Freedom of conscience in Russia: Restrictions and challenges in 2011

Edited by Alexander Verkhovsky


Legal regulations concerning religious organizations
Problems relating to places of worship : Problems with the construction of religious buildings : Problems relating to existing religious buildings
Preferential treatment accorded certain religious organizations by the authorities
Other examples of discrimination and unwarranted interference : The liquidation of religious organizations and denial of registration : Discrimination against ‘non-traditional’ religious organizations : Other cases
Insufficient protection from defamation and attacks.

SOVA Center for Information and Analysis presents its sixth annual report on the freedom of conscience in the Russian Federation.

This report is based on information collated during monitoring carried out by the Center. All of this material is available on the Center’s website, in the section ‘Religion in Secular Society’ (, including links to media and internet sources. In this report, references are given only for those sources which are not available via the website.

Rather than repeating earlier developments in extensive detail, we provide here only necessary updates on events analyzed in the previous year’s report. Our aim is not to exhaustively describe all developments in the sphere of public religion in 2011; generally events mentioned here serve to illustrate trends that we have observed.  

Problems and cases connected with the misuse of anti-extremism legislation are discussed in a separate report specifically focused on this topic, which will soon be available on our website. 

The current report does not reflect the religious situation in the armed forces or the education system, nor does it address the situation in the North Caucasus.


2011 saw the further development of trends noted in the previous annual report.

Bureaucratic discrimination against religious organizations continued. Pressure was applied, first and foremost, to ‘non-traditional’ organizations, primarily Jehovah’s Witnesses – against whom a persecution campaign was continued throughout 2011 – and several strands of Islam. The unjust application of anti-extremism legislation became one of the most dangerous means of discriminating against particular groups, but this topic falls outside the remit of the current report.

More widespread problems with registration and the construction of religious buildings have also remained an issue. Levels of religious tolerance, as before, leave much to be desired. However, there has been no notable deterioration in these areas.

The government’s rapprochement with significant religious organizations – above all the Russian Orthodox Church – continued. In addition to the continuing financial support of church initiatives from the state budget, and the approval of religious organizations’ property claims, a departure from the principle of secularity was increasingly noticeable in official rhetoric: over the course of the year President Medvedev referred to the relationship between the church and the state as a ‘symphony’ several times in public speeches.

Institutional religious presence in the public arena increased. A decision was taken to make the pilot course on the fundamentals of religion and on ethics compulsory. Even in the army, where the introduction of the institution of military chaplains was clearly being impeded at officer level, a document providing guidelines to regulate their activity appeared: the commander of troops in the central military district signed an order ‘On regulating the activity of organs for work with religious believers in the military’, and we also saw the first priests employed by the military.

The number of anticlerical incidents increased, provoked by local conflicts with religious organizations (most often connected with the construction of houses of worship) and by a broader dissatisfaction over the preferential treatment accorded to religious organizations. Protesters increasingly resorted to lawsuits to assert their position.

At the same time, our forecast that there would be a fairly sharp increase in the number of conflicts, provoked by the law on the transfer of property designed for religious purposes to religious organizations coming into force, was not fulfilled. In comparison with 2010 the number of conflicts has not risen significantly. Evidently the current law has not substantially changed the situation around the transfer of property – as before, in many cases the scale of the transfer depends on the position of the local authorities and the persistence of representatives of religious organizations.

We are at a loss to predict how legislative activity will develop in the immediate future. However, given that LDPR (Liberal’no-demokraticheskaia partiia Rossii, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) member Aleksei Ostrovskii replaced United Russia (Edinaia Rossiia) member Sergei Popov as head of the Committee for Public and Religious Organizations in the new State Duma which began work at the end of December 2011, we are not optimistic.


Legal regulations concerning religious organizations


Laws adopted in 2011

Several pieces of legislation were adopted in 2011 which affect the interests of religious organizations. Basically these laws were aimed at simplifying their work.

Amendments to the Tax Code, exempting from tax resources dedicated to charitable activities (including by religious organizations), were passed on 18 July and came into effect on 1 September.

