Alexander Verkhovsky, Olga Sibireva. Restrictions and Challenges in 2008 on Freedom of Conscience in Russia



Key Issues for the Freedom of Conscience in Russia : Legislation on religious organizations : Difficulties with regard to places of worship : State patronage of certain religious organizations : Other examples of discrimination and unreasonable interference : The situation in the army and the penitentiary system : Religion and secular education : Insufficient protection from defamation and attacks

The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis presents its third annual report on freedom of conscience in the Russian Federation. [1]

Events that occurred prior to 2008 were presented in the previous report; [2] this report therefore only contains further updates of earlier developments. This report does not attempt to describe in detail the past year's developments in the public religious sphere; specific events mentioned here only serve to illustrate the trends observed.

Issues and stories which we believe to be related to misuse of anti-extremist legislation are presented in a separate dedicated report. [3] In 2008, many incidents of actual or attempted excessive anti-extremist enforcement were freedom of conscience cases, and these are described in a dedicated chapter of the report on "excessive anti-extremism'; to avoid duplication of content they are not described here.


There were no significant changes in 2008 as compared to the previous year. As before, problems faced by religious groups were reported country-wide and ranged from being denied a space for their activities to dealing with local authorities in general. As previously, "unpopular' religious minorities came under pressure from larger religious organizations (sometimes of the same religion), the mass media and government. As previously, faith groups and individual believers are vulnerable to religious xenophobia. On the other hand, the fight against "religious extremism' is used as a pretext to suppress human rights - in particular, to limit freedom of conscience (the latter trend is on the rise, see our report on excessive anti-extremism for details).

It is difficult to say whether the overall situation has changed for better or for worse for religious groups, but one negative trend deserves a mention: attacks against religious buildings tend to involve more dangerous methods than before - in addition to increased arson attacks, explosives were used in some cases.

In 2007, local authorities began to put pressure on religious educational facilities, such as Sunday schools, which were unlawfully required to obtain a license for educational activities. In 2008 this trend appeared to be successfully stopped in the Smolensk Methodist Church case - the local authorities had gone too far by liquidating the church, and the latter won the case in court.

In some ways the government made certain concessions to religious organizations in general by providing for the integration of religious educational establishments in the country's educational system, while in other ways religious denominations were stripped of their former privileges, such as deferral (in effect, exemption) from military duty for priests. None of the radical proposals to limit freedom of conscience - whether by criminalization of blasphemy or by excessive scrutiny of religious instruction - were approved at federal level.

State support of religion is not a new phenomenon in today's Russia. In terms of support, priority has always been given to the Russian Orthodox Church (henceforth, ROC), even though some regions have witnessed a growing role for Islam. However, in general, the Russian state has been and remains secular, albeit with some reservations.

The situation has been stable recently. Specifically, we have not seen any notable penetration of religion into general schools. However, in spite of the ROC's failure to meet its key objectives in the area of education, there was evidence of increased pressure against secularity in 2008. Firstly, there has been a growing tendency towards prosecution for blasphemy under the umbrella of extremism. Secondly, the regime in Chechnia has demonstratively been established as non-secular. Thirdly, we see churches prevailing over other types of organizations whenever their interests clash, evidencing increased overall support of the former by the authorities.


Legislation on religious organizations

In February, the State Duma adopted amendments to the Law on Education and the Federal Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations on the third reading (the first reading dates back to 2007); the amendments dealing with licenses and accreditation of religious educational establishments were then approved by the Federation Council and signed into law by President Putin. The amendments (discussed in detail in our previous report) allow religious educational establishments to offer training in line with official educational standards, so that their graduates may obtain state-recognized degrees (except that the document [diploma] certifying their degree does not have the Russian national symbol printed on it).

Also in February, a Presidential Decree repealed deferrals from military duty for priests (alongside other categories of citizens). The law caused protests in the Russian Orthodox Church. In March, members of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly appealed to the President asking to restore deferrals for priests, but the Decree remained in force.

In April, the Duma rejected yet another proposal to switch to the Julian calendar used by the ROC. MPs found that the proposal was based on religious preferences, in contravention of the Russian Constitution which forbids any faith to be declared the official religion of the state. Of course, the proposal had no chance of being accepted, but the reasons given for its rejection are important since they reaffirm the secular nature of the Russian state.

The Duma also rejected legislative proposals made by Alexander Chuev (A Just Russia party, Spravedlivaia Rossiia) to toughen liability for criminal offenses against priests and to criminalize the desecration of religious symbols.

On 4 July, the Duma adopted and the Federation Council approved amendments to certain federal laws intended "to improve the functioning of the Russian Government', subsequently signed into law by President Medvedev on 23 July. Among other legislation, the amendments concerned the Federal Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, mainly changing the procedure of theological expert review at regional level. [4]

For years, various authorities have been considering ways to regulate alternative health practitioners. In April, the State Duma Committee on economic policies and entrepreneurship recommended that the Duma adopt at the first reading a bill proposed in 2007 which amends articles 7, 24, and 38 of the Federal Law on Advertising to restrict the advertisement of magicians, healers and sorcerers. But the bill was never considered by the Federal Duma, nor was its counterpart considered by the Moscow City Duma.

A bill to amend the Law on Combating Extremist Activity was introduced in the State Duma, but then promptly withdrawn. The bill, in particular, would provide for increased scrutiny of religious instruction.

Russian regions adopted new legislation to regulate the transfer of real estate to religious groups. Specifically, Tatarstan adopted a law on the gratis transfer of religious buildings and installations, together with land plots under them, to religious organizations. In St. Petersburg, amendments to the 2007 legislation were launched in May to allow for the transfer of integrated chapels and prayer rooms in municipally-owned buildings to religious organizations.

Difficulties with regard to places of worship

In 2008, religious organizations continued to face various difficulties in connection with the construction and use of religious buildings; such difficulties affected Orthodox Christians from various jurisdictions, Muslims, and Protestants.

Problems with the construction of religious buildings. In Moscow region, addressing the first Moscow Region Assembly of Peoples on 23 May, Vice Governor Aleksei Panteleev said that local authorities in 12 municipalities had denied Orthodox communities' requests to build churches and chapels in cemeteries. The official promised the assembly that he would sort this problem out.

In Moscow, the construction of a temple for the Krishna Consciousness Society has not yet started; this construction has been at the center of a conflict since 2005. Even though the decision to allocate a land plot in Molzhaninovo to Krishna worshippers was made in 2007, local residents - supported by Orthodox Christian activists and the Locals (Mestnye) youth movement - continue to protest the construction.

In November, spokesmen of the Russian Orthodox Church voiced concerns about the Moscow Government's ban on infill development. They were concerned that the construction of numerous churches would not be permitted under the new rules.

