting religious sentiments

In the examples mentioned above, defamation consisted in illegal, usually aggressive acts against certain people or groups based on their religious beliefs. Many secular and particularly religious activists take a broader view of protection from defamation, including protection of religious values and sacred objects, because they are extremely important for believers. Consequently, any assault on sacred objects is equated with discrimination or an attack directed against an individual believer. We do not share this approach as it is not founded in law. We believe that the state should not prosecute for offence against :sacred objects; (unless it involves an offence punishable under the Criminal Code or the Code of Administrative Offenses) - even though believers (and anyone for that matter) may be strongly critical of any act of blasphemy.[13]

In June, the Tagansky Interdistrict Prosecutor's Office in Moscow opened a criminal investigation under article 282 (part 1) of the Criminal Code against the organizers of Banned Art 2006 exhibition of artwork that had been censored from other art exhibits in 2006. The exhibition, just as the much-discussed Beware! Religion, was hosted by the Sakharov Museum. In March, the Prosecutor's Office, prompted by the Popular Assembly Orthodox Christian movement, launched an investigation. The Orthodox activists believed that the exhibit was an :anti-Christian provocation,; since some of the exhibits on display were distorted images of sacred objects.

The exhibition enjoyed the patronage of Andrei Yerofeyev, Director of the Tretyakov Gallery Recent Trends Department. Apparently, the involvement of this high-profile art expert was the reason why, in contrast to similar incidents in the past, a group of well-respected artists and art critics came to the defense of the exhibition - including Ernst Neizvestny, Alexander Genis, Solomon Volkov, Lev Rubinstein, Vladimir Paperny, Leonid Bazhanov, Vassily Tseretely, etc. Their protests, however, did not stop the investigation. In January 2008, the museum was searched as part of the proceedings.

Yet another :cartoon scandal; took place in 2007. The Federal Court of Moskovsky District in St. Petersburg agreed to examine a civil suit and launched proceedings in the case of :Jesus Christ cartoons.; The plaintiff was political scientist Georgy Gabrielyan, assistant to State Duma member Alexander Chuyev, who objected to an drawing in an article about relations between the Church and the State published in the Peterburgskaya Tema newspaper as being offensive to Christians. The basis for Chuyev's objection was because in the drawing the face of Sergey Mironov, the Federation Council Chairman, was substituted for that of Christ. G. Gabrielyan claimed financial compensation from the paper for the moral harm he had suffered as a Christian.

We note that civil proceedings are much more appropriate in such cases than requesting a prosecutor to initiate a ban or to open criminal proceedings. Under the principles and practices of civil courts in Russia, however, it is impossible to bring a civil suit on behalf of an non personified group of people - such as a religious community.

In November, the administration of the Isaac Cathedral Concert and Exhibition Hall in St. Petersburg canceled the 1922 classic German expressionist film, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, by F.W. Murnau, after protests from the ROC Eparchy. To avoid conflict, the administration decided to play the soundtrack, rather than show the film.

In January 2007, a four-year-long litigation over a Moulin Rouge magazine ad came to an end: the Arbitrary Court found the ad depicting a semi-nude model immoral. The court indicated that the ruling was based on an official instruction by the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service Department in Moscow, drawing upon arguments from the Sermon on the Mount, ROC's Fundamentals of the Social Concept, and the Quran. Notably, the advertising in question did not contain any religious images or symbols.


Abuse in regard to Efforts to Counter Extremism

There is no doubt that, as demonstrated above, Russia continued to face serious problems in regard to violence, incitement to violence, and hate propaganda under the slogan of religion. This phenomenon, often described as religious extremism, was a concern for both government and society.

