Alexander Verkhovsky, Olga Sibireva. Problems Relating to Freedom of Conscience in Russia in 2006

SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (http://sova-center.ru)
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Summary
Issues relating to freedom of conscience in Russia
Legislation on religious organizations
Problems with places of worship
State patronage of religious organizations
Other examples of discrimination
The Situation in the Armed Forces and the Penitentiary System
The Conflict in regard to the Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture in school curricula
Abusive practices in the struggle against extremism
Insufficient protection from slander and attacks
Excessive protection of religious sentiments

The report is based on the findings of SOVA Center's monitoring. This information is presented in its entirety in Religion in a Secular Society section (http://religion.sova-center.ru), including references to media and Web resources. We only give references here which are not indicated in the section above.

Rather than address each and every issue relevant to the activity of religious associations, this paper focuses on issues involved in exercising one's freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience must be protected by government, so we focus on government practices; however, some problems may be caused by non-state actors. We also understand that the exercise of one's freedom of conscience, just as any other right or liberty, may result in various conflicts. Some of such conflict situations will be described in the paper.

Russia has not yet developed a tradition of reporting on the freedom of conscience; SOVA Center also undertakes this work for the fist time, and we do not claim to be providing exhaustive coverage or unquestionable accuracy of interpretations. We will appreciate any criticism, additions, or corrections.

Summary

The year 2006 did not see any major change in the situation with regard to freedom of conscience in Russia. Despite certain problems in this respect, we should however understand that religious (and anti-religious) behavior of an individual is usually not restricted by the state and its agents - even though it may happen from time to time. In contrast, established practices of restricting the right to profess and propagate one's faith together with others persist, resulting in restrictions that affect religious communities, rather than individual believers.

Similarly, formal and informal privileges enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and by Muslim and Buddhist organizations in relevant republics, are increasing. The issue often raised in this regard is religious instruction in public schools, but of equal significance is the situation with the army and the law enforcement. As such, the preferences do not restrict freedom of conscience, but they challenge the secular nature of Russian society and sometimes even the Russian state. It is these issues which give rise to concern, because mechanisms protecting the freedom of conscience rely heavily on the secular nature of the state.

Most problems faced by religious organizations are not related to registration - even though some issues are still unresolved in this sphere - but rather to the establishment and use of buildings and facilities for religious worship. In particular, such problems are faced by Muslims, Protestants (especially Pentecostals), and new religious movements. Apparently, the real reason behind bureaucratic resistance is not the alleged :aggressive dynamics; of these faiths, but rather the Russian society's excessive fear of this :expansion.;

Believers often encounter other problems as well - in most cases due to bureaucratic arbitrariness or unwillingness to protect the freedom of conscience and equality of citizens. On the other hand, :protection of tolerance; can also be used to limit freedom of conscience and freedom of expression - a fact dramatically illustrated by aftermath of the :cartoon scandal; in Russia.

Even more alarming are increased abuses in the context of combating extremism and terrorism. The victims are mainly (but not exclusively) members of independent Muslim groups (even though some of them may have come under police attention for a legitimate reason).

The problems described in this report fall into two major groups. To address some of these problems, a serious public discussion and strategic decision-making are needed. These include the problem of religious presence in schools (not limited to the introduction of Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture course), other possible forms of interaction between the state and religious associations. To address other problems - almost all cases of discrimination against religious minorities, insufficient protection from attacks and defamation, abuses in the context of combating extremism and terrorism, and some others - will be resolved if bureaucrats strictly comply with effective laws. It is the government's responsibility to make sure that all civil servants obey the law.

We hope that this report will be helpful in resolving both types of problems.

Issues relating to freedom of conscience in Russia
Legislation on religious organizations

There have been numerous attempts in the past year to amend the existing Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations (hereinafter referred to as the :Freedom of Conscience Law;). These attempts, however, were initiatives of individual parliamentarians. rather than a coordinated position of the parliamentary majority, so they were always doomed to failure.

In April, the Chairman of the Federation Council Sergey Mironov proposed that the activities of :non-traditional; religious groups [1] should be better regulated. He was supported by Speaker of Buryatia Parliament Alexander Lubsanov who pressed for a law restricting :non-traditional; religious practices. However, the Federal Registration Service, referring to the current Law on Freedom of Conscience, declared that they did not intend to impose any such restrictions.

In June, Duma member Alexander Chuyev proposed amendments of the Law on the Freedom of Conscience, in particular art. 3 p. 6 stating that :it is prohibited to hold public events, display texts and images, which offend religious sentiments of citizens, outside places of worship.; Chuyev suggested taking out the phrase :outside places of worship,; thereby prohibiting any display of texts and images potentially offensive to believers anywhere.

In November, Duma member Alexander Krutov proposed another amendment to the same law to introduce a course on Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture in the mandatory general school curriculum.
None of the proposed amendments have been considered by the Duma.

There was no follow-up to the 2005 legislative initiatives seeking to impose additional restrictions on the activity of foreign religious missionaries and any new or relatively new religious groups in general. On 16 March Minister of Justice Yuri Chaika announced at an extended meeting of the Ministry's Collegium that the Ministry had drafted a law regulating the activity of missionary groups, and planned to introduce the draft in the Duma in the second half of 2006; but that never took place.

Similarly, there was no follow-up to the government-initiated draft amendment of the Law on Freedom of Conscience which would have authorized the Federal Registration Service (FRS) to review active religious groups for extremism or other illegal activity. Today, the FRS reviews the documentation only of those religious groups which apply for registration. This amendment appears to be a reasonable attempt to regulate the current practice (such reviews are conducted de facto by the Prosecutor's Office) even though it triggered many protests which are about increased government control. However, the actual grounds for concern, we believe, should be the selection of reviewers in the regions, since we have observed on many occasions that the experts in charge of such reviews lack the necessary skills and approach the issue with a restrictive attitude.

Three laws were adopted which have direct a effect on religious organizations. On 20 October, the State Duma adopted in the third reading a draft amendment to the Tax Code provision related to products of religious usage. On 7 November, the amendment was signed into law by the President. The new provision introduces a VAT exemption for religious groups which sell religious literature and objects as well as for those who produce such items; the amendment is likely to result either in lower prices on religious literature and related objects, or in higher revenues of religious organizations, or both.

On 14 June, the Duma adopted in the third reading a legislative package repealing certain deferrals of military duty, including presidential decrees, which established deferrals for students of religious training institutions. The draft law triggered protests by religious groups, including the Russian Orthodox Church, but on 23 June it was approved by the Federation Council, and signed into law by the President on 5-6 July. The withdrawal of privileges formerly enjoyed by students of religious training institutions came into effect immediately.

Religious groups were also affected by amendments of the Law on Non-Profit Organizations (NPO) which came into effect in April. Most non-profits, including religious groups, were particularly concerned about complicated reporting requirements introduced by the Government pursuant to the said amendments. Only some religious groups, but not others (and, more generally, not every NPO) can afford to write and submit so many different reports (the deadline is in April). The required reporting includes extensive information about :organized events and activities; and detailed accounts of funds received and spent, especially those :received from international and foreign organizations, foreign citizens and stateless persons.; It is obvious that religious groups cannot report the source of every anonymous donation or the number of people attending a ceremony. Their inability to report in a manner satisfactory to the FRS can lead to eventual court liquidation proceedings.

On 1 December, participants of a regular meeting held by the Advisory Board of Protestant Churches sent a joint letter to First Deputy Prime-Minister Dmitry Medvedev about the difficulties likely to be faced by religious groups in the context of the new reporting requirements. At the same time, disagreement with some provisions of the new law was expressed by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Council of Russian Muftis, and the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations (KEROOR) (it should be noted that these groups were not involved in the dramatic debates preceding the introduction of these amendments).