Problems encountered by active houses of worship. In May, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko announced her intention to terminate a contract with the Lutheran community and to transfer their Cathedral of St Anne to the city's balance sheet. Under the terms of this contract, the building had been returned to the Lutherans on condition that they renovate it at their own cost, which they had failed to do.

A lease contract with the Jewish community in Samara was terminated for the same reason (the judgment was finalized in January 2009).

A court in Vladimir banned a Baptist community from legalizing as its property the land plot under and around the prayer house.

In a number of cases reported in 2008, active places of worship were transferred to other owners, who in most cases represented the Russian Orthodox Church.

In April 2008, a church of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC) in the village of Desiatukha, Starodubskii district of Briansk region, was handed over by bureaucrats to the Moscow Patriarchate.

In February, the Court of Arbitration in Vladimir region instituted proceedings into 12 claims filed by the territorial Office of Public Property (Rosimushchestvo) against the Suzdal Eparchy of the ROAC. Rosimushchestvo demanded that the ROAC return part of its property to the state, including certain federally-protected monuments of history and culture in Suzdal and some districts of Vladimir region formerly made available to the ROAC free of charge. Preliminary court hearings lasted for a year, and in February 2009 the court gave 13 churches back to the state, including the Tsar Constantine (Tsarekonstantinovskii) Cathedral in Suzdal, the main cathedral of the ROAC.

In July, the Lipetsk region Court of Arbitration opened proceedings against the local authorities following a complaint by the ROC Lipetsk Eparchy which was seeking to repossess a formerly Orthodox church building now occupied by a Baptist community. The Baptists had been using the church since late 1980s, but on 19 April 2007 the regional government handed the building over to the Orthodox Eparchy. The Baptists agreed to leave the renovated building on condition that they were provided with an alternative place of worship, but since none of the options offered by the city authorities proved satisfactory, they did not vacate the building.

In November, representatives of the ROC approached the Old Believers' community of the Church of the Sign of the Most Holy Mother of God (vo imia Znameniia Presviatoi Bogoroditsy) in the village of Aleshino, Moscow region, with documents signed by the regional Ministry of Culture certifying that the Old Believers' church had been transferred to the ROC. The reason appears to be the Old Believers' failure to legalize a protection contract for the church building (listed as part of the nation's cultural heritage) before a certain deadline established by the Ministry.

Positive resolution of conflicts involving houses of worship. A few earlier conflicts around the construction of mosques in various regions were finally settled in 2008. The Muslim community in Kaluga was able to complete the construction of a mosque, while the authorities in Kaliningrad and Kostomuksha allocated land plots to local Muslim communities for the construction of mosques.

The decision to demolish a mosque in Tiumen (the village of Matmasy) was quashed, but new complications emerged due to a conflict between two Muslim communities competing for the use of this mosque.

Adventists in Novosibirsk affirmed their ownership of a house of prayer and the residential accommodation attached to it, winning their dispute with the city administration which began in 2005.

State patronage of certain religious organizations

As previously, it was common practice for the government to finance religious organizations from federal and regional budgets, often to support renovation and restoration of religious buildings. The governments of Moscow, Moscow region, Belgorod, Volgograd, Novgorod and Tver regions, and Tatarstan provided funds for this purpose in 2008. Most frequently the Russian Orthodox Church was the beneficiary, but Muslim, Catholic and Protestant buildings were also financed. Many of the beneficiaries were cultural heritage sites in need of renovation, and their support by government did not arouse any criticism.

There were reports of regional administrations encouraging local businesses and the public to donate to the construction of churches. For example, the government of Krasnodar region launched a program to support construction firms and other businesses involved in the construction, reconstruction and renovation of Orthodox churches. Heads of services in the Mayor's Administration in Kursk announced that they had each donated a day's salary for the reconstruction of the Church in the Korennaia Pustyn Monastery, and appealed to the public to do the same.

There were several reports of government-controlled companies financing the construction of churches. The size of donations was notable: in October, Rosneft contributed 60 million rubles for the construction of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary Church in the Korennaia Pustyn Monastery in Kursk. In November, Gorkovskii Railway donated 300 million rubles for the renovation of a few parish buildings and the Church of the Feast Commemorating the Restoration of the Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Khram Voskreseniia Slovushchego) in Nizhnii Novgorod region.

The donation of substantial land plots to religious organizations for use free of charge continued. The Tatarstan Ministry of Land and Property Relations allocated 25 hectares of land to the Sedmiezernaia Bogoroditskaia Pustyn (Mother of God of the Seven Lakes Hermitage) monastery.

More often, real estate was transferred to various religious organizations (as property or for gratis use), in most cases to the ROC. In June, the ROC Bishop's Council urged for an "early and rightful return of its property to the Church, primarily the churches and sacred objects, and those buildings and land plots which are needed for the restoration of charitable, social, educational, awareness-raising, research and cultural activities of the Russian Orthodox Church.' Eparchies increasingly insist on having church property back. For example, the Bishop of Perm and Solikamsk Irinarkh (Grezin) insists that all property owned by the eparchy before 1917 should be returned to it.

Yet the costs of maintaining church buildings are high, and in some cases, rather than transfer religious buildings to faith organizations, authorities do the opposite. Thus, the administration of Omsk region appropriated the Dormition (Uspenskii) Cathedral, and the building is now managed by the regional Ministry of Culture.

The authorities' position often makes one think of arbitrary restitution. Property transfers include federal and regional cultural monuments (e.g. in June nine religious sites, which are regional monuments of history and culture, were transferred to the Cheboksary Eparchy), as well as buildings which are not intended for religious use and property which has never before belonged to the Church.

Even though in most cases such transfers are peaceful and sensitive to the needs of former owners or occupants (e.g. local authorities in Tver financed the construction of a new building for the local museum as the church formerly occupied by the museum was handed over to the Eparchy), quite often the transfer of buildings has caused conflicts. Some of these are described below.

The dispute over the Ryazan Kremlin Complex continues. All religious sites in its territory were handed over to the Eparchy before, except the Dormition Cathedral used jointly by the museum and the Church. In 2008, the cathedral was fully transferred to the Eparchy, together with the western part of Oleg's Palace. The museum was not offered any other space for relocation (the museum was required to vacate 500 square meters by 1 January 2009, even though no space is available to relocate the exhibits; at the time of writing, the museum has dismantled the displays) and was barred access to its main display, From Rus' to Russia. Throughout the year, numerous public protests were held in Ryazan and in Moscow. The Public Committee in Defense of the Ryazan Kremlin, having lost its attempts to challenge the decision in the Ryazan courts, filed an application with European Court of Human Rights alleging denial of effective remedy.

Yet another museum faces eviction by the Eparchy in Yaroslavl. In January, the Eparchy launched court proceedings against the Uglich State Museum of History, Architecture and Art, seeking to evict the museum from the building of Transfiguration of the Savior (Spaso-Preobrazhenskii) Cathedral. The Eparchy is also claiming the museum's collection of icons with the promise of "responsible storage'.