A federal law introducing changes into a series of legislative acts relating to the formation and use of endowment capital by non-commercial – including religious – organizations, was signed on 22 November. In accordance with the law religious organizations, together with other non-profit making organizations, were permitted to replenish endowment capital not only by means of monetary assets, but also by means of other assets (stock and real estate).

Amendments to the law ‘On state security’ which legalizes the provision of state security to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia were passed by the State Duma on 18 November and signed by the President on 8 December. This is one of very many federal level legislative acts which clearly distinguish the Orthodox, and more specifically the Russian Orthodox Church, from Russia’s other religions.

Moreover, on 6 December the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation ruled that religious organizations which display the formal criteria of inactive organizations may not be automatically liquidated, underlining that the exclusion of such organizations from the Unified State Register of Legal Entities may only be effected by legal process. The ruling permits religious organizations excluded from the register without a court case to appeal against the decision of the tax authorities.

Finally, on 8 December, a year after the 2010 law ‘On the transfer of state or municipal owned property of religious purpose to religious organizations’ came into force, a special commission was founded to consider the claims of religious organizations to such property. The commission is part of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation.


Regional initiatives

A series of legislative acts directly concerning religious activity was passed by constituent parts of the Federation. On 24 February 2011 Belgorod regional duma approved a supplement to the regional Code of Administrative Offenses. The accepted amendments made the dissemination of religious literature by people who do not have documentary proof of their status as ‘official representatives’ of religious organizations punishable by financial penalties. This law directly and crudely restricts citizens’ freedom of conscience and freedom of speech with regard to their right to disseminate their own religious convictions. Basically, this sort of act should not be passed at federal constituent level (although they are, nevertheless, sometimes passed), so an appeal may be expected.

In Lipetsk region a law ‘On the social educators of minors’ was passed which makes provision for representatives of religious organizations to participate in the upbringing of juvenile delinquents.

The State Assembly (Kurultai) of Bashkortostan introduced amendments to the republic’s law ‘On securing the peace of citizens and quiet at night’ which establish that it is forbidden to make noise after 11 o clock at night, rather than after 10pm. The amendments were passed to protect muezzins, in particular, from the complaints of locals fed up with loud calls to prayer in the evenings.

Kostroma regional duma approved amendments to the law ‘On guarantees of the rights of the child in Kostroma region’ at first reading, and to the local Code of Administrative Offenses. The amendments demanded the prevention not only ‘of public activity aimed at the propaganda of pedophilia, homosexuality (sodomy and lesbianism), bisexuality [and] transgenderism amongst minors’, but also the propaganda of ‘religious sects’ – and it is notable that the legislation used precisely this term. The fine stipulated for the infringement of this law is from one to three thousand rubles for an individual citizen, and up to 50 thousand rubles for a legal entity.


Initiatives which have not yet been accepted

A series of legal initiatives have not yet been progressed. Efforts were made to change the law ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’ in 2011, as in previous years.

In March Belgorod regional duma brought amendments to this law, and also to article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation, before the State Duma. By analogy with legislation passed in the region (see above), the authors of the proposed legislation suggested limiting the dissemination of religious literature, audio and video materials ‘and other objects of religious purpose’, allotting that right only to official representatives of religious organizations. The government of the Russian Federation did not support the proposed legislation, evaluating it as ‘restricting the rights of citizens in the dissemination of religious convictions’ and contrary to the Constitution.

Another set of draft amendments to the law ‘On the freedom of conscience and on religious associations’ and the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation was proposed by the LDPR. The amendments stipulate the establishment of a special procedure for the offering of ritual sacrifices, and relate to Muslim organizations. The government did not support these amendments either, noting that ‘in practice the proposed legislation, in spite of the stated aims, not only does not make the procedure for conducting religious events outside the religious building more stringent but, on the contrary, increases the possibility of conducting such events, in particular by establishing the right of a constituent part of the Russian Federation to regulate the given issue by its own laws and regulations.’