On 13 December, a meeting of the Presidential Council for Interaction with Religious Organizations (in recent years, the Council has met very infrequently) was held to consider a possibility of changing some of the new rules. Chief of Presidential Administration Sergey Sobyanin promised that the opinion of religious leaders would be taken into account. On 19 December, FRS officials met with representatives of religious groups. The FRS spokesperson promised :to define our position both with regard to the interests of the state and taking into account the suggestions of religious organizations, but, certainly, within the framework of current legislation.; (The Government began to address the practical aspects of the problem just before the deadline for NPO reporting).


Problems with places of worship

Many religious organizations attempting to use or build a place of worship are still forced to struggle against inflexible officials. A common form of discrimination is the arbitrary denial of land allocation for the construction of a religious facility. Moreover, in 2006 officials attempted on many occasions to take away existing places of worship from those religious communities which had used them. Religious communities which most often faced such difficulties included Muslims, Protestants, and new religious movements.

In January, the Sovietsky District Court in Astrakhan ordered the demolition of a mosque located at an access road to the city. On 1 March, a higher court, the Astrakhan Oblast Court, denied an appeal filed by the local Muslim community. On 17 April, a court denied the believers' request for a three month delay of the court ruling and ordered the demolition of the building before 1 May. The authorities also threatened Muslim community leader Asia Makhmutova with criminal prosecution for non-compliance with the court order.

In 1998, the construction of this mosque was permitted by the Mayor of Astrakhan; now the officials argued that the land plot had been allocated for a residential building, not a mosque. They also warned that the construction site was located next to a high-voltage power line, and the location was not agreed with the Astrakhan-Energo Company. A. Makhmutova insisted that the community had obtained all the necessary paperwork. Throughout the conflict, Muslims staged protests, collected signatures under a letter to the President, and even posted watch outside the mosque to provent its destruction. On 14 August, the RF Supreme Court upheld the ruling that ordered the demolition of the mosque. Muslims from Astrakhan have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. The unfinished building is still in place.

In October, local authorities in Tyumen destroyed a building at 13 Lenin Street; the building had been intended to house a mosque. The local Muslim community had spent years attempting to achieve the return of this building which had been a mosque before the 1917 communist revolution. In February 2006, the local authorities had decided that the building would be handed over to the community by late 2006, but eventually the building was demolished rather than returned to the believers.

Local authorities in Krasnodar attempted to demolish a building owned by the Gospel Missionary Union (GMU) - the Gospel House. The local authorities pressured the Pervomaisky District Court in Krasnodar into ordering the destruction of the building. On 1 August, the Civil Law Collegium of the Krasnodar Krai Court overruled the judgment, following a complaint filed by Bishop Alexei Yeropkin of the GMU diocese in Krasnodar, and ordered the case to be reconsidered. However, the authorities insisted that the prayer house had been built illegally and offered to legalize it first as municipal property, and then allow A. Yeropkin to use it for free in the status of a residential estate. On 15 December, the lower court ruled in favor of GMU.

Local authorities in Kostroma have not yet reached a decision concerning the construction of a mosque. In 1998, the Muslim community had set up a religious and cultural center in the building of a former club. The construction of the mosque began in 1999, but was soon :frozen.; In the summer of 2006, authorities suggested to the Muslims that they transfer construction to another plot of land, but the latter refused, because they had already invested 12.6 million rubles in construction. Kostroma Oblast Prosecutor Yuri Ponomaryov attempted litigation in an effort to establish municipal ownership over the club building used by the faith community; however, within six months, two different courts - the local court of arbitrage in August and the 2nd appeal court of arbitrage of the Federal District in December - ruled in favor of the Muslims affirming their right to use the former club building.

In September, local authorities in Abakan sued the Church of Apotheosis - a local evangelical community - demanding that the believers vacate a plot of land in Zhukov Street and pull down their prayer house - which, the bureaucrats insisted, had been built there illegally.

In Kaluga, authorities have been trying to take away a building owned by the Word of Life Pentecostal community. Governor Anatoly Artamonov declared publicly that the Word of Life would be banished from their current location. On 4 December, the mayor of Kaluga, Maxim Akimov, ordered that the church building and its land be handed over to Centrumvekling, a Swedish company operating a nearby construction site. Originally, the company had agreed to transfer the church building to another site, but then refused to comply with the agreement. Following the Mayor's order, the local press unleashed an :anti-sectarian; campaign.

Similar, although less dramatic instances have taken place in a number of other cities. Municipal administrations in Tikhoretsk and Volgograd refused, without stating any reason, to extend the rental agreement for spaces used for worship by the local Protestant communities. Jehovah's witnesses in Dzerzhinsk, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, have also failed to obtain a land for construction of a building for worship.

In 2006, earlier conflicts around religious buildings continued. Moscow officials dropped their claims against the Emmanuel Church following their numerous pickets which the Mayor's office had tried to stop. The authorities refused, however, to address the cause of the 2005 protests and to give back to the religious community a landplot in Vernadsky Prospect, originally allocated to them for constructing a church, but then taken away.

Another ongoing conflict concerns the construction of a Hare Krishna Temple in Moscow. The Moscow government revoked its earlier decision to allocate an area near Leningradsky Prospect to the Moscow Krishna Consciousness Society (MKCS) for the building of a temple. In February 2006, the First Deputy Mayor of Moscow Vladimir Ressin said that :Krishna worshippers have been offered an alternative location for their temple.; However, MKCS continued to insist on the return of the land which had been allocated to it. In March, the Moscow Court of Arbitrage refused to satisfy a claim filed by Krishna adherents. In February 2007, Deputy Mayor Valery Vinogradov announced that the city would finally allocate a plot of land to Krishna worshippers in the Northern Administrative District, but outside the Moscow Ring Road.

Another conflict which began in 2005 eventually was resolved in favor of a religious organization. The Perm community of Evangelical Christians won litigation affirming their title to the former Lenin Palace of Culture used, among other purposes, for worship. On 12 December, the community obtained an official certificate documenting their ownership of the facility.

Another property-related dispute was successfully resolved, in this case for the Kingdom of God Church. On 3 May, the Moscow Court of Arbitrage ruled in favor of the church denying Roscomimuschestvo (Russian Committee for State Property) its claims to the prayer house in Godovikov Street. The community had provided the court with documentary evidence to prove that they had legally purchased the property. In September, Roskomimushestvo appealed the ruling in the 9th Appeal Court of Arbitration, but lost. Then they tried to appeal to the Moscow District Federal Court of Arbitration, but on 30 November the court again upheld the worshippers' title to the prayer house.

State patronage of religious organizations

Quite often, budgets at various levels of government finance various projects of religious organizations, for example, financial support to secular public schools co-founded by religious groups. A common practice is state and municipal funding to support the restoration of buildings of worship used by religious organizations.
This support is not based on any established policy, for example, in proportion to the size of the religious community. Rather, support and state subsidies seem to be based on random and subjective perceptions concerning the relative importance of certain faith groups and almost all government funding goes to organizations represented in the Inter-Religious Council of Russia (ICR). [2] The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is the main recipient of official subsidies at the federal level and in most regions. The decision of which religious community to support is usually based directly or indirectly on existing norms or practices.

In the summer of 2006, the ROC signed an agreement with Rospatent (the Federal Service for Intellectual Property, Patents and Trademarks), whereby approval for any trademark potentially relating to religious associations should be coordinated with the Patriarchate. Understandably, the ultimate decision as to the registration of a trademark lies with Rospatent, but in a number of cases the agency has denied registration of trademarks as a result of the ROC's negative response. Rospatent does not have similar agreements with other religious institutions. In and of itself, such consultations are not against the law, but the use of religious arguments by a government agency in denying trademark registration is dubious from the point of view of the secular nature of the state; besides, the selective nature of such consultations breeds corruption.