The Valaam Monastery continued to pressure the remaining local residents to leave the island, without offering them adequate compensation. In August, court bailiffs evicted local resident Fillip Muskevich and his family from the refectory of the Resurrection or Red (Voskresenskii or Krasnyi) Skete, after the Sortavalskii District Court handed the rooms over to the monastery. Mr. Muskevich protested against the eviction and informed the court that his family had no other place to live, but the court dismissed the protest. The islander intends to pursue his complaint in the European Court of Human Rights, and the Court has already accepted his application.

A few major conflicts occurred in Moscow. In April, court bailiffs interrupted classes at the Department of History, Political Science and Law of the Russian State Humanitarian University (RSHU) at 7-9 Nikolskaia Street and ordered students and teaching staff to leave the building. They did so to enforce the Moscow authorities' decision, dating back to 2004, to hand over part of the university's rooms to the Our Savior behind the Icons (Zaikonospasskii) Monastery. Following the incident, the Federal Agency for Federal Property Management (Rosimushchestvo) challenged the Moscow City Department of Property Management in the Moscow Court of Arbitration, arguing that the decision to evict the RSHU was unlawful. In June, Moscow City Government came up with a plan for the renovation and development of the Our Savior behind the Icons and St. Nicholas Greek (Nikolo-Grecheskii) Monasteries, involving the transfer of properties at No 15, as well as Nos 7-9 in Nikolskaia Street, also occupied by the RSHU, to the Russian Orthodox Church. In August, before any ruling by the Court of Arbitration, bailiffs evicted the Department of History, Political Science and Law from their classrooms.

In January, a portion of the Taganskii Park in Moscow was handed over to the Intercession (Pokrovskii) Convent, its original owner before 1917. Sergei Baidakov, prefect of the Central Administrative District of the city, insisted that the transfer would not interfere with local residents' rights in any way, but the community protested against the authorities' decision. Moscow City Duma member Sergei Mitrokhin supported the local residents and argued that the transfer of park land contravened the Land Code.

Moscow City Government handed over the building of a French School, a source of conflict since the mid-90s, to the Presentation of Our Lord (Sretenskii) Monastery. The Moscow Government has decided to relocate the school to another building in the center of Moscow, and Mayor Luzhkov intends to build a bell tower in its place.

Objects of worship formerly exhibited by museums have been handed over to religious organizations (mainly to the ROC). Sometimes, as was the case with holy relics in precious shrines handed over to the ROC from the Moscow Kremlin Museum, such relics did not belong to the religious organization to begin with. In 2008, following a decision of Governor Petr Sumin, the Cheliabinsk region Museum of Local History handed over a shrine containing the holy relics of the Apostle Andrew, part of the Museum's collection since 1929, to the Cheliabinsk Eparchy. The Integrated Open-air Museum in Moscow (comprising Kolomenskoe, Izmailovo, Lefortovo and Liublino) donated its icons, books and clerical robes to the Nikolo-Ugreshskii Monastery. The Nizhnii Novgorod History Museum agreed to make available the Oran Mother of God of Vladimir icon to the Nizhnii Novgorod Eparchy for three years. The Eparchy, in return, agreed to meet Rosokhrankultura's heritage preservation requirements.

It was reported in November that Andrei Rublev's Trinity icon might be transferred from the Tretiakov Gallery to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra for three days, as part of celebrations for a feast day. Earlier, in September, a relevant agreement was reached at a meeting between Patriarch Aleksii II and the Minister of Culture, Alexander Avdeev. According to a staff member who made the negotiations public, even though the Ministry of Culture did not issue any instructions to this effect, and the Gallery's extended meeting of restoration and conservation experts warned against moving the ancient icon, the top management of the Tretiakov Gallery was prepared to make the icon available to the Lavra, and had even ordered a safe box for its transportation. The story had broad public resonance. The community of art critics and experts appealed to D. Medvedev and V. Putin, urging them to save the icon - an important part of Russia's heritage. Some experts are convinced that Patriarch Aleksii's request to allow the icon to be transported to the Lavra for three days was a test to see whether it would be possible to move the Trinity around in the future.

We should also mention other forms of government support for religious organizations.

According to the Presidential Administration, the funding made available for Islamic education doubled from 400 to 800 million rubles in 2008. The Administration is also involved in the distribution of private funding: its Advisor Aleksei Grishin sits on the Board of the Foundation for the Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education.

In turn, the Russian Orthodox Church demanded the same type of preferential treatment. In June, the ROC Bishops' Council argued not only that public funding should be available to support the teaching of courses in mainstream schools run by the Orthodox Church, as long as such courses meet government-established standards, but also that Orthodox theological schools should be financed from the public budget "like the theological education of some other religious communities'. At the moment, however, only Islamic education is supported by the government, clearly in an attempt to prevent radical Islamism, whereas other religions do not raise this type of concern. According to A. Grishin, the economic meltdown may cause cuts in the funding of any program supported by the aforementioned Foundation, except for religious education.

The support given to dominant religions is not only material. The authorities continue to allocate religious holidays official status. Thus, certain regions with a substantial Muslim population - such as the Republics of the North Caucasus, Bashkortostan, Tatarstan and Stavropol region - declared official holidays on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Radonitsa (an Orthodox Christian festival commemorating the dead) was declared a holiday in Kemerovo, Volgograd and Smolensk regions, and Buddha's birthday is a day off in Kalmykia.

In Chechnia, the sale of alcohol was banned during Ramadan, in accordance with Muslim morals. Introduced by President Ramzan Kadyrov some time ago, certain rules observed in Chechnia are clearly inconsistent with the secularity of the state - for example, a prohibition on women entering a government building without headscarves. Vladimir Ustinov, the Plenipotentiary Representative of the Russian President in the Southern Federal District, effectively supports Kadyrov's policies; he has urged federal servicemen and police stationed in Chechnia "to ask the mufti of Chechnia and the Orthodox Christian church official for blessing, to cooperate closely with them, and to seek their advice'.

In September, civil servants in many Russian regions were forced to attend funeral services to mark 40 days of war in South Ossetia; related complaints came from Volgograd, Ivanovo, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Saransk, Saratov, and Tomsk.

Other examples of discrimination and unreasonable interference

Liquidation of religious organizations. In 2008, the authorities continued their scrutiny of religious organizations and closed many of them for missing the reporting deadlines. However, this Federal Registration Service (FRS) activity did not target religious organizations specifically, but affected the entire non-profit sector over the past two years.

In fact religious organizations do not have to comply with particularly tough reporting requirements, unlike many other NGOs. But the mere fact of closer supervision and scrutiny is a problem for many religious groups. To prevent massive closures of religious organizations, the FRS held a seminar with representatives of centralized religious organizations to educate them about compliance with the relevant regulations.