In autumn the Ministry of Justice submitted two proposed bills of amendments to federal legislation for public consultation at once. One of these proposed bills was also aimed at changing the law ‘On the freedom of conscience and on religious associations’ and provoked a significant public response. Consultation participants were dissatisfied by a whole series of proposed provisions, in particular, the elimination of the notion of a ‘religious group’ and the increased mandate of state religious expertise, which amongst other things included the right to review how religious practice corresponds with declared doctrine (it is difficult to imagine checking the orthodoxy of individual parishes, mosques and so on).

At the same time the proposed legislation makes provision for the registration of religious groups which do not want, or are unable, to register as fully-fledged and independent organizations by joining a central religious organization. It was proposed that such groups should be able to register as organizations ‘without full rights’, with this status established for ten rather than 15 years, but with less radically restricted rights than current group status dictates. A discussion arose amongst experts about the potential use of such changes – to toughen or relax the system in which religious groups operate,[1] but this discussion did not continue as the draft legislation was no nearer real consideration by the end of the year.

Already something of a tradition, State Duma deputy Boris Kashin once again brought forward his proposal to exclude the word ‘God’ from the text of the national anthem for the sake of ‘social cohesion’. The State Duma rejected the suggested amendment, as it did last year.


Problems relating to places of worship

As in previous years, many religious organizations encountered problems with the construction and use of religious buildings.


Problems with the construction of religious buildings

As before, Muslims often encountered problems with construction. After last year’s conflict over unsuccessful efforts to build a mosque in the Tekstil’shchiki district of Moscow, the head of the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims (Tsentralnoe dukhovnoe upravlenie musul’man)Talgat Tadzhuddin declared that an agreement about the erection of five new mosques had been reached with the city authorities. However, during the course of the year there was no news of construction having started or about the land having been allocated for even one of these mosques.

Kaliningrad witnessed the renewal of a conflict around the construction of a mosque which has gone on for many years, and which appeared to have been resolved in 2010. A group of Kaliningraders approached the court with a request that the 2007 ruling by the town administration, which changed the town’s development plan, be found illegal. The changes had specifically included the allocation of a plot of land for the building of a mosque. The central district town court supported this claim. On these grounds, a court hearing which contested the provision of a site to build the mosque by the head of the town administration began in November, instigated by citizens. There was another demonstration against the construction at the beginning of 2011.

In Kostroma a conflict over the building of a mosque has continued since 2004. In 2011 construction was suspended by the town authorities – according to the community – without any explanation. The Muslim community appealed to the courts but the administration filed a counter-claim which confirmed that construction was being carried out without appropriate documentation. As a result, the suspension was upheld by the courts until the conclusion of the investigation.

In Voronezh a Muslim community which has been seeking permission to build a mosque for several years was turned down by the town authorities yet again, for the second time in a year. The authorities in Sochi have failed to allot a plot of land for the construction of a mosque since 2003.

Residents of Surgut and Moscow region’s Naro-Fominsk also protested against the construction of mosques.


Protestants experienced fewer problems with the construction of houses of worship in comparison with the previous year, but nevertheless they did encounter some difficulties. The Philadelphia Pentecostal church in Izhevsk, for example, ended 2011 in litigation with the republic’s board of the State Construction, Supervision and Expertise Service (Gosstroinadzor), which for several years has refused to authorize the constructed church building for use.

A similar problem arose among Pskov Catholics, who have been unable to secure permission to complete the construction of a church since 2010. In March 2011 the plot of land allotted to the community ten years earlier was removed from the cadastral register. Believers, fearing that the church would be deemed an illegal construction, began a petition to submit to Prime Minister Putin. In December the town administration conveyed its readiness to impart legal status to the almost completed church building ‘despite the place of erection, and also the characteristic height of the constructed church, being in clear discrepancy to the requirements of current legislation’.