The main type of material support offered to religious organizations by the state continues to be real estate. There have been incidents of real estate reallocations which causing concern among smaller religious groups. For example, in Vladimir Oblast, authorities inspected the property owned by the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC) several times in the course of one year. In January, FSB representatives in Vladimir Oblast, without informing ROAC leaders and without stating any reasons, seized about 20 files with documentation on ROAC ownership of several churches in the Oblast. The ROAC has quoted some ROC officials as saying that soon ROAC churches will be handed over, one by one, to the Moscow Patriarchate.

In 2006, the process of property recovery, whereby religious organizations will get back the property seized from them in Soviet times, will continue. Not infrequently, however, this process has been marred by abuses and violations. Treated as :recovered property; may well be some property which never belonged to a given religious organization to begin with, or which cannot be handed over under current law. In addition, when buildings are transferred, the interests of the property's current users - individuals as well as institutions - are not always taken into account.

An illustrative example is a property dispute, dating back to 2004, between the Ryazan Kremlin Historical and Cultural Museum and the Ryazan Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church; the latter claimed the buildings occupied by the museum. The property in question was included in the State Register of Highly Valuable Objects of Cultural Heritage, which rules out its repossession by a religious institution. In March, however, museum workers reported that the Russian President had responded positively to the Patriarch's letter requesting assistance in the return of the Ryazan Kremlin buildings.

Russian Federal Ministry of Culture officials were divided over the issue. The Ryazan authorities, led by Governor Georgy Shpak, very cautiously sided with the museum. On 10 April, the relevant committee of the Ryazan Oblast Duma announced that it was impossible at the moment to transfer the museum to any other space, and noted that the Diocese was already using part of the Ryazan Kremlin building for worship, and that it had never owned the entire complex to begin with.

In September, Vice Premier Alexander Zhukov reminded the Minister of Economic Development and Trade German Gref and Minister of Culture Alexander Sokolov that they must comply with the President's decision. The Vice Premier also advised them to report to the Patriarch about the measures they will take in this matter. On 15 November, the official position of the Federal Government was communicated to the Ryazan Oblast government, but a final decision has not yet been reached. The issue is still unresolved, and the unique museum is still under threat.

Other examples of discrimination

Last year, as before, there were numerous reports of discrimination against various religious organizations by state and municipal authorities. Protestant groups in particular were targeted by discrimination. Many officials misinterpret the Preamble to the Federal Law on the Freedom of Conscience and regard all religions except Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism as :non-traditional; and sometimes deny the members of other religions their constitutional rights.

In June, the FRS Office in Novgorod Oblast initiated judicial proceedings to liquidate the local Salvation Army. Official inspections of the organization conducted since April 2005 had repeatedly found some alleged non-compliance. A new charter of the organization, amended as instructed by the prosecutor, was rejected by the FRS, and liquidation proceedings were launched. In October 2006, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of the Salvation Army against Russia and the Russian Government must pay EUR 10,000 to the Moscow Office of the Salvation Army, which the authorities have attempted to close since 2001.

Officials have also sought to restrict the activity of some :non-traditional; religious organizations which are legally registered. For example, on 27 February, followers of the Pentecostal "Live Faith' Church were denied access to the Penza shelter for the homeless, which the church had visited for four years. The new director of the institution explained that the contract with the Pentecostals was terminated because the users of the shelter allegedly had requested it.

The Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS) has opposed drug rehabilitation facilities set up by :non-traditional; faith-based groups. The head of FDCS Division of Inter-Departmental and Public Communication Alexander Mikhailov announced that treatment in such rehabilitation centers :leads to another kind of dependence - psychological dependence, which is as dangerous as drug dependence, and also damages one's health.; In December, the FDCS announced the results of a contest among non-governmental organizations for the best programs in 2005 and 2006 to prevent drug use and drug crime and for social rehabilitation of drug users; the winners included four Orthodox Christian organizations. Orthodox-run rehabilitation centers are often set up on the premises of monasteries, and the patients in these centers are actively involved in monastery life, but this fact does not trigger official accusations of involuntary indoctrination. Unlike the FDCS, we cannot compare the performance of different rehab centers from a medical perspective, but an official has no right to affirm publicly that :dependence; on a certain religion is :as dangerous as drug dependence.;

On 13 and 14 May, police arrested 15 members of the Voskresenye Baptist community in Ivanovo who had held a public event in a local cinema theater, distributing a book which contained the New Testament and the Book of Psalms. The event organizers had obtained a written agreement from the director of the cinema theater. As a formal reason for inspection, the police referred to Art. 13.22 of the Code of Administrative Offences concerning the rules for identifying the author, printer, on the cover of publications. This administrative provision, however, applies only to periodicals and does not apply to the New Testament. Moreover, the president of the Gideon mission in Ivanovo Oblast, Alexander Alexandrov, had provided all the required legal papers for the publication.

Local FSB officers tried to intimidate detainees urging them not to attend Baptist meetings, because the officers claimed it was :an American church; and :a harmful sect.; Members of the :Voskresenye; (:Resurrection;) Church viewed the pressure as a continuation of attacks against Baptists (in 2005 local authorities in Ivanovo Oblast deported several groups of U.S. citizens who had arrived on the invitation of the Baptist church). The Oblast administration sent a letter to the :Voskresenye; Church and to the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists to inform them that the police officers who had detained the participants of :There is Hope; event had been reprimanded, but their inspection of the New Testament publishing data was ruled lawful. Later :Voskresenye; and the Gideon mission continued to distribute the same book without any hindrance. Deputy Governor Mikhail Men' apologized to the believers.

On 24 December, a Christmas service of :Slovo Bozhie; (:God's word;) Evangelical Christian Church was disrupted by police in the village of Argayash, Chelyabinsk Oblast. In the middle of the service, police and officers of the Ministry for Extreme Situations began an inspection of the building owned by the faith community. In the course of the inspection, they demanded that all those in the building present their IDs, as well as requesting the church's charter and records of donations.

Civil servants explained their discriminatory actions by using terms such as :totalitarian sect; or :destructive cult,; which does not exist in the law and does not have a commonly accepted interpretation in religious studies. [3] Such slanderous references are frequent at numerous :anti-sectarian; conferences which discuss alleged threats to :spiritual security; and usually are attended by officials of various levels and ROC representatives but rarely by members of other :traditional; religions. [4]

Since many :non-traditional; organizations originated outside Russia (never mind how many years ago) may be cited as evidence of alleged espionage. For example, in December, in an interview to Pskovskaya Pravda, the chief of the FSB Office in Pskov Oblast, Georgy Drachyov, practically accused members of new religious movements of espionage when he said that many missionaries :were trained by Western security services in their training camps.; While admitting that religious groups in Pskov Oblast :operate formally in the legal domain,; Drachyov nevertheless urged residents of Pskov Oblast to counteract these :destructive; organizations. :If you or your family member have been drawn into a sect and as a result your family relationships deteriorate, negative changes take place in your mental and physical health, or you are forced to sell your possessions, report this to the law enforcement authorities.;

The practice of deporting foreign missionaries from Russia without sufficient reason - or without any reason whatsoever - has also continued.

On 31 May, Sunday Adelaja, leader of the Ukrainian "Embassy of God' Church was stopped at the border control in Sheremetyevo-1 Airport when he came to Moscow to participate in the Let Them Speak [Pust' Govoryat] TV show. The missionary had been deported from Russia on the basis that his declared :purpose of the trip did not correspond to the actual [purpose].; Later an FSB spokesman said in court that Russian security agents had found the pastor's visit to Russia undesirable. It is important to note that a Orthodox-patriotic organization, commenting on the missionary's deportation, always stress his church's alleged involvement in the :Orange; revolution in Ukraine.