In October, the Russian Ministry of Justice (which took over FRS functions) made public its intention to liquidate 56 religious organizations, including Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist groups for "failure to submit the required information and documents to the Ministry of Justice after an extended period of time'. Some of these groups, though very few, were not active at the time, but most organizations promptly filed the required reports, and by late November only 19 groups remained on the list, facing liquidation.

In fact the tactics used by the Ministry of Justice were met with approval from certain religious organizations. The leaders of the three centralized Muslim authorities, for example, made statements in support of the Ministry of Justice policies, observing that these policies may prove helpful in filtering out certain Muslim centers which are not particularly active or needed. Some others, however, perceived the Ministry's warning as an attempt to intimidate religious organizations. For the Ministry it was probably a preventative action.

We do not have complete data on the number of active religious organizations closed for missing their reporting deadlines, i.e. unlawfully, since this minor violation should not warrant liquidation. Here are just a few examples known to us.

In Staryi Oskol, Belgorod region, a Methodist group was closed for failing to submit its annual report. The court ordered the community's liquidation in March, and in May a Methodist prayer meeting in a private home was interrupted by FSB agents who broke in saying that the Methodist community was "an alien body for the city and agents of American interests'.

As well as the Ministry of Justice, the tax authorities have caused problems for religious organizations. By law, a legal entity may be liquidated for failing to submit its annual balance sheet and/or for not using its bank account. This provision - adopted to discourage fly-by-night companies - may be enforced against non-profits, including religious organizations, even though many such groups make very few financial transactions and their bank accounts may be inactive for a year or so, plus they do not have a staff accountant and often forget to file the so-called "zero balance sheet' with the tax authorities. We do not know how many organizations which were still in existence, albeit not very active, had their registration revoked; in 2007 there were hundreds of them, and there is no reason to believe that the situation improved in 2008. Two Baptist groups in Lipetsk, for example, had their registration revoked for missing the tax filing deadline (one of them, which is occupying the contested ROC church building, subsequently challenged the decision in court and won).

As previously, some religious organizations faced pressure to obtain proper licenses to deliver education. However, in many cases they could arguably - and in some cases definitely - operate without such a license. A license is required by law for general education and for the training of priests, whereas giving instruction in one's own faith is a fundamental right of a religious organization and does not require a license. What sort of education is being delivered should therefore be determined in each case. However, most local authorities do not bother to examine the circumstances of each case and are guided in their decisions by the titles of educational courses or institutions (which may describe themselves, for example, as "colleges').

In March, the United Methodist Church in Smolensk was liquidated by the court at the request of the local prosecutor's office, on the grounds that its "Our Little Hearts' Sunday school was not a separate legal entity and did not have a license to teach. The liquidation request was preceded by a statement of Bishop Ignatii (Punin) of the ROC Eparchy in Smolensk, accusing the Methodists of inciting religious hatred. In June, the liquidation ruling was quashed by the Russian Supreme Court.

The Biblical Center of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) in the Republic of Chuvashia, liquidated in 2007 for operating without a license to deliver education, filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights in May challenging the legality of the liquidation.

Apparently, the cases in Chuvashia and Smolensk caused the authorities to change their policy. In August, the prosecutor's office of Industrialnyi District in Izhevsk instituted administrative proceedings under article 19.20, part 1, of the Administrative Code against pastor Vitalii Khaidukov of the Act of Faith Evangelical Christian Church, for setting up a Sunday school for children and youngsters and a Bible instruction course for those wishing to be baptized. But the Magistrate Court of Industrialnyi District failed to find an administrative offense and dropped the case before the end of the month.

In December, Solntsevskii Court in Moscow refused to liquidate Emmanuel, a Pentecostal Seminary, for operating without a license to teach (the same reason that led to Emmanuel's inclusion by the Ministry of Justice in the above-mentioned list of organizations to be liquidated). By this landmark ruling the judge challenged the stated position of the Ministry of Justice; moreover, the Moscow judge indirectly challenged the Moscow government, since the reason the Seminary was denied a license was its lack of a permanent office, which, in turn, was due to its longstanding conflict with the Moscow authorities (one may recall a series of rallies organized by Emmanuel to protest against the Moscow Mayor's policy).

In June, the prosecutor's office in Kirovskii District of Samara requested that the court liquidate Light of the World, a Pentecostal organization. An inspection determined that the organization was training students of the Awakening (Probuzhdenie) Institute without a proper license for educational activity. In January 2009, the court rejected the prosecutor's request because there was insufficient evidence to prove that the Awakening Institute is affiliated with the Light of the World Church.

The situation as regards Scientologists deserves a separate mention. A court in Samara satisfied the regional prosecutor's request to liquidate the Center of Dianetics; the Court held that the organization had offered medical services - i.e. their auditing procedures - for three years without a proper license. The regional prosecutor in Novosibirsk requested that the court liquidate Kriminon-Novosibirsk, a rehabilitation center for former prisoners. The prosecutor held that the center operated as an education provider without a proper license. In both cases the prosecutors emphasized the potential dangers of Ron Hubbard's teachings, central to both organizations' activities.

We are aware of at least three cases where organizations successfully challenged their closure and resumed their operations. In addition to the above-mentioned Smolensk Methodists and Lipetsk Baptists, they included a Muslim community in Voronezh which had its registration revoked a few years ago.

The Ministry of Justice dropped its claims against the Russian Biblical Society (RBS). A review into the Society's operation conducted in September failed to find any characteristics of a religious organization or any documentary or factual evidence of religious instruction or indoctrination. The Ministry of Justice admitted it had made a mistake in December.

Discrimination against "non-traditional' religious organizations. Protestants and new religious movements continue to face consistent discrimination. The fact that these faith groups are not mentioned in the Preamble to the Federal Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations is seen by many bureaucrats as an indication of their illegitimacy and a reason to harass them.

Throughout the year, "anti-sectarian' centers and councils were set up in a number of regions with the purpose of protecting the public from the "negative influence' of "non-traditional' religious organizations. Membership of such councils is not limited to psychologists, health professionals, educators, lawyers and priests of "traditional' religions, but also includes law enforcement agents. Such centers have been set up in St. Petersburg, Adygeia and Chuvashia; in the latter two cases these councils operate under the auspices of the local Interior Ministries.

Local and regional authorities support "anti-sectarian' conferences; for example, in Ryazan one such conference was co-sponsored by the city administration and Ryazan State University. The authorities in Ulianovsk region launched a project titled "Beware: Sects!' including seminars and conferences for local teachers. The government of Penza region announced that it would take tougher measures to fight "sects'.

The Ministry of Education in Bashkortostan sent out letters to various regional officials and education authorities urging them to educate the public about the danger of "foreign religious organizations of a destructive nature'.