Serious concerns, however, were also raised by the unlawful acts of government officials in the context or under the pretext of counteracting such :religious extremism;,[14] which practically always proves to be of Islamic origin.[15]


This report does not address the situation in the most conflict-prone regions of the Russian Federation, i.e. in the North Caucasus, as they should be a subject of separate research.[16] Outside of the Caucasus, the most common target for anti-extremist enforcement connected to religion remained Hizb ut-Tahrir. Throughout 2007, convictions for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir were reported in Orenburg Oblast, Tobolsk, Naberezhnye Chelny, Bashkortostan, Cheboksary, and Chelyabinsk Oblast. According to the Memorial Human Rights Center and the Civic Assistance Committee, the prosecutions were marred by violations of due process, including the use of torture, so we have reason to doubt the legality of the verdicts.

Thus, the trend described in our previous report continued in 2007. A first case prosecuted under article 282 of the Criminal Code (:incitement to hatred and animosity, inter alia, based on attitude to religion) against Hizb ut-Tahrir, should be mentioned. On September 19, 2007, in Cheboksary, five people were convicted and sentenced under this article and article 282-2 (involvement in a banned extremist organization) for their membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir (their sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court of Chuvashia on January 18, 2008) to more than four years in prison each. Their crime under article 282 consisted, according to the verdict, of disseminating in a mosque some Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets. Prosecution experts insisted that the leaflets contained incitement to hatred on religious and ethnic grounds, and incitement to violence.

It is t difficult to comment on the experts' opinion in its entirety, since we are only familiar with the content of three out of six incriminating leaflets. Two of these leaflets contained nothing of the sort, while the third leaflet, aggressively anti-Israeli, could indeed be interpreted as anti-Semitic. Generally, anti-Semitism is not so uncommon in Hizb ut-Tahrir's propaganda, therefore a verdict under article 282 may have been well-founded. However, the indictment and the verdict contained no arguments supporting the finding of incitement to hatred, except a general reference to the expert opinion. Therefore, we cannot describe the case as a successful effort to bring meaningful charges against Hizb ut-Tahrir.

According to a Civic Assistance Committee report of January 10, 2008, a total of four criminal investigations of radical Islamist offenses in 2007 led to 11 trials resulting in convictions and sentences of 31 offenders (25 involving prison terms). The number of sentences was about the same as in previous years (10 and 16, respectively), but the number of new cases was much smaller: between 2004 and 2006, a total of 14 criminal investigations were opened each year. These numbers offer hope that the excessive fight against the alleged members of :Hizb ut-Tahrir; and :Wahhabis,; may gradually dwindle (again, we do not refer to the situation in the North Caucasus here).

The Russian authorities also continued their cruel, and in many instances, unlawful practice of sending political asylum seekers back to Uzbekistan. On the night of December 5, the Russian authorities deported Abdugani Kamalyev (Tursinov). He was formally a Russian citizen, but the authorities found his Russian citizenship to have been obtained illegally. The Uzbek authorities accused Kamalyev of involvement with Wahhabi religious and political groups. The deportation contravened a November 3 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights which requested a halt of Kamalyev's deportation to Uzbekistan. While the Kamalyev case may have been the most striking incident in 2007, it was just one of many other similar cases. The Civic Assistance Committee is aware of more than a dozen cases - and it is probably a gross underestimate - where people suspected of radical Islamism were deported to Uzbekistan, even though they faced torture there.[17]


While criticizing actions by law enforcement bodies, we should recall that the need to suppress activities posing a public danger played a role in all prosecutions of Muslim groups, even though the involvement of specific defendants in such activities was often indirect or unproven. The same applies to the long-standing ban on the Fundamentals of Tawheed book written by the founder of Wahhabism: even though a ban on an 18th century treatise may not seem very reasonable, there is a reason that Wahhabism in Russia is associated with anti-constitutional activities. Unfortunately, the ban on the book includes those who are not involved in such activities vulnerable to enforcement of anti-extremist measures.

On April 6, officers of UBOP (Police Directorate against Organized Crime) and SOBR (Special Rapid Response Unit) searched the Islamic Cultural Center in St. Petersburg and questioned 30 men who had attended the Friday lecture. The law enforcement officers linked the search and the questioning to the criminal proceedings opened under article 282 of the Criminal Code against the Center's Director Mohammed Henny. He was suspected of distributing books by al-Wahhab.