On 8 February, in Ivanovo, ten U.S. citizens who are Evangelical Baptists, were detained and fined by police for their alleged infringement of legislation regulating foreigners' visits to Russia. The local FSB Office explained that the detainees' charitable activity :was inconsistent with the declared tourist purpose of their visit.; On 6 June 2006, the Oblast Court in Ivanovo confirmed that the local FSB Office had acted in accordance with the law, but Baptists found this ruling to violate their freedom of conscience, because it limited their choice of method in disseminating their religious beliefs.
In general, however, according to the Forum-18 News Agency, the situation in regard to the issuance of Russian entry visas to foreign missionaries has improved in 2006. [5]

Sometimes, mere membership in a :non-traditional; religious organization invites discrimination. For example, on 6 March, five female students of the State Pedagogical Institute in Slavyansk-on-Kuban were questioned by the dean's office about their attendance at the Evangelical Christian Missionary Union (ECMU) church. Student Nina Fedotova, whose father is an EMCU pastor, was accused of :luring; fellow-students into the EMCU through her group leader position. The dean's office removed the young woman from her position (starosta) and forbade her from telling others about her faith, threatening her with expulsion from the institute. It was only after N. Fedotova's father complained to the city authorities that the dean's office apologized.

In April, 96 believers of the Moscow Evangelical Baptist Church sent a letter to the Russian President, the President of Chuvashia, the Russian Federation Prosecutor General and Minister of Justice, the Prosecutor of Chuvashia Republic and the Russian Ombudsman reporting massive harassment of Baptists by law-enforcement agencies in Chuvashia and Tatarstan. Home-schooled children of Baptists faced intimidation and threats. Police inspector A. N. Ishmuradov, a child welfare officer of the Leninsky District in Cheboksary, revealed that it was due to their faith that Baptist parents faced problems with the authorities. The Chuvashia Republic Prosecutor's Office ruled that the law enforcement agents had acted legally.

In October, in the midst of the anti-Georgian campaign in Russia, police initiated an ID check in St. George Church in Moscow where religious services are usually held in the Georgian language. Two cantors were detained, even though they had valid Russian visas. The evening service had to be delayed by 15 or 20 minutes due to the incident. For two days, a police patrol car was parked near the church, despite the clergy's numerous requests to remove the car, because it scared the believers from entering the church. Due to such police behavior, the Sunday liturgy audience was a mere fraction of the usual number.

Even though fewer incidents of discrimination against Muslims (Muslim believers, in distinction to certain ethnic groups) occur now in comparison to the period after the Beslan tragedy, but such incidents do take place. For example, in early June, the captain of a Russian aircraft on a flight from Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, to Moscow, for a long time refused to allow five Muslims - Russian citizens - to board the plane solely because three women were wearing hijabs. [6]

The Situation in the Armed Forces and the Penitentiary System

For several years, the Russian society has debated whether there should be clergy in the Armed Forces. In particular, there was discussion about the possible introduction of a chaplain service similar to that in the armed forces of some other countries or which had existed in the Russian armed forces before the communist revolution.

In February, the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office drafted and sent to the Ministry of Defense and the Federation Council a bill introducing a system of chaplains in the armed forces. The drafters believed that it would help improve the morale and ethics of servicemen and reduce dedovschina (hazing) in the armed forces. The spokesman for the procuracy, Major General Valery Kondratyev, explained that chaplains should have the same status as contract servicemen, which means that they would be financed by the state.

There was a strong public response to the bill, particularly among religious organizations. Generally, representatives of those religious organizations which are members of the Inter-Religious Council of Russia (ICR) welcomed the initiative of the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office, making some comments and suggestions on certain parts of the document. The main idea behind their suggestions was that servicemen of other faiths should enjoy equal rights to exercise freedom of conscience. The Chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis, Ravil Gainutdin, expressed his concern that the Ministry of Defense officials :only are informed about the Russian Orthodox Church, and it appears that they are not interested in other religions.; On the other hand, the Chief of ROC Synodal Department for Relations with the Armed Forces, Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, said that Buddhists and Judaists in the Russian Army may not be numerous enough to require their own clergy in the units of the armed forces. The Archpriest said that :ROC structures; would be prepared to help servicemen of other faiths gain access their clergy and religious literature. Spokesmen for Jewish and Muslim organizations agreed that there should be chaplains in the armed forces, but that they should be civilians with advisory status.

The draft law was not formally introduced in the Duma and until now the issue has not been resolved. As a result, the ROC maintains its de-facto monopoly in the armed forces. As previously, the presence of clergy in specific armed forces units depends on the attitude of individual commanding officers, rather than on the needs and preferences of servicemen. Usually officers welcome visits by the clergy whom they view as a combination of a political instructor and a counselor. The SOVA Center is not aware of any incidents of ROC clergy being denied access to armed forces units. ROC priests are usually invited to official events and celebrations; they give talks to servicemen and bless vehicles and equipment. Cases of mass baptisms have been reported, so Orthodox priests, not only offer spiritual guidance, but also engage in missionary work. Churches have been built where military units are located.

In regions with substantial Muslim populations, army units are increasingly visited by Muslim clergy - they attend official events and give talks to servicemen, even though less often than ROC priests. In 2006, Muslim organizations signed some cooperation agreements with law-enforcement authorities.

The above does not apply to other religious organizations. For example, on 9 May, the commanders of a military unit which had been visited since 2003 by representatives of :Slovo Zhizny; (:Word of Life;) Evangelical Christian Church ruled that the church's theatrical performance constituted :religious propaganda.; Unit 22316 Deputy Commander for Education, Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Yevtushenko, ordered that the performance be halted, even though a few months earlier he had handed official certificates to the Pentecostals thanking them for organizing a concert in the unit. In June, the Novosibirsk Oblast FRS Office sent a written warning to the :Slovo Zhizni; on conducting :events of religious nature in the army units; - pointing out that the church had violated its rules and recommending steps to correct the alleged violations.

A similar situation applies to the penitentiary system, even though priests of minority religions, particularly Protestants, could gain access to prisons more easily than to military units. A few mosques have been built on the premises of penitentiary institutions.

On the other hand, discrimination of Muslims in the penitentiary system has been reported. For example, in one such documented case in Prison Colony №16 of Krasnoyarsk Krai, an Internal Security Captain rudely ordered several Muslim prisoners to interrupt their daily prayer. In February, prison authorities began to relocate Muslim inmates from prisons and colonies in Bashkortostan to other regions, even though the Penitentiary Code prescribes that they should serve their punishment in the region where they live or where they were convicted and sentenced. Penitentiary officials explained to the inmates' relatives that their family members had been :sent to distant locations because the number of Muslim prisoners in Bashkortostan has been growing from day to day, and it is necessary to dilute their concentration by sending them outside Bashkortostan.;

The Conflict in regard to the Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture in school curricula

Russian law allows religious training in schools only as an optional course - in addition to the minimum guaranteed state-funded curriculum. This arrangement has triggered some conflicts, but recently they have been rare.

The pressing current issue is that in 2006 religion-related subjects sometimes have been included in the core curriculum. Education about religion, in particular about :the Orthodox culture; mentioned most frequently in this context, is not the same as religious instruction and is not against the law. However, the actual courses in the Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture (FOC) (including similar courses under different names) taught in many regions of the country give rise to suspicion that religious training, rather than secular education about religions, is taking place. For example, a reporter of Kommersant-Vlast weekly noted, after visiting a number of general schools in Belgorod Oblast, that classrooms where this subject is taught are equipped with Orthodox icons and icon lamps and that students are trained in Orthodox prayers, encouraged to be baptized and to attend the Orthodox church. [7]. We are convinced that the issue of teaching FOC courses in schools should be resolved through court proceedings with the involvement of relevant experts and expert opinions, but that has not happened so far. The same suspicions arise with regard to similar subjects widely covered as part of the mandatory school curriculum in four regions (Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan, and Tatarstan), but focused on Islam; these concerns, however, have been rarely raised at the federal level.