Efforts by certain pro-Kremlin youth groups - whose activities are believed to be officially endorsed - to build a negative image of new religious movements have also been observed. In March, for example, Young Russia (Rossiia Molodaia), together with teachers and students of the Bauman Technical University in Moscow, staged a protest against a Scientologist office in their neighborhood. Soon afterwards the management of the Tractor Equipment Plant which had let office space to the Scientologists terminated their lease contract. United Russia's Young Guard (Molodaia gvardiia) in Cheliabinsk has been devising a system to fight new religious movements together with members of "traditional' religions and the police. A practical action undertaken by Young Guard members was the picket against the use of a former kindergarten building by Jehovah's Witnesses. The Government of Mordovia was forced by the Nashi ("Ours') movement to postpone a scheduled conference of Baptists for a few months. Nashi's Orthodox corps joined the police to break up a Baptist march in Briansk region.

However, the pressure is not limited to "anti-sectarian' propaganda. In February, police and prosecutors in Kirovskii District of St. Petersburg searched the local branch of the Church of Scientology and confiscated two boxes of records of members' confessions (auditing sessions).

In August, Baptists faced difficulties organizing a nationwide congress outside Moscow. The Istrinskii District head of administration tried to stop the event by pressuring Mosenergo (Moscow Power Utility) and the management of Rucheek recreation facility for children - the congress venue - into denying their services to the congress. The congress was eventually held, even though the power supply to the venue had been cut off. The head of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Iurii Sipko, filed a complaint with the Office of the Prosecutor General requesting that the head of Istrinskii District administration be prosecuted under article 148 of the Criminal Code (interference in the freedom of conscience and religion).

Incidents of unreasonable interference in the affairs of non-registered Baptist groups were reported in Norilsk, in Kurgan and Orel regions. The authorities banned their prayer sessions, and a local TV channel in Kurgan region broadcast a report intended to discredit the Baptist community.

In September, the prosecutor's office in Ufa banned the lease of a horserace track and a sports center to a Jehovah's Witness congregation.

Local residents in Tomsk region perceived the construction of a Krishna followers' housekeeping facility as a would-be ashram, and wrote to various authorities asking them to prevent "adepts of a totalitarian sect' from invading their village. In December, the regional office of Rosselkhoznadzor (Agricultural Supervisory Agency) found that the construction was against the law.

Fewer meetings of Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) followers were prevented by police in 2008 than in 2007, but the authorities are still relentless in suppressing this group's freedom of assembly. Moreover, even though in January Nikulinskii District Court in Moscow found that a Falun Dafa picket was suppressed unlawfully in 2007, police again broke up their pickets in Moscow in January and in April 2008.

Religious minorities are not always overpowered by "anti-sectarian' discrimination however. For example, the Orthodox Eparchy in Murmansk expressed its discontent at the construction of a building for Pentecostals, followed by a letter from a group of local residents to the city administration asking that the construction of a "cult building for the neo-Pentecostals sect' be prohibited. The City Committee for Territorial Planning and Development nevertheless refused to ban the construction.

The Murmansk Eparchy then appealed to the prosecutor's office with the unusual request to review whether it was legal for the Pentecostals to construct a "cult building' without prior public consultation. In response, the Pentecostals complained to the prosecutor's office in December about libelous information on their church disseminated by certain Orthodox citizens. [5] The conflict around the construction continues.

The situation of foreign clergy. The situation of foreign priests deserves a separate mention.

In February, the Russian authorities detained Ukrainian Protestant priest Alexander Dziuba of the Triumphant Zion Church upon his arrival in Sheremetevo-1 Airport and sent him back to Kiev. An officer at the Russian border explained to the priest that his presence on Russian territory was undesirable.

Foreign clergy continued to face entry visa problems. In April, Buddhists in Kalmykia once again asked the Russian Foreign Ministry to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, but the Ministry refused.

In January, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Russia requested visa assistance from the Russian authorities. According to the Conference Secretary, Father Igor Kovalevskii, as of April the Catholic Church was soliciting residence permits for 200 priests, or 90% of its clergy in Russia.

Other incidents of discrimination and unwarranted interference. Bureaucrats sometimes show personal preferences for certain entities within "traditional' religions over others. In most cases this concerns Muslims.

The local administration in Kemerovo region appointed Takhir Davletkulov to serve as imam in a local mosque, against the will of local Muslims who had elected Pavel Bagomanov to the position. The community using the mosque falls under the jurisdiction of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Asian Russia (Dukhovnoe upravlenie musulman aziatskoi chasti Rossii, DUMAChR). The regional administration, however, favors the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims (Tsentralnoe dukhovnoe upravlenie musul'man, TsDUM) where the appointed imam comes from. The community understandably protested against the interference in its religious affairs and appealed to the regional Governor Aman Tuleev (and in January 2009, to V. Putin).

The Mayor of Chebarkul, Cheliabinsk region, demanded that the local Muslims leave the DUMAChR and join the TsDUM instead, in return for legalizing a recently built mosque by assigning it a street address. The mayor eventually agreed to assign a street address to the mosque anyway, even though the Muslim community refused to switch to the TsDUM.

In Dagestan, Islamic arbitral tribunals were banned. The prosecutor's office prohibited the Chairman of the Mosque Council in the city of Dagestanskie Ogni from setting up such tribunals, and the order applies elsewhere in Dagestan. However, Russian civil law allows private arbitral tribunals, though the relevant practice has not evolved yet.

There have been a few reports of unfounded interference in the ROC's operation as well. St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko, while inspecting the sites of renovation projects in the city's cultural and historical monuments, demanded that the Trinity (Troitskii) Cathedral reschedule church services. "Worship services must be adjusted to accommodate the renovation work, rather than vice versa' she said, and threatened to close the church for a few months if it did not comply.

We are aware of only a few episodes of discrimination against individuals based on their religion. In June, Olga Rybakova, director of a recreation camp for youth, was fired for being a Baptist. The Deputy Governor of Magadan region and the Deputy Mayor of Magadan both opposed having a Baptist fill this position.

In April, the Union of Muslim Women of Tatarstan reported increasing denials of employment to women wearing a Muslim headscarf. In many offices, the security staff would not allow any woman wearing a headscarf onto the premises. The Minister of Labor, Employment and Social Security of Tatarstan Ayrat Shafigullin admitted that this practice was unlawful. A similar incident was reported in a hospital in Makhachkala, where the chief doctor banned a female staff member from wearing a hijab in the workplace. [6]

The situation in the army and the penitentiary system

No legal provisions have been adopted to regulate the presence of religious workers in the army, and no changes have occurred in this sphere since the previous year. At the regional level, uniformed services continued to sign agreements with Orthodox and Muslim organizations.