In April, Henny was cleared of all suspicions, but the investigation into the alleged dissemination of the banned books continues, and Henny is a witness in the proceedings. It should be noted that even wide dissemination of a book, ruled extremist and banned by a court, is an administrative, rather than a criminal, offence and we are uncertain as to the reasons behind the criminal prosecution in this case.

In 2007, however, efforts to search out Islamic extremism even where it does not exist was extended from the areas open to dispute to Islamic movements universally regarded as peaceful. On May 21, the Moscow Koptevo Court banned books by the 20th century Turkish theologian, Said Nursi. Court proceedings began in 2006 and continued behind closed doors. On many occasions, the Russian Islamic community and human rights defenders expressed concern over the progress of the judicial hearings. Respected Russian religious scholars confirmed that Said Nursi, even though he had spoken against a secular state, had never encouraged religious, or any other, enmity. The court, however, sided with the prosecution and ruled that Russian translations of Nursi's books constituted extremist literature. On September 18, the Moscow City Court upheld the judgment.

In October, the Prosecutor General's Office launched a large-scale inspection of Tatar-Turkish Schools in Tatarstan linked to Nurcular, an organization of Nursi's followers in Turkey (where, incidentally, the ban on Nursi's books had long been lifted) and other countries.[18] It had been expected that the inspectors would find and confiscate the banned books, but they found none.

On December 3, criminal investigation into the activities of Nurcular supporters resumed in Tatarstan. The case was originally opened on March 28, 2005, under article 282 (part2-c) of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred or animosity, and disrespect for human dignity through the use an official position) and which had been suspended in 2006 due to the lack of suspects. Since the investigation resumed in 2007, searches were conducted in Kazan, Naberezhnye Chelny, Nizhnekamsk, Novosibirsk, Makhachkala, and other Russian cities.


The bans on the Fundamentals of Tawheed and Nursi's books have paved the way for further bans of other Islamic religious texts as extremist. This process was boosted by the publication, since the summer of 2007 of the Federal Banned List of Extremist Materials. By the end of 2007, two updates of the original Banned List were published.

The list included a series of neo-pagan materials, grossly intolerant of other religions (Christianity in particular), and often explicitly racist and anti-Semitist. Most of these materials were written by known ultra-right activists Alexei Dobrovolsky and Vladimir Vostryagov.

It is understandable that some materials of the banned organization Hizb ut-Tahrir are also to be found on the list. Tuimazinsky District Court of Bashkortostan ruled that four brochures of Hizb ut-Tahrir founder Takiuddin an-Nabhani and seven issues of their magazine Al Wayi constituted extremist materials.

We do not have information about the details of the banned A Call to the Islamic Ummah. How Long Must We Wait? DVD ruled on October 10, 2007 as extremist literature by the Leninsky District Court in the city of Ufa.

We also lack information what particular aspects of the 16 books and brochures ruled at two sessions of the Buguruslan city court in Orenburg Oblast as constituting extremism. on August 6 and October 19. As a result of these court decisions, 16 texts were deemed to constitute extremist literature. Books from the Buguruslan list, later identified as :Wahhabi materials,; were confiscated in the case involving the Al-Furkan madrasah. The former aide to the madrasah's rector, Ruslan Gizitdinov, was convicted of participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir on May 29, 2007, according to Article 282 (part 2), although the compatibility of Wahhabi ideas and Hizb ut-Tahrir remains at least questionable. The books are either published in Saudi Arabia or with the support of SA, and are devoted to Wahhabism or the Salafism, or simply included in the list of :Wahhabi literature; put together some time ago by the Central Muslim Spiritual Board headed by Talgat Tadzhuddin. The court decision was based on psycholinguistic expertise, which concluded that all these books incited religious hatred, although no details for this conclusion were provided.