Before the current academic year, FOC was delivered as an optional subject - the lessons were included in the main schedule , but with the option of attending another class, not necessarily about religion (it could be an English lesson, rather than History of Religions, for example). There have been frequent complaints that FOC lessons in effect are mandatory because schools did not provide an alternative. This arrangement has been criticized as excessive promotion of a particular religion into state-funded general education with a secular legal status. It should be noted that the legal norms are not entirely clear. But the Ministry of Education and many government officials have affirmed on many occasions that FOC courses must be optional.

However, in 2006, FOC courses continued to expand geographically. Since 1 September, this subject is widely taught in general schools of Bryansk, Belgorod, Vladimir, Kaluga, Kursk, Oryol, Rostov, Ryazan, Samara, and Smolensk Oblasts, among others. As opposed to previous years, this academic year has seen FOC courses formally taught as part of mandatory curriculum, with no alternative (even though in many regions there was no real alternative in previous years either). Since 1 September, FOC is part of required curriculum in all schools in Belgorod Oblast, and in some schools in Bryansk, Kaluga and Smolensk Oblasts.

The situation in Belgorod Oblast is of particular concern, because parents who do not wish, for whatever faith-related reasons, their children to attend FOC classes, can only avoid such classes by moving out of the region. The Belgorod Oblast Prosecutor's Office - in response to complaints filed by parents who challenged the legality of required FOC lessons - failed to find any violation of the Oblast law which regulates the introduction of this subject in schools. On the other hand, in its recommendations to the speaker of the Belgorod Oblast Duma and to the Oblast Governor, the Prosecutor's Office did advise these agencies to remove the word :Orthodox; and to teach :this subject, taking into account the parents' opinion, as part of History and Culture of World Religions course.; Their recommendation, however, was just that - a recommendation, and did not have any practical impact.

Monitoring of FOC classes conducted from time to time by parents have produced unexpected results. For example, in Shebekinsky District of Belgorod Oblast, after parents (including Protestants) challenged the required FOC course, a commission sent by the Oblast Department of Education visited a local school. The commission failed to find any irregularities and concluded that parents who did not wish their children to attend the FOC class should pay another teacher to deliver an alternative lesson to their children instead of the FOC.

The heated public debates around the FOC have had no impact on the decision-making process. Throughout the year, the Russian Minister of Education and Science Andrei Fursenko repeatedly has warned against FOC lessons and advocated for a course in the fundamentals of world religions, designed by experts of the Russian Academy of Science and currently being piloted. However, the Minister complained, he has no power over local educational authorities who choose to introduce the FOC as part of the regional component of their curriculum.
In this context, in November the Ministry prepared a concept of a draft law amending the RF Laws on Education and on Higher and Postgraduate Vocational Training (the amendments concerned the definition and structure of educational standards). The proposed amendment would abandon the division of school curriculum into federal, regional and institutional components, making it impossible for local authorities to introduce FOC as part of the regional component. Deputy Head of Department for Educational Policy and Regulation Natalia Tretyak explained that according to the proposed concept, the subject in question may only be taught as part of the overall course introducing students to world religions. However, the concept has not evolved into a draft law - and this development is unlikely in the near future, because besides FOC advocates, there supporters of regional and local components for other reasons.

In this context, in November the Ministry prepared a concept for a draft law to amend the Russian Federation Laws on Education and on Higher and Postgraduate Vocational Training (on the definition and structure of educational standards). The proposed amendment would abandon the division of school curriculum into federal, regional and institutional components, making it impossible for local authorities to introduce the FOC as part of the regional component. The Deputy Head of Department for Educational Policy and Regulation, Natalia Tretyak, explained that under the proposed concept, the subject in question may only be taught as part of the general introductory course on world religions. However, the concept has not evolved into a draft law and is unlikely to occur in the near future, because there are those who support regional and local components for other reasons.

On 27 November, a joint meeting of three Public Chamber commissions was held: the Commission on Tolerance and Freedom of Expression, the Commission on Intellectual Potential of the Nation, and the Commission on Cultural and Spiritual Heritage (chaired by the Metropolitan of Kaluga and Borovsk Kliment (Kapalin)). They discussed the teaching of an introductory course in world religions in secular schools. The Deputy Minister of Education, Dmitry Livanov, said that 58 of the 79 regional educational authorities were prepared to teach the fundamentals of world religions in schools only with the parents' consent as an optional secular course delivered by secular teachers.

Spokesmen of other religious organizations - Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar and leader of the Union of Evangelical Christians Sergey Ryakhovsky - argued for the teaching of the fundamentals of all :traditional; Russian religions, and not just Orthodoxy. Metropolitan Kliment disagreed, arguing that the introduction of more than one religion at once will only confuse young students, so they should be introduced to :traditional; religions starting from junior school, but in separate courses, rather than a single course. At the same time, the Metropolitan emphasized that the subject should be culture-focused (rather than indoctrination-focused).

The meeting adopted the Proposals of the Public Chamber Concerning the Study of Religious Culture in the System of Education, based mostly on the perspective of FOC advocates. Stating that :representatives of many ethnicities, religions and faith-groups; living in Russia :have equal rights of having their educational needs met by the state and municipal educational systems,; the members of the Public Chamber, nevertheless, affirmed that it was possible to teach the fundamentals of certain :traditional; religions, and refused to support the Ministry of Education-sponsored idea of introducing a general course in world religions. The Public Chamber made a reservation, however, that teaching the fundamentals of religions in schools should be optional (subject to consent of parents and students of 14 and older). If this course is included in the regional component, those who refuse to attend it should be given an option of attending another philosophy or culture-related course.

These developments demonstrate the current state of public discussion on this subject. (Initially it was proposed to include religious theories concerning the origins of life and humans, the meaning of human history, etc., as an alternative perspective in the school science and history courses, but the Board of the Public Chamber eventually deleted those recommendations). In fact, the Public Chamber supported established practice, while accepting that this practice is gradually shifting towards the de-secularization of public education.

Abusive practices in the struggle against extremism

Counter-terrorism frequently, and understandably, includes strategies to prevent religion from being politicized. Most often, again, understandably, it relates to political Islam. We do not question the necessity of counteracting those groups involved in terrorism or other illegal activity, even if these groups are motivated by their religious beliefs. In this context, ensuring public safety is more important than ensuring freedom of religion or belief.

On the other hand, efforts to counteract criminal activities often lead tounfounded discrimination or repression as well as restriction of civil liberties. While we understand that it may be difficult to draw a clear distinction between well-founded and unfounded restrictions of liberty, nevertheless we would like to highlight some key issues in this regard.

The Supreme Court ruling on 14 February 2003 found 15 organizations to be terrorist (in July 2006 two more organizations were added to the list). Although the judgment was made with clear procedural violations, there is no doubt that many organizations on the list are, indeed, terrorist.

The most widespread criminal cases arising from the 14 February 2003 decision, involves Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group with extreme views which categorically rejects democracy and human rights, is vocally anti-Semitic, justifies terrorism in certain situations, but refuses to employ violent methods (this principle differentiates it from other extreme Islamic groups) [8]. Neither the Supreme Court ruling, nor subsequent decisions by Russian courts in Hizb ut-Tahrir cases have brought forth any evidence to the contrary.