In May, Deputy Minister of Defense Nikolai Pankov admitted that the Russian army was not yet ready for the position of a cleric in the army units. Whether or not a military unit gives religious workers access to their adherents in the military depends primarily on the attitudes of superior officers and on the activity of religious organizations. In most cases, ROC clergy predominate among religious workers given access to the army. As previously, Protestants and representatives of new religious movements cannot gain access to military units. According to the Chief Office for Educational Work in the Armed Forces, as of April 2008 approximately 2000 Orthodox priests visited army units as volunteers, of them 950 did so consistently over a long period.

We are aware of just one incident of religious conflict in the army. Muslim servicemen of an Air Force unit stationed in Svetlyi, Omsk region, voiced their discontent over being forced to attend Orthodox services and being sprinkled with holy water without their consent.

A proposal made by Deputy Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department of External Church Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin to set up voluntary Orthodox public order detachments to patrol streets had broad public resonance. Opponents of the initiative included human rights advocates, members of other religious denominations, and a number of NGOs. Their concern is that setting up such voluntary law enforcement detachments (albeit unarmed) based on religious affiliation may trigger an outbreak of faith-based conflicts. Many oppose the delegation of law enforcement functions to voluntary groups as unacceptable, particularly given that proponents of Orthodox detachments demand excessive powers for them, such as the right to perform ID checks.

Ministry of the Interior officials did not approve of the proposal, but agreed to give it due consideration. No steps have been taken to implement the initiative. Without an official endorsement, a few Orthodox detachments were set up in Moscow anyway and intermittently patrolled streets. They did not coordinate their activity with the authorities responsible for voluntary public order detachments. We are aware of similar groups in other regions as well.

The situation in the penitentiary system has not changed substantially since the previous year. Prisoners in most penitentiary institutions are allowed to form religious communities, to attend services, to consult with clergy and to possess religious literature. According to the press office of the Federal Penitentiary Service, as of February 2008, a total of 436 religious facilities were established in prisons, including 403 Orthodox churches, three Catholic churches, 23 mosques, and seven Buddhist dugans. These figures do not include the 741 prayer rooms - 517 Orthodox, 87 Muslim, 7 Buddhist and 1 Jewish - available in penal institutions.

However, as in 2007, incidents of discrimination against Muslim prisoners were reported. Several complaints concerning discrimination against Muslims by administrations of prison colonies came from Kemerovo, Murmansk and Omsk regions, and from Kabardino-Balkaria. Prisoners in the colony of Murmashi, Murmansk region, filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights complaining that they suffered ill-treatment and torture for their adherence to Islam. Prisoners Evgenii Timoshin and Viktor Spitsin, both ethnic Russians, were beaten and called "Christ-betrayers' by prison guards for having adopted Islam. Prisoners in Omsk region were subjected to ill-treatment for having performed namaz, and one of them was later found hanged. There have been reports from prisoners who complain about not being allowed to possess Muslim literature, to perform religious rituals or to consult with imams.

Religion and secular education

In 2008, controversy continued over the teaching of the Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture (FOC) in schools. Advocates and opponents of the FOC school course continued their advocacy through open letters, protests, and appeals to the public and to various authorities, even though they were less active than in 2007. Neither party has gained a significant advantage however.

The decision adopted in 2007 to terminate the regional component of school curricula - and the teaching of FOC has usually been a part of the regional component - combined with a lack of noticeable impact of the course, caused the geographic expansion of FOC courses to slow down in 2008. However, even in 2008 optional lessons in FOC were introduced in almost 200 schools in Rostov region, while in Voronezh region the number of classes teaching "spiritual and moral disciplines' more than doubled in the 2007/2008 academic year.

We are not aware of statistics specifically relating to the teaching of FOC. However, the Ministry of Education and Science monitors various courses related to religion and religious culture taught in schools in 79 Russian regions, and its findings suggest that such courses are particularly widespread in the Central and Southern Federal Districts, where they are taught to thousands of students in hundreds of schools. Regions with the largest number of such courses include Kemerovo, Moscow, Voronezh and Smolensk regions and Krasnodar region, where the number of students attending such classes may be as high as ten thousand. Of particular note are Belgorod region (where the FOC was once part of the compulsory curriculum) with more than 140 thousand students taking religious courses, Chechnia (93 thousand) and Ingushetia (34 thousand), where the religious disciplines taught in schools focus on Islam.

In 17 regions the number of students taught religious subjects is between one thousand and ten thousand. Less than one thousand school students are taught religious disciplines in each of the 35 other regions (these are usually taught in a few dozen general schools or in a couple of Orthodox private schools). In 19 regions no disciplines relating to religion or religious culture are taught in schools.

Courses on Orthodox Christianity predominate; according to the 2006/2007 school year data, they were taught to more than 70% of students taking any course relating to religion, mainly in the Central and North Western Federal Districts (but not limited to them). Courses in the history of religion, religion as part of the local culture, and other more or less neutral courses were taught to approximately 30%, mainly in the Urals, Siberia and the Far East. Courses focused on Islam were taught to only about 0.2 % of students (Buddhism and Judaism together - to around 0.1 %). According to recent data available from Chechnia and Ingushetia, the proportion of courses relating to Islam has grown many times since then.

Violations relating to the teaching of religious disciplines appear to be fewer than in previous years. We are aware of several conflicts successfully settled through legal proceedings. Muslims in the village of Zasechnoe, Penza District, successfully challenged the compulsory teaching of FOC in local schools. Pilot courses to test a FOC curriculum were launched there without the consent of parents. Since the regional Ministry of Education found the compulsory course to be a violation, the course was declared optional, but Muslim children were forced to take it anyway. The chairman of the Penza region Muslim Spiritual Authority Abbas Bibarsov complained to the prosecutor's office, which repealed the order of the Penza region Chief of Educational Department "On launching a pilot project to test the Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture course in general schools' as inconsistent with Russian law.

In the course of her lecture to future teachers of FOC in April 2008, assistant professor Svetlana Shestakova of the Social Work Department, Institute of Humanities, Tiumen State University of Oil and Gas, made offensive remarks in regard to Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. Since Shestakova is also a member of the Orthodox Eparchy Missionary Department, the Tiumen region Congress of Religious Associations formally asked Patriarch Aleksii II and Archbishop of Tobolsk and Tiumen Dimitrii (Kapalin) to explain whether or not the offensive statements about other religions reflect the ROC's official position. In August, the Prosecutor's Office of Tiumen region opened a criminal investigation under article 282 of the Criminal Code ("incitement to hatred and animosity, as well as denial of human dignity') into S. Shestakova's public lecture.

Another incident was reported in Nizhnii Novgorod region, where the Muslim community was offended by an inaccurate description of Islam in a textbook on the History of Religions used in more than 300 of the region's schools. Believers were offended by certain statements in the textbook and sent letters to various authorities demanding an investigation and a ban on the textbook.