Some of these books, apparently, had been widely read by Russian Muslims and had never raised any concerns of the law enforcement authorities before; the bans on certain books in the Buguruslan list triggered massive protests of Muslim organizations, including the Russian Council of Muftis. This was especially true regarding Muhammad Ali al-Hashimi's book :the Identity of a Muslim shaped by Islam with the Help of the Quran and the Sunnah.;


[1] This report is based on data from the SOVA Center monitoring program. This information is presented in its entirety in the Religion in a Secular Society section (mostly in Russian), including references to media and Web sources. We only provide references to those sources which are not to be found on the website.
[2] A. Verkhovsky, O. Sibireva. Problems with the Exercise of the Freedom of Conscience in Russia in 2006 // SOVA Center. Religion in a secular society. 2007. 22 March.
[3] The law was signed by President at February 29, 2008.
[4] See, for example, the opinion of the Orenburg madrasah rector Abdulla Sharipov: The process of licensing has been made more rigorous for madrasah // Islam News. 2008. 29 January (in Russian).
[5] See, for example, A.E. Musin. Stones Cry Out: the Russian Church and Russia's cultural heritage at the turn of the millennium. SPb.: St. Petersburg Oriental Studies. 2006.
[6] Throughout the report, we do not describe all incidents, but only some as an illustration of general trends. For example, under this section, in addition to incidents described below, a number of cases involving Baptist communities may be found in: Analysis of the situation with religious rights and liberties of believers attending the churches of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists in 2007 // RUECB website. 2008. 30 January (in Russian).
[7] We lack information to present a full scale picture of the situation across Russia. Interesting regional reports are given in: Sergey Buryanov. Intolerance, xenophobia, and discrimination motivated by religion and belief in the subjects of the Russian Federation. Moscow: Moscow Helsinki Group, 2007. P. 103-109.
[8] The history and culture of traditional religions are studied in one out of two Russian regions as a minimum. // Interfax-Religion. 2007. 30 August (in Russian).
[9] The text of the Concept is available from the authors' archives.
[10] Why teach Orthodoxy to school students? // Lenta.Ru 2008. 15 January (in Russian).
[11] In this sense, reports of the new concept having been approved by the Ministry during the Christmas Readings in January 2008 should be considered inaccurate and premature. See, for example, Pavel Korobov. Orthodoxy has been brought to a standard // Kommersant. 2008. 29 January.
[12] Such cases are discussed in: S. Buryanov. Op. cit P. 56-58.
[13] The arguments offered by Orthodox and Muslim figures in such instances are well known and supported by many. But their cultural (and often religious) authority is not a substitute for legal arguments. For the sake of comparison, we may refer to a similar recent claim by neo-Pagans urging sanctions for offensive statements against paganism. Pagans urge responsibility for their word // Slavia. 2007. December (in Russian).
[14] This problem is part of a wider problem with abusive anti-extremist enforcement. See details in: A. Verkhovsky. Anti-Extremist Legislation and Its Enforcement // SOVA Center. Nationalism and Xenophobia. 2007. 19 September. This version is a draft; the final, updated version of the report will be published shortly.
[15] The only exclusion is Vitaly Tanakov's case. See details in: Ibid.
[16] In particular, abuse by law enforcement agents is much more common in the North Caucasus in general. Outside the not-so-peaceful regions such as Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia, many complaints come from Muslim activists in Kabardino-Balkaria, even though the local situation is certainly better than before the insurgency in Nalchik. In Adygeya, the Prosecutor's Office, without seeking a judicial ruling, banned the book A Brief Introduction to the Islamic Faith by Ali al-Tantawi, a prominent Islamic scholar, and the book What You Want to Know about Islam written by a team of the Muslim Spiritual Authority in Adygeya.
[17] For the sake of comparison, in November 2006, Minister of Interior Rashid Nurgaliev mentioned the extradition of more than 370 Islamist :emissaries; over a year.
[18] There is no single organization by this name either in Russia or in Turkey. There are a few radical illegal groups in Turkey by the name Nurcular, but otherwise, Nursi's followers operate legally in Turkey.

Comment:

Sources:


Page generated: 11 December 2017 at 05:05