Admittedly, with the adoption in March 2006 of a new Russian Federation Law on Counteracting Terrorism which set forth a broader definition of terrorist activity, in retrospect the Supreme Court ruling is more justifiable. The new definition of terrorist activity contains the following wording: :terrorist activity is activity which advocate terrorist activity, and which justifies or excuses the necessity of such activity; (par. 2 "e' of Art. 3 of the Law). In fact, Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose documents indicate that it may approve the hijacking of civilian aircraft, provides a strong basis for being ruled a terrorist organization in Russia after proper investigation. It is a different matter that this definition of terrorist activity is too broad, [9] and that a proper investigation has not been conducted.

Under the Law on Combating Extremist Activity, terrorism constitutes a form of extremism, and involvement in an organization banned as being extremist is a criminal offense (Art. 282-2 of the Criminal Code). We do not question this provision of the criminal code per se, but rather that its application in this case was based on an unjust ruling of the Supreme Court.

The above provision of the criminal code has been widely enforced against actual or assumed Hizb ut-Tahrir members. In an increasing number of prosecutions, additional charges under the criminal code have been added, particularly :involvement in terrorist activity; (Art. 205-1), which signifies involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir rather than involvement in specific terrorist offenses (there are relevant provisions under the Criminal Code). Other charges frequently brought in such cases include Art. 210 ( organization of, and involvement in, a criminal community) due to the fact that a case brought under Art. 205-1 is considered a major criminal offence, and very often there is a group of offenders. Only a few cases have involved the illegal possession of firearms. Russian human right groups, such as the Memorial Center and Civic Assistance Committee, [10] which monitor such cases have expressed grave concern that the weapons were planted on the suspects (generally, one grenade or a few cartridges). According to these human rights organizations, suspects have been tortured in at least 40 percent of these cases.

The sentences of such defendants have increased in severity; changing from suspended sentences to lengthy terms of imprisonment. In this respect, one can observe a major change between 2005, when there was one lengthy term of imprisonment, and 2006. Even if one sets aside the issues of the application of torture against defendants and the non-legal basis of the 2003 Russian Supreme Court ruling, it is disproportionately harsh punishment to sentence a defendant on the basis of more than one concurrent charge only for participation in a banned organization. After all, such participation is. not a very serious offense, although it is still illegal.

The amendment of Art. 205-1 of the Russian Criminal Code, introduced in July 2006, restricts the application of this article in such cases. The amended version of this criminal code article places certain legal restrictions on the above general formulation of involvement in terrorist activity and limits such involvement in criminal activity to that defined under certain articles of the Criminal Code (Arts. 205, 206, 208, 211, 277, 278, 279 and 360, but not 282-2, for example). As a result, Art. 205-1 has been deleted from the sentences already meted out to four individuals who have been convicted, and from the charges brought in two similar cases awaiting trial.

In another case involving nine defendants in Kazan who have been accused of membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a new charge has been added: :preparation of the forceful assumption of power through the violent change of a constitutional regime; (Art. 278 of the Criminal Code, with a potential prison term of 12 to 20 years). Although the prosecutor correctly indicated that Hizb ut-Tahrir sought to establish a universal Caliphate, he did not offer any evidence of coercive intent. If the defendants are found guilty under Art. 278, it will signify a dramatic increase in sanctions for mere involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

In addition to Hizb ut-Tahrir cases, over the past two years there have been a series of criminal investigations into the activities of independent and usually radical Muslim groups. These cases are also characterized by similar irregularities as those mentioned above: torture, dubious evidence, and procedural violations.

The following are just two well-known examples.

Three men (two of them had been returned to Russia from Guantanamo) were sentenced in May to lengthy prison terms (the Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdict on 29 November, but reduced the prison terms) for an explosion on a gas pipeline in Bugulma (Tatarstan) although the evidence against them was so inconclusive that a jury passed a non-guilty verdict in the first trial in September 2005.

The case of the Islamist Jamaat in Naberezhnye Chelny involved the largest number of defendants. In 2004 in Naberezhnye Chelny (Tatarstan) Hafiz Razzakov was arrested for shooting and killing a number of couples, because he believed them to be sinners. In total, Razzakov killed nine people (including one eyewitness) on religious motives. Shortly thereafter, police arrested Nafis Kalimullin who had supplied Razzakov with firearms; a police search revealed that Kalimullin possessed an arsenal of weapons. Investigators checked all the acquaintances of the two men, focusing on those suspected of holding radical Muslim beliefs. A total of about 50 individuals were arrested, searched and questioned, and 23 of them eventually faced criminal charges.
Those arrested included several local residents who in 1999, before the second Chechen war, had spent some time in Chechnya, at the Kavkaz Islamic Institute of Urus-Martan (the indictment claimed that it was a training camp set up by Shamil Basayev and Khattab) so as to continue, the defendants said, their Islamic education. The prosecutor claimed that these individuals had been involved in the fighting, but they had never faced related charges since they returned to Tatarstan.

In 2003, some of the defendants had held military-style exercises in the woods with other individuals, including several minors. The indictment said that the training had consisted of exercises in shooting and hiding and re-hiding weapons (from Kalimullin's arsenal), but what had actually taken place during these exercises remains unknown. Ilgam Gumerov, who was assumed to be the group's leader, said that he had been preparing to leave for some :Islamic country; and had never planned to engage in fighting in Russia.

Therefore, the charges of setting up an illegal armed unit (art. 208 of the Criminal Code) were not unfounded, but had been poorly investigated. In particular, the investigation had failed to determine to what degree the various alleged participants had been involved in the incriminating actions, as well as defining the group's internal relations and goals. The entire group also faced charges under Art. 205 (:terrorism;; more precisely, preparation of terrorist attacks), Art. 222 (possession of firearms), Art. 282-2, and some defendants were also charged under Art. 205-1. According to Memorial and Civic Assistance, the charges involving the preparation of explosions of various industrial facilities were unfounded, and that therefore, all terrorism-related charges were also unfounded. It is important to stress that the charges under Art. 282-2 were also not justified, because the said group had not been part of a previously banned organization. It is also unlikely that all the defendants possessed firearms.

Nevertheless, five young men, who were under the age of 18 in 2003, were sentenced in August 2006 to 5 or 6 years of prison under Articles 205, 208 and 222. The others' trial has recently begun.

Of all the cases monitored by Memorial and Civic Assistance, a total of 27 people have been convicted between late 2004 and 5 February 2007, including 19 Hizb ut-Tahrir cases (hereafter, we cite statistics for this organization in parenthesis after the totals). No defendant has been no acquitted in such cases. A total of 62 (49) persons have been convicted, including 43 (33) to prison terms, 13 (13) to suspended sentences, 5 (4) to fines, and 2 (0) to compulsory labor.

Investigations or trials are ongoing in 9 cases; 40 suspects/defendants are in pre-trial custody; and 5 have signed pledges not to leave their current place of residence for the duration of proceedings.
Most prosecutions and convictions have been in Tatarstan. In some cases, groups of individuals have also faced charges in Siberia (Nizhnevartovsk, Tobolsk). Other regions which have :contributed; similar cases include Bashkortostan, some other parts of the Volga region, and Moscow.

Federal and regional authorities are often concerned about :Wahhabism,; a general term that they associate with Islamist rebel fighters (particularly in the North Caucasus). This view of the term, however, is not always accurate. In January 2006, President Putin noted that :Wahhabism in and of itself does not pose any threat, but distortions of Islamic norms, distortions of Wahhabism - these, of course, cannot be interpreted as anything other than calls to terrorism.; Despite President Putin's statement, most officials and members of :power ministries; automatically equate real, or, more often assumed, followers of Wahhabism with extremists and terrorists.