In contrast to previous years there was a notable growth in public protests against the construction of not only mosques and Protestant prayer houses, but also Orthodox churches. In first place Moscow deserves a mention: here the implementation of Program 200 (approved in 2010) met opposition. In 2011, within the remit of this program, the town authorities allotted 39 plots for the building of churches ‘within walking distance’. However, over the course of the year not only did conflicts over plans for the modular churches which began in 2010 continue, but new conflicts arose.

Local residents in the districts of Strogino and Degunino (where opponents of Program 200 even destroyed the skeleton of a church under construction) have been protesting against building in nature conservation areas since 2010. New conflicts in Novoperedelkino, Yasenevo and Iuzhnoportovyi districts, and in the Moscow region town of Moskovskii, were also driven by unfortunate choices of building plots – on a parking lot, a shopping center or a school.

Those who oppose the building of churches in Moscow joined forces and even organized a protest action entitled ‘Anticlericalism 2011’.

Sometimes representatives of the authorities heeded protesters’ voices: the mayor of Moscow annulled the allocation of a building plot for the Nativity of the Mother of God church (khram Rozhdestva Bogoroditsy) in Strogino, the prefect of the northern administrative district ordered the municipality to find another place for the construction of the St Seraphim Sarovskii church in Degunino, and the church construction in Novoperedelkino was halted.

Conflicts often accompanied the building of Orthodox churches in other regions, too.

Residents of Biisk, Saratov and Ryazan protested against construction on greenbelt land. There were even physical clashes on the construction site in Saratov, between defenders of the park and workers who had arrived to cut down the trees.

There was a public outcry in Iuzhno-Sakhalinsk in response to the town administration’s plans to reconstruct Victory Square and move a war memorial in order to build a cathedral. Participants in the protest, in which various social and political movements participated, were disturbed by the fact that the cathedral would become the semantic center of the square, crowding out the memorial, underlining the domination of one religion and obscuring a beautiful view. Opponents of the construction demanded a referendum on the proposed changes.

In a number of cases opponents of the proposed church buildings defended their position in court. Thus, head of the Karelian section of the ‘Youth Human Rights Group’, Maxim Efimov, appealed to the republic’s Supreme Court to find illegal the regional law which finances the building of the church of St Panteleimon in Petrozavodsk from the republic’s budget. The court dismissed the case, recognizing this allocation of resources as legal. In Penza residents petitioned the court to halt the construction of a church on a children’s playground; the court, however, did not support their claim. Samara residents also resorted to legal action in an attempt to halt the construction of a chapel in the courtyard of a residential block.

Frustration may also be generated by efforts to enlarge the territory of an already existing church, as happened in Moscow (the St Tikhon Zadonskii church, in Sokol’niki park) and in Ul’ianovsk (Voznesenskii khram, the Ascension church), where local residents appealed to various structures to check the legality of construction activity. In both cases the proposed widening of church territory could damage vegetation.

In a number of cases the protesters were supported by representatives from the authorities. City duma deputy Leonid Volkov, for example, joined local residents in opposing an initiative which (following Moscow’s example) aims to build 300 churches ‘within walking distance’ in Ekaterinburg eparchy. Residents of Orel, angered by the mayor’s decision to relocate a residential area and move fairground attractions and a town park in order to construct a cathedral, were supported by the town council of people’s deputies. The deputies refused to uphold the mayor’s decision, suggesting that the construction be moved to a different location.

Such opposition impelled the Orthodox public to get organized. An Orthodox rights center ‘The Territory of the Church’ was founded in September in Moscow and Alexander Shchipkov, the head of the Orthodox Journalists’ Club, became the director. The center provides information and PR in cases of conflict between bureaucrats and Orthodox communities, collects information about discrimination against Orthodox Christians and organizes petitions for the building of new churches.


Problems relating to existing religious buildings

In 2011 Protestant organizations most often encountered such problems.