Deputy Representative of the Russian President in Privolzhskii Federal District Vladimir Zorin admitted that the textbook "actually contained a number of contradictions and defects relating to the section on Islam'. The Rector of the regional Institute for the Development of Education met with the chairman of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims, and they agreed to amend the subsequent, third version of the textbook with due consideration to the Muslim believers' comments.

The idea of teaching the fundamentals of Christian Orthodoxy as part of "Spiritual and Moral Culture' - a new bloc of subjects proposed by the ROC in 2007 as part of the wider school reform approved by the State Duma - has not yet produced the intended results. The Russian Ministry of Education and Science and the Russian Academy of Education continue their work to draw up new educational standards, consulting not only with the ROC, but also with Muslims, Protestants, and with the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations in Russia. According to Tatiana Petrova, Head of the Department for Educational Policy and Regulation of the Ministry of Education and Science, even though the idea of the "Spiritual and Moral Culture' bloc "was originally proposed by a religious organization, the standard is being written by academics, experts in teaching methods, educators, and teachers. They may have a different perspective on the matter'. In fact, the entire educational reform, including the proposed Spiritual and Moral Culture curriculum, appears to be delayed indefinitely, and no substantial developments are to be expected in the near future.

Officials from the Ministry of Education and other authorities have consistently upheld the principle of teaching religious subjects as a voluntary, optional course.

The refusal to include theology in the registry of academic disciplines maintained by the State Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles was yet another failed attempt to have religious disciplines integrated into mainstream secular education. The decision not to include theology was taken on 19 December by a meeting of the Ministry of Education and Science Commission for Improving the Nomenclature of Academic Qualifications. Theologians are advised to defend dissertations in Religious Studies.

Religious presence in schools does not necessarily take the form of lessons. An important and alarming incident should be mentioned: on 4 December, Gribanovskii District Court in Voronezh region rejected a complaint filed by Protestant priest Aleksei Perov against a local school. He asked the court to recognize that an Orthodox prayer conducted in village school No 3 in September 2007 was against the law, and to award him compensation for moral harm, since his son David was beaten by his classmates for refusing to take part in the prayer. The proceedings lasted for a year and failed to recognize Orthodox prayer in school as an interference with the Perovs' freedom of religion or their right to raise their child in accordance with their own religious beliefs. Similarly, the court failed to find a violation of the Law on Education or the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. Earlier, the prosecutor's office in Gribanovskii District found a violation of the Perovs' constitutional rights and of the secularity principle in education. The plaintiffs intend to appeal the judgment.

Insufficient protection from defamation and attacks

In 2008, several priests and church staff were killed, but there is no evidence that the killings were motivated by religious hatred. As in 2007, numerous attempted murders and assaults on priests were reported in the North Caucasus, but again, there is no evidence available to us that these attacks were motivated by religious hatred. In fact, faith-based conflicts in the North Caucasus republics may be interpreted as political, as well as criminal or religious, since it is not always possible to differentiate religious opposition from political opposition in the region.

In summer, four teenagers were killed in Yaroslavl and their bodies dismembered. The suspected perpetrators, eight people aged between 17 and 19, described themselves as Satanists, but according to experts, the nature of the crime was "contrary to the Satanic canon'. The charges brought under pp. 'a' and 'g' of part 2, article 105 of the Criminal Code (murder) do not indicate a ritual killing either.

We have more reason to suspect a religious motive in the attacks against a healer and two fortune-tellers in Dagestan and Ingushetia; two of the three incidents resulted in the victims' deaths.

We should also mention a few cases where, in our opinion, the motive was certainly that of religious hatred. In Nizhnii Novgorod in March, a teenager yelling "We are patriots, we will kick you out of here', threw a glass bottle at a group of Krishna worshippers, hitting a 42 year old man. Criminal charges were brought under article 213 (hooliganism).

In May, Iulduz Khaknazarova, a Muslim woman, was attacked in the Moscow metro; three attackers yelling racist slogans began by tearing off her Muslim headscarf. The Moscow Prosecutor's Office refused to open a criminal investigation.

In March, a court bailiff entered a Prayer House of Evangelical Christians in Bilibino, Chukotskii Autonomous District, yelled "I'm going to waste you all now!', and opened fire at random from his officially-issued gun. Nobody was hurt. The attacker was drunk.

In April, a prayer house of the Living Word Church was attacked in Kuznetsk, Penza region. A group of teenagers led by a local criminal "authority' broke into the building during evening prayer and insulted the worshippers, called them "sectarians' and threatened to kill them and to set fire to the prayer house. The gang leader faced criminal charges under article 213 of the Criminal Code and paid compensation to the believers.

In November, the home of Hieromonk Serapion (Mitko), Head of the Missionary Department, Yaroslavl Eparchy, was set on fire. The arson attack was confirmed by the Fire Safety authorities. The perpetrators have not been found at the time of writing. The Missionary Department's most visible activity is opposition to new religious movements. The priest denied having been threatened, but admitted that his Department's activity "had caused a kind of strong aggressive reaction among totalitarian sects and certain people with liberal views in Yaroslavl'.

In November, an explosion occurred in the Church of St. Nicholas in Biriulevo, Moscow, injuring two people; the building was not damaged. Investigators suspected that the blast was the work of delinquent youngsters, but did not rule out the possibility that Satanists may be behind the attack. Criminal charges were brought under article 213 and part 1, article 222 (illegal possession of weapons, ammunition and explosives) of the Criminal Code. However, in January 2009 police arrested a group of radical neo-Nazi neopagans implicated in numerous blasts and other types of attacks. Now members of the group also face charges for the explosion in St. Nicholas Church.

In 2008, a total of 36 incidents of vandalism were committed against houses of worship and churches, somewhat more than in 2007 (27). Vandals committed 16 attacks against Orthodox churches and chapels, seven attacks against synagogues, six attacks each against Muslim and Protestant buildings, and one attack each against a Jehovah's Witness hall and a pagan temple. On numerous occasions perpetrators threw stones and broke windows in the buildings. Certain houses of worship, for example synagogues in Nizhnii Novgorod and Vladivostok and a mosque in Yaroslavl, had been targeted by vandals before. Nationalist stickers were placed on the doors and walls of the mosque in Nizhnii Novgorod.

Arson attacks against houses of worship increased. In January, unidentified attackers threw bottles of flammable liquid at a Muslim house of prayer in Sergiev Posad, in what was the third attack against this place of worship since 2005. A similar incident occurred a month later at a mosque in Vladimir, the tenth attack on this building in three years. In March, attackers set fire to a prayer house of the Full Gospel Church in Kaspiisk (Dagestan). A group of worshippers were inside at the time of the fire; two children were injured. In June, a prayer house of the Full Gospel Church of Jesus Christ was destroyed by an arson attack in Leningrad region, and a synagogue was set on fire in Nizhnii Novgorod region. In August, unidentified arsonists threw a bottle of flammable liquid into the window of the Cathedral of St. George in Kaluga. A Jehovah's Witness hall was destroyed by fire in Chekhov outside Moscow. The victims suspect an arson attack, as they found petrol canister fragments on the scene, but the local police refused to investigate. In October, the Nativity of the Virgin Mary Church was set on fire in Novosibirsk. Arson attacks against places of worship were particularly frequent in December. Unidentified attackers threw a bottle of flammable liquid at an Orthodox church in Moscow. An Orthodox church and a parish school were burnt down in Ekaterinburg; according to eyewitnesses, someone had painted nationalist slogans and swastikas on the church fence before it was set on fire. In Ryazan, unidentified arsonists poured flammable liquid and set fire to a wall of the Presentation of Our Lord Church.

In 2008, 42 acts of vandalism in cemeteries were reported in total (as opposed to 34 in 2007), including 32 attacks against Orthodox, six against Jewish, three against Muslim cemeteries, and one attack against an Armenian cemetery. As in 2007, many vandals were children and teenagers, and in some cases it was not clear whether or not the vandalism was motivated by religious hatred. This motive was clear, however, in all the six known attacks against Jewish graves, in four attacks against Orthodox graves, and in one attack against a Muslim grave. Moreover, on five occasions vandals targeted crosses for public veneration (St. Petersburg, Moscow), a crucifix outside a church (Penza), an information panel at the construction site of an Orthodox church (St. Petersburg), a monument to an Orthodox missionary in Blagoveshchensk, and a cross near a mass grave - also desecrated - of World War II victims (Voronezh region).

The mass media, both federal and regional, continue to publish xenophobic articles. The "anti-sectarian campaign' in the federal mass media relating to the final stage of the "Penza recluses' case faded fast, [7] but in many regions, according to regional reports received by the Moscow Helsinki Group in 2008, "anti-sectarian' and other xenophobic publications concerning religion occurred rather often, with the most frequent targets being new religious movements and Protestant churches.

In November, an "anti-sectarian' report about the Light of Awakening Evangelical Christian Church in Barnaul appeared on the federal TV channel "Rossiia' as part of a crime show. According to the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, the report "exceeded the traditional allegations of turning people into zombies and brainwashing, and took [the accusations] to a new level' - the TV report alleged that the Pentecostals had devised a scheme to cheat people out of their property. The church members filed a libel suit.

Parishioners of St. Raphael Orthodox Church of True Faith were offended by a television report about their church shown on the federal NTV Channel and demanded an apology, but did not press a libel charge.

Senior priest Eduard Grabovenko of the New Testament Pentecostal community in Perm made offensive statements about Muslims during a sermon televised by a local channel in May, triggering protests from the Perm Muftiat and the Orthodox Eparchy.

What religious leaders perceive as offensive - sometimes just a critical remark made in an irreverent tone - may appear exaggerated to an observer. The ROC Eparchy in Pskov, for example, maintains a "blacklist' of newspapers to be denied interviews and access to the Church events because of allegedly negative coverage; these papers include MK in Pskov and Velikye Luki, Pskov Provice (Pskovskaia Gubernia), and Town News for Pskov Inhabitants (Gorodskaia Gazeta dlia Zhitelei Pskova).

In some instances, offended religious and other groups attempted to present the offense as an extremist crime. Here are some high-profile incidents in 2008: following demands by Pentecostals to close the federal "2x2' TV channel for showing offensive cartoons, an "anti-extremist' investigation was opened into one of these cartoons, apparently with support from the Pentecostals and some other religious figures; some Muslim leaders protested against the publication by Russian Newsweek of one of the "Danish cartoons' featuring the Prophet Mohammad (falsely claiming that the magazine had reprinted numerous cartoons), causing the magazine to receive an official "anti-extremist' warning. Other complaints filed with prosecutors included those against priest Daniil Sysoev for incitement to hatred against Muslims by describing Islam as a "false religion', and film director Ivan Dykhovichnyi for incitement to social and religious hatred by calling an Orthodox priest a fool for blessing a bomber aircraft.

A separate report looks at the problem of abuse in regard to efforts to counter extremism and describes these cases in detail. We regret that religious leaders - even though many have experienced or witnessed religious discrimination firsthand - rely on repressive anti-extremist legislation and encourage its arbitrary enforcement.

The above-mentioned conflicts involving members of major religious organizations should not be interpreted as indicating that interfaith relations in general are worsening. Even though certain militant priests and lay people engage in interfaith conflicts, the top leaders of their religious organizations pursue a policy of "peaceful coexistence' meaning, in particular, that they do not emphasize missionary work among followers of other religions (or other denominations of Christianity). A positive example of practical, rather than merely declarative, openness to the beliefs of others has been the introduction of a Fundamentals of Islam course in an Orthodox seminary in Kazan.


[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 (/religion/), including references to media and internet-based sources. Throughout the report, we provide references only to those sources which are not to be found on the website.

[2] A. Verkhovsky, O. Sibireva, "Restrictions and Challenges in 2007 on Freedom of Conscience in Russia' , in Xenophobia, Freedom of Conscience and Anti-Extremism in Russia in 2007, (Moscow: SOVA Center, 2008), pp. 80-106. The original version is available on the SOVA Center website at /religion//publications/194EF5E/AD31F17.

[3] A. Verkhovsky, Galina Kozhevnikova, 'Nepravomernoe primenenie antiekstremistskogo zakonodatel'stva v Rossii v 2008 godu', SOVA Center Natsionalizm i ksenofobiia v Rossii, 28 March 2009 (/racism-xenophobia/publications/2009/03/d15610/). This report will be available in translation on the SOVA website by the end of April 2009.

[4] The real influence of expert councils depends to a great extent on their composition. The appointment of the well-known "warrior against sects' Aleksandr Dvorkin as chair of the expert council under the Ministry of Justice should be taken as a very bad sign. This council has almost no significant academic expertise in the field of religious studies.

[5] And even urged for criminal proceedings under article 282 of the Criminal Code against Chief of the Eparchial Department for Religious Education and Catechesis Anton Tuchkov, apparently an excessive demand.

[6] In principle, the chief doctor could refer to the rules obliging medical workers to wear a uniform; however, a hijab is not essentially inferior to any other medical headdress.

[7] See the following for details: G. Kozhevnikova, "Hate Language and Elections: the Federal and Regional Levels. Based on the monitoring period Autumn-Winter 2007-2008', available on the SOVA Center website. Nationalism and Xenophobia, 2 February 2009 (/files/xeno/hl08eng.pdf), pp. 7, 14.

English translation by Irina Savelieva.