This view often means that measures to prevent terrorism result in sweeping repressive acts against suspected Muslim groups. Before they undertake such measure, however, law enforcement authorities attempt, as much as they can, to distinguish :correct; and loyal Islam from disloyal :Wahhabism.; We will offer a few examples.
In February, local police in Kabardino-Balkaria, started compiling a list of :Wahhabis; simply by going to local educational institutions and noting the names of those students who prayed regularly. (Admittedly, under the new government in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, pressure against Muslims has subsided; the new republican government seems to have learned the lesson of the violent 2005 incident in its capital city of Nalchik).

In 2005, local mosques and a madrasah came under police scrutiny for suspected :Wahhabism,; in the village of Srednaya Yeluzan, Penza Oblast, and criminal charges were brought under Art. 282 of the Criminal Code. On 2 February, in Chelyabinsk, investigators searched the homes of all former madrasah students. Prosecutorial investigators confiscated books and notes and asked questions about religious teachings.

On 31 March, the residents of Novaya Adygeya village could not gain access to the mosque for Friday prayers. Organized crime police along with FSB agents blocked all the roads into the village, stopped cars and searched Muslim believers. People were detained and brought to the local police station, where they were threatened and urged to stop attending the mosque.

The treatment of Wahhabism as extremism is a result of the 2004 ruling by Moscow's Savyolovsky District Court when the court ruled that a book written by the founder of Wahhabism in the XVIII century was an extremist text. As a consequence, whenever this book is referred to in public or even changes hands, these acts can technically be treated as an extremist offense. In March, criminal prosecution was brought under Art. 282 against Nedzhmedin Abasi who had been removed in December 2005 as imam in the city of Adygeisk. Criminal charges were eventually dropped, and Abasi faced an administrative fine for using black caraway seed oil without proper documentation.

In September 2006, Koptevsky District Court in Moscow started proceedings initiated by the Tatarstan Prosecutor's Office against the Nuru-Badi Foundation, as non-profit organization. The prosecutor asked that the court rule that books written by the Turkish theologian Said Nursi were extremist. Since then, many followers of Said Nursi have been questioned as part of the proceedings.

Earlier, starting in March 2005, Nursi followers had been questioned and searched by police in Tatarstan, but the investigation was suspended in March 2006, because prosecutorial actions contravened an earlier judgment made in 2005 by a court in Omsk which failed to find :incitement to religious hatred; in the publication of Nursi's books; the judgment was based on the readers' testimonies and expert statements.

Currently, the Tatarstan Prosecutor's Office is again attempting to obtain a court ban on the books of this well-known Turkish theologian of the 20th century. Incidentally, these books are not banned in Turkey, even though the Turkish government is very sensitive to radical Islamist propaganda. Nursi's teachings are not militant per se, although they have been cited by some radical groups in Turkey. There is no reason to believe that Nursi's followers constitute a public danger in Russia.

Nevertheless, on 7 December in Krasnoyarsk a group of Muslims were searched for Nursi's books. The prosecutor quoted an order issued by the prosecutorial office of Tatarstan on 28 November to seize these books in the interests of investigation.

Merely disagreeing with a court judgment may also result in liability. When Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters faced liability for their expressed disagreement with the 14 February 2003 Russian Supreme Court ruling, authorities explained that by doing so the supporters had reaffirmed their involvement in a banned organization. In 2006, a similar incident occurred.

On 26 February, the Moscow Prosecutor's Office warned the Memorial International Society that it had violated the Law on Combating Extremist Activity after it published on its website an opinion of the Asian Russia Muslim Religious Board (ARMRB) concerning Hizb ut-Tahrir brochures; the Prosecutor's Office demanded that the text of the ARMRB opinion be removed from the website within three days. A similar warning was served to the author of that opinion, ARMRB Chairman, Mufti Nafigulla Ashirov. Ashirov had argued that the four Hizb ut-Tahrir brochures often confiscated by law enforcement agents as part of investigations of criminal proceedings do not contain any incitement to violence, inter-religious hatred, or any attacks against religious sentiments or human dignity of people of other faiths.

Although we might challenge some of Ashirov's arguments, it was certainly his right to express disagreement with the Supreme Court ruling. Ashirov's brief opinion did not contain direct quotes from any of the brochures in question and did not express agreement with their content. Nevertheless, the prosecutor's office found that publication of this text on a website amounted to :justification of actions of a terrorist organization.; Both Memorial and Ashirov eventually challenged these warnings, but both courts to which they appealed rejected their suits: the Moscow City Court found the actions to constitute :psychological falsification of facts and deliberate use of one's religious authority for political purposes.;

We want to stress that even if we were to agree with this ruling, it does not constitute a sufficient basis for qualifying a text as extremist, because the court opinion per se does not exemplify any of the attributes of extremism as defined under Art. 1 of the Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activity. If, however, failure to find extremism in any text or action which has been ruled by a court to constitute extremism is interpreted as :justification of extremism; (which, according to Art. 1 of this law, is also a form of extremism) then any unjust ruling regarding a text or act as constituting extremism will give rise to charges of extremism against any citizen who in good faith disagrees with an unjust ruling and those who refuse to view such citizens will in turn also be viewed as extremist offenders, etc.

One should note that Muslims are not the only targets of the unfair application of the anti-extremist law against religious groups and leaders.

On 25 December 2006, the city court in Yoshkar Ola, the capital of the Marii El Republic, found guilty under Art. 282 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 120 hours of compulsory labor, high priest of the ethnic Mari heathen faith, Vitali Tanakov. Formally, Tanakov faced charges for having written and distributed a brochure entitled, :The Priest Speaks.; We have reason to believe, however, that his case was related to Tanakov's opposition to the authorities and to his ethno-national Mari activism.

The brochure briefly describes the heathen faith of ethnic Mari and sets out its precepts which it views as holding the exclusive truth compared to other religions. The arguments in the text are very primitive, with many references to pseudo-scientific myths (there is even an unusual account of :conspiracy theories;). In our view, however, the brochure does not contain any incitement to hatred against members of other ethnicities or religions.

Experts found that Tanakov's arguments are ethnocentric (which is natural, because ethnocentrism is characteristic of any heathen religion), but ethnocentrism is not a crime. Tanakov describes all world religions as :demonic,; but this statement refers to the content of religions, rather than the qualities of their followers. Experts have found offensive Tanakov's statements alleging that the Russian people lack their own religion and the Tatars lack their own written language, but the context makes it clear that Tanakov meant that these attributes had been borrowed, rather than lacking altogether. Nevertheless, the court agreed with the experts and ruled Tanakov guilty. Moreover, the court also found him guilty of incitement to hatred towards :certain social groups,; such as the Marii El government and non-governmental organizations. This finding was based on Tanakov's critical remarks targeting certain government officials and some activists of ethnic Marii El movement who are more loyal to authorities than the author.

He has appealed this verdict in the Supreme Court of Marii El, and the Supreme Court confirmed previous decision on 21 March 2007.

Insufficient protection from slander and attacks

In 2006, we observed continued aggressive public manifestations of xenophobia with regard to certain faith groups; vandalism against religious sites and objects of worship; and violent attacks against priests and believers of various denominations motivated by intolerance of their religious identity.

There were a few serious attacks motivated specifically by religious hatred (known attacks against clergy have not been included in this report due to lack of definitive information about the basic motives in each case).
On 11 January, Alexander Koptsev, armed with a knife, attacked those in attendance at the synagogue in Moscow's Bolshaya Bronnaya, disrupting an evening prayer. He had walked into the building and randomly stabbed several individuals. In the courtroom, Koptsev did not deny that anti-Semitism was a motive in his attack.