In Vladivostok the mayor’s office demanded that the Central Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and the Seventh Day Adventist church vacate the two story building they were occupying. The building had been used by both churches free of charge since 1976, however the rental agreement with the Adventist community had expired, and the agreement with the Baptists was dissolved early. The order to vacate the premises followed a request by the churches to give them this building in accordance with the new law about the transfer of religious property, which came into force in December 2010. The Baptist pastor resorted to legal action, and in January 2012 the court recognized the illegality of the demand that the Baptist church leave the premises. 

In Moscow bailiffs required the Holy Trinity сhurch (tserkov’ Sviatoi Troitsy) in Novokosino (Christians of the Evangelical Faith, Pentecostals) to leave their premises by 30 December. Back in 2010 the prosecutor’s office of Moscow’s eastern district had demanded that the community remove their temporary prayer house and foundations from a plot occupied by the Pentecostals since 1995, since the rental agreement had been dissolved in 2005.  The court supported the prosecutor’s claim in 2010, and although believers twice attempted to appeal this decision, all subsequent proceedings have confirmed the first ruling.

In Kaluga the Pentecostal Word of Life сhurch (Slovo zhizni) received notification that the electricity was being turned off, despite the fact that they had paid the bill. Parishioners are suggesting that the cutting off of their electricity was prompted by a conflict with the management of a shopping center being built next door. The town authorities have been trying to evict the church from their building for several years because of this construction project.


The tendency to transfer the churches of ‘alternative’ Orthodox jurisdictions to the Russian Orthodox Church, noted in 2009, has continued. In 2011 the Russian Orthodox Church received the Ascension church (Vosnesenskii khram) in Barnaul and the Protecting Veil church (Pokrovskii khram) in the village of Vyrystaikino, Ul’ianovsk region, which belonged to two branches to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad which had not joined the Russian Orthodox Church (Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Tserkov’ Zagranitsei, under Metropolitan Agafangel and under Metropolitan Vitalii respectively). In both cases the transfer was preceded by the seizure of these buildings by representatives of the ROC, with the support of the police and administration. The Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Avtonomnaia Tserkov’)did not manage to contest the removal of several churches by the Federal Agency for State Property Management (Rosimushchestvo) in 2010: in 2011 the Supreme Court upheld the legality of these expropriations.


Two cases of Russian Orthodox Church constructions being demolished were recorded, however in both cases the eparchies had no objections to the demolitions, since they related to constructions built by individuals who were in conflict with official church structures. Moreover, Samara eparchy was itself the initiator of the demolition of a chapel in Chapaevsk, built in 2008 by a cleric of that eparchy who was later forbidden to serve the liturgy. The plot on which the chapel was situated is in the free and perpetual use of the eparchy.

Kimovsk district court in Tula region decreed that the Church of the Sovereign Mother of God (khram vo imia ikony Bozhiei Materi ‘Derzhavnaia’) be demolished as an illegal construction. The church had been built on a plot which belonged to hieromonk Vasilii (Novikov), a retired cleric of Tula eparchy, and after his death the status of the plot was disputed. Not only did Tula eparchy make no effort to defend the church, it even submitted a statement to the court to the effect that the building ‘was in no way connected with the Church’.


It is worth noting two positive resolutions of conflict in particular.

In November the Evangelical Christians-Baptists’ Ark сhurch (Kovcheg) won a case against the administration of Balashikha, Moscow region. The court recognized as illegal the July refusal of officials to grant permission for the commissioning of a prayer house building. The Balashikha Baptists’ conflict with bureaucrats has continued over many years, and this is not the first case the community has managed to win.


The administration of Tiumen finally granted the Muslim community a plot in Rabochii Poselok which Tiumen Muslims have been trying to obtain for several years.


Preferential treatment accorded certain religious organizations by the authorities

As in previous years resources from budgets at various levels were allotted for the restoration of places of worship, the majority of which are significant architectural landmarks. According to Alexander Avdeev, the Russian Federation’s Minister of Culture, around five billion rubles from the federal budget were earmarked for this task during 2011. Restoration of religious buildings financed from the federal budget was conducted in particular in Moscow, Khabarovsk krai, Kurgan, Samara, Sverdlovsk and Tiumen regions. As before, in the majority of cases the resources were directed at Orthodox – and more rarely, Muslim – buildings. At the same time the Moscow authorities refused to restore an Old Believer historical-architectural complex at Rogozhskaia Sloboda in 2011, excluding it from reconstruction plans.

Interestingly, Moscow’s Department of Cultural Heritage admitted that its 2011 program for the restoration of religious buildings was a complete failure. As a result, there were changes to the way the restoration of such monuments is financed: from 2012 onwards resources for this work will be set aside as subsidies in the city budget, so that religious organizations can do routine restoration work themselves. The related decree was passed by the government of Moscow in December 2011.

Now and again budgetary resources were also spent on building work. In Tiumen region, for example, money from the regional budget was allocated to complete building work on several mosques, and in Tomsk for the building of an Orthodox church.

Representatives of the authorities continued to induce potential donors (generally by administrative methods) to invest resources in the construction of religious monuments. The governor of Yaroslavl region, Sergei Bakhrukov, asked local authorities to seek out non-budgetary resources for the restoration of the Dormition cathedral (Uspenskii sobor). The governor of Penza region proclaimed the building of an Orthodox cathedral and a mosque ‘the people’s construction’. Large state-owned companies could act as donors: during 2011 the Joint Stock Company Transneft transferred around 390 million rubles towards the needs of the Russian Orthodox Church.


As in previous years, the Fund for the Support of Islamic Culture, Science and Education, created with the participation of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation, allocated resources to Islamic education. In November Dmitrii Medvedev promised to earmark one billion rubles over three years for this, which is on a par with sums allotted earlier.


Similarly, as in previous years, property was transferred to religious organizations: most often, Orthodox, sometimes, Muslim. We are also aware of one instance of a religious building being transferred to a Jewish organization. Considering that the law ‘On the transfer of state or municipal owned property of religious purpose to religious organizations’ came into force on 3 December 2010, one might have expected a sharp increase in the number of cases of transfer, and of conflicts connected with that transfer of property, in 2011.

In the first instance the situation in Kaliningrad region deserves scrutiny. The Kaliningrad authorities began such transfers in 2010, on the basis of regional legislation, even before the federal law about the transfer of property to religious organizations had come into effect. This provoked multiple conflicts at the time. In 2011 Kaliningrad region court accepted for consideration a lawsuit brought by local residents which requested that these regional laws be considered null and void from the day they were passed. Interestingly, no new conflicts connected with the transfer of property were recorded in this region over the course of 2011.

Such conflicts arose in other regions too, but not significantly more often than in the previous year. In Saratov the eparchy is attempting to secure the transfer of the Church of the Lord’s Passion (khram Strastei Gospodnikh), occupied by the Shearwater (Burevestnik) sports club. During 2011 the twelfth Arbitration Court of Appeal in Saratov ruled that this building be transferred to the ownership of the town Committee for Property Management for further transfer to the Church (the sports club was not provided with a new building), but the Arbitration Court of Privolzhsk federal region overturned this decision.

Again in Saratov the eparchy declared their claim on the building of a military hospital, which was opposed, in particular, by representatives of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers. In Biisk the general public protested against the transfer of Officers’ House (before the revolution an episcopal metochion and the Altai Spiritual Mission) to the Church. The building currently accommodates a large number of children’s playgroups.

The society of the Moscow Church of the Savior’s Transfiguration in Bolvanovka (kram Spasa Preobrazheniia na Bolvanovke), transferred to the Church back in 1997, is unable to use the building fully as a part of it is occupied by a children’s nursery school. The authorities have still not furnished the nursery school with a new building.


As before, many problems arise when religious organizations claim premises occupied by museums. The number of such conflicts has grown in comparison with 2010, moreover many of them have been going on for over a year.

A conflict flared up in Perm in 2011, in connection with the transfer to the eparchy of the Savior-Transfiguration cathedral (Spaso-Preobrazhenskii sobor), which for the last few decades has been occupied by a Perm art gallery. The eparchy laid claim to this building back in the early 2000s, but the construction of a new building for the gallery wasn’t embarked upon. According to a contract concluded earlier, the cathedral building should have been transferred to the eparchy in 2015. In 2011, however, the eparchy demanded that the process be speeded up. Despite protests from the museum community and the regional Public Chamber, and despite the absence of new premises for the gallery, the Federal Agency for State Property Management (Rosimushchestvo) decided to transfer the building to the Church. Opponents of the transfer appealed to the prosecutor’s office to investigate possible corruption. 

Employees of the regional museum of Viaz’ma were obliged to complain to President Medvedev about their eviction from buildings transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church. The museum, together with an archive, library and literary salon were evicted without new accommodation being assigned to them.

After many years of conflict between the Ryazan Kremlin Historical-Architectural Museum complex and the local eparchy one more construction was removed from the museum for diocesan use: the Archangel cathedral (Arkhangel’skii sobor). In May church services recommenced in the cathedral, but by November a diocesan Church Archaeological Museum had already opened, housing a collection of old Russian icons which had been removed from the museum complex against the advice of an expert commission. Meanwhile the Minister of Culture, Alexander Avdeev, once again promised that the museum complex would not be completely evicted from the kremlin until appropriate premises could be found for it.

During the year parishioners of the Moscow Church of John the Evangelist under the Elm (khram Ioanna Bogoslova pod Viazom), transferred to the Church in 2010, demanded that the Museum of Moscow be removed from the building, complaining that they could not conduct services in the transferred church and accusing museum staff for not wanting to speed up the move. Only at the end of the year were new premises ready for the transfer of the exhibition, and then the museum finally vacated the church building. The Moscow authorities spent 38 million rubles on the restoration of the transferred parish church in 2011.

In Petersburg museum workers were incensed by a statement about the potential transfer of St Isaac’s cathedral (Isaakievskii sobor) to the Church made by Alexander Makarov, chair of the city’s Committee for State Control, Use and Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments. St Isaac’s has for many years been used by the museum and eparchy jointly. A year earlier the eparchy had promised that they would lay no claim to the city’s main cathedrals. Meanwhile, representatives of the Alexander Nevskii monastery announced their claim on a building which belongs to the Museum of City Sculpture.

In Chita the general public protested against the potential transfer to the eparchy of the St Michael the Archangel church (khram Mikhaila Arkhangela), occupied by the Decembrists’ Museum.

In Rostov region the eparchy announced its right to the building of the former post house, occupied by the Aksai Military Historical Museum, and the complex of the Ataman Efremov’s estate at the Cossack settlement (stanitsa) of Starocherkasskaia, where the Starocherskassk Historical-Architectural Museum is located.

As museum representatives had feared, the fourteenth century Toropets icon of the Mother of God was not returned to the Russian Museum from which it was taken in 2009. After two years in a Moscow region church, it was transferred to the Grabar Restoration Center in anticipation of a further transfer to Toropets cathedral in Tver region. 

In Nizhnii Novgorod they decided to repeat a format already tested in the Solovki State Historical-Architectural Museum and Nature Reserve, where in 2009 the monastery’s father superior became the museum director, and whose activity in this capacity has provoked numerous complaints. In March 2011 the superior of the Ascension Monastery of the Caves (Vosnesenskii Pecherskii monastyr’), Archimandrite Tikhon (Zatekin) was appointed manager of the Museum of the Russian Patriarchate in Arzamas, a branch the Nizhnii Novgorod Historical-Architectural Museum Reserve. Like his colleague in Solovki, Archimandrite Tikhon has no art historical or curatorial training.


Despite the current law on the transfer of property designed for religious purposes, religious organizations do not always receive the premises they demand. Thus Old Believer communities in Moscow and Novgorod did not manage to secure the return of the churches they had laid claim to. The Novgorod community were turned down by the authorities twice in 2011, in the case of the St Dimitrii Solunskii church, which was refused ‘in connection with the unsatisfactory technical condition of the building’, and in the case of another church requested together with the Dimitrii church. The Moscow community of the Russian Orthodox Old Believers Church has since 2004 failed to secure the Protecting Veil-Dormition church (Pokrovsko-Uspenskii khram), occupied by a sports hall.

In Tver region the disused building of a former monastery church demanded by the Tver eparchy was put up for sale by the regional assembly of deputies, but after intervention from the prosecutor’s office it was removed from the auction.

We also recorded instances in which property by no means designed for religious purposes was transferred to religious organizations. Thus, for example, the authorities allocated free use of a maternity unit building to Perm eparchy, so that they could organize a clinical-diagnostic center for women there. Originally the building was auctioned off, and the successful bidder was a company called Perm Dockyard (Permskaia verf’), which includes two representatives of the eparchy in its management. On winning the auction the company did not sign the act of property transfer, acknowledging that it had ‘overestimated its own resources and potential’. After this the authorities decided to transfer the building to the Russian Orthodox Church free of charge. Neither the town administration nor the regional office of the Federal Antimonopoly Service found anything illegal in what happened. The public was concerned, in particular, that the new medical establishment might combine abortion with Orthodoxy.


Besides financial and material support, bureaucrats and also state owned media outlets provided PR support to the Russian Orthodox Church. In November Metropolitan Iuvenalii (Poiarkov) of Krutitsk and Kolomenskoe named a television channel, a Moscow regional government radio channel and the regional government newspaper Orthodox Moscow Region (Pravoslavnoe Podmoskov’e)amongst the PR sponsors of his eparchy, collaboration with whom is happening ‘on a regular basis’. There were no reports of similar collaboration between representatives of other religious organizations. The government of Samara region earmarked around 700 thousand rubles for a PR program dedicated to ‘the formation of spiritual-patriotic consciousness of the population’. Amongst other things, this program is intended to encourage ‘the formation of a positive image of Samara eparchy’.

As before, cases of administrative pressure ‘in favor of’ specific religious organizations were recorded. Officials in Moscow’s central administrative region, appealed to for permission to hold a picket marking the anniversary of the abolition of serfdom in Russia, asked the organizers ‘to produce a written blessing [from the Russian Orthodox Church] to conduct the proposed action’. Their rationale was that the picket was to be held at the statue of Alexander II, which is located close to the Church of Christ the Savior. In the given case, it seems that the bureaucrats were not acting in favor of, or in defense of, the Russian Orthodox Church, but in favor of their own, fairly unusual, concept of the sacred. 

There were virtually no cases where government representatives completely acquiesced to the demands of religious organizations to protect ‘religious sensitivities’. In Tver, for example, a unique compromise was found: the governor refused the eparchy’s demand that he abolish the annual beer festival, since ‘people have already spent money’ on it, but he promised not to hold such a festival the following year.


In 2011 the legality of the long-standing regional practice of declaring a day off on religious holidays was called into question. On 31 August the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled to abolish a point of law in the Republic of Bashkortostan’s legislation ‘On holidays and anniversaries, professional holidays and other significant dates in the Republic of Bashkortostan’ which declares the Muslim holidays Kurban Bairam (Eid ul-Adha) and Uraza Bairam (Eid al-Fitr) days off. The decision evoked indignation among the Muslim community and politicians. Deputies of the State Assembly of Bashkortostan and State Duma deputies Oleg Morozov and Pavel Krasheninnikov proposed initiatives to introduce amendments to article 112 of the Labor Code of the Russian Federation, giving regional authorities the right to establish supplementary non-working holidays. The draft legislation was not passed but, as a result, the Supreme Court annulled its decision on 21 December.

In other regions a number of religious holidays, as before, remain days off. In Kalmykia, for example, Buddha’s birthday’s has been declared an additional day off, and in Samara region the festival of Radonitsa (when Orthodox Christians commemorate their dead) is a public holiday.


Other examples of discrimination and unwarranted interference

The liquidation of religious organizations and denial of registration

The number of cases of religious organizations being formally dissolved grew