On 23 April, a group of drunken men, aged between 18 and 25, walked into a community club (House of Culture) in the city of Spassk, Tashtagol District of Kemerovo Oblast, where an Easter service of :Primirenye; (:Reconciliation;) Evangelical Christian Church was attended by about 300 believers. Saying that Pentecostals were a sect, the intruders harassed young women, broke down the door of the church, beat the men who tried to defend women and children, and smashed audio equipment. The attackers shouted, :There is only the Orthodox Easter here,; and called the Pentecostals :sectarians; and :devils.; Three of the worshippers were seriously injured: one had broken ribs, another suffered a damaged spine, and a third had his ear torn off. Some others attending the service were also severely injured, but did not get their injuries documented by a health professional.

The Prosecutor's Office of Tashtagol did not respond to a complaint filed by :Primirenye; Church. Some time later, the attackers apologized to the believers and compensated damage to the property; the church did not press criminal charges.

On 27 August, an unknown attacker sprayed teargas during a Sunday service in the :New Testament; Evangelical Church in Perm. On 15 December, unknown attackers sprayed pepper gas in the Jewish Community Center during a Hanukkah celebration. Nobody was seriously injured in either case.

During the course of 2006, the SOVA Center documented 25 acts of vandalism which apparently were motivated by religious hatred directed at buildings, facilities, and objects of worship, including Orthodox churches, mosques, synagogues, Protestant prayer houses, a pagan shrine, and a Buddhist mandala. We should single out for mention an explosion in a Yakhroma mosque outside Moscow: a shooting incident in the Trinikolsky monastery of Orthodox Church of God's Mother :Derzhavnaya; in the Dmitrovsky District of the Moscow Oblast; and an attack against the office of a Jewish Community in the city of Ulyanovsk. No one was injured in these attacks.
The SOVA Center is aware of 24 incidents of vandalism affecting Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish cemeteries in which religious hatred was a likely motive. In addition, there were eight acts of vandalism against Orthodox crosses, and one act of vandalism against a triumphal arc in memory of tsar Nicolas II, who was canonized in 2000.

Xenophobic attacks in the media have most frequently been directed against Muslims and Protestants (usually Pentecostals), even though :religious objects; have been targeted by intolerant items in media outlets less frequently than :ethnic objects;. [11] In this context, a stormy media campaign against Pentecostals in Novosibirsk and attempts by Krasnoyarsky Komsomolets paper to justify the Blood Libel against Jews, should be singled out for mention. Available legal remedies are often ineffective against such instances of abuse. In some cases, criminal or administrative sanctions are enforced, but most often such incidents are not even investigated.

Excessive protection of religious sentiments

For the past few years, the SOVA Center has increasingly observed that in their fear of offending religious sentiments, officials sometimes restrict freedom of speech or creative expression.

The international scandal over the Danish cartoons had an aftermath in Russia. Several media outlets received official warnings for reproducing the cartoons, while a publication of the cartoons on 15 February by the Nash Region Plus newspaper in the Vologda Oblast (the most controversial parts of the drawings were covered) resulted in its editor-in-chief, Anna Smirnova, facing criminal charges under Art. 282 p. 2 of the Criminal Code (:incitement to hatred or animosity by a person in an official capacity;). The newspaper's owner immediately decided to closeIthe paper. In April, the Vologda Oblast Court fined A. Smirnova 100,000 rubles (equivalent to about $3,500, exactly the same amount of the fine a Moscow court imposed on the organizers of the Beware, Religion! exhibit in Moscow). On 25 May, however, a court of appeal overruled the sentence, ruling that the editor-in-chief was not guilty.

In September, choirmaster Natalia Masanova of the Komi Republic Opera and Ballet Theater - concerned that the Orthodox clergy might not approve of the theater's forthcoming performance of Dmitry Shostakovich's Balda [Dunce] opera - invited the Syktyvkar Diocese Secretary to attend a rehearsal of the opera. The Orthodox priest was upset about the opera; Bishop Pitirim (Volochkov) of Syktyvkar and Vorkuta filed a written protest with Komi Governor Vladimir Torlopov, which was forwarded to the Komi Republic Ministry of Culture. The Ministry, after it failed to convince the theater management to drop the opera production, refused to finance it. Nevertheless, the opera was performed, even though in a modified version: it ended in a scene where the Dunce, rather than hit the priest on the forehead (as in the original), sings him a lullaby, and then all actors sing and dance in a ring. Komi Minister of Culture Nadezhda Bobrova attended the show and apologized to the theater company for the Ministry's attempt to ban the opera. :Something just happened to us,; N. Bobrova said in explanation of the Ministry officials' conduct.

In the same month, the Rostov Museum of Modern Art was forced to remove a few paintings by Alexander Sigutin from its Art or Death exhibition. The Museum did so after demands by the Diocese and physical attacks against the painter and the museum building.

Sometimes, authorities have acted to protect religious sentiments regardless of the believers opinions. For example, on 16 February authorities in Vologda decided to close Gorodskye Vesti [City News], a municipal paper, for its illustration accompanying an article entitled, :Racists Have no Place in the Government,; with a cartoon of Christ, Mohammad, Moses and Buddha. Many representatives of religious groups, however, said that they did not see anything offensive in the cartoon (and the SOVA Center must agree with them). Religious leaders expressed support for the newspaper, including fr. Mikhail Dudko of the Moscow Patriarchate, Russia's Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar, and the Chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Center Ismagil Shangareyev. Nevertheless, the acting chief of the Volgograd city administration, Andrei Doronin, decided to close the paper and fire the journalists directly involved in publishing the cartoon (while the other staff were offered jobs in another paper, which was immediately set up to replace the previous paper). The city government's decision was supported by the Russian Council of Muftis.


[1] The Russian law does not provide a definition of traditional religions, but in practice they include Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism, while :traditional religious organizations; are understood to include major organizations which belong to these religions. Since 2001, there have been attempts to grant :traditional religious organizations; a special status by law, but these attempts are unlikely to succeed in the near future.

[2] Organizations represented in ICR include the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Spiritual Board of Muslims, the Russian Council of Muftis, the Coordination Center of North Caucasus Muslims, the Council of Jewish Communities and Organizations, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, and the Buddhist Sangha.

[3] To emphasize, we are not suggesting that these terms should not exist. But people acting on behalf of the state must refer to such concepts as exist under the legal system of this state.

[4] In itself the criticism of some religious denominations by others is not a violation of the freedom of conscience.

[5] Geraldine Fagan. Religious work visa respite? // Forum 18. 2006. May 3.

[6] Captain of a Russian aircraft refused to allow women wearing hijabs on board // SOVA Center. Nationalism and Xenophobia. 2006. 15 June (http://xeno.sova-center.ru/45A29F2/7793B65).

[7] Anna Kachurovskaya. We will form an Individual with the capital "I' // Kommersant-Vlast, 2006. 11 September

[8] See details about Hizb ut-Tahrir views in: A. Verkhovsky. Is Hizb ut-Tahrir an extremist organization? // Price of Hatred. Nationalism in Russia and efforts to counteract racist crime. М.: SOVA Center, 2005. p. 92-110 (see in English: http://xeno.sova-center.ru/6BA2468/6BB4208/6CDCAE5).

[9] Lev Levinson. On Counteracting Terrorism: a law adopted by a directive. // Human Rights in Russia. 2006. 10 March (http://www.hro.org/docs/expert/2006/03/levinson.php).

[10] Hereafter the details of specific criminal proceedings are based on data provided by these two organizations. See in particular, the report: The fabrication of criminal charges of :Islamic extremism;. The campaign goes on // Memorial, 2006. October (http://www.memo.ru/2006/12/18/rus1.htm).

[11] See details in: Galina Kozhevnikova. Hate Speech after Kondopoga // Hate Speech against the Society. Moscow: SOVA Center, 2007. The book should be out of print by June 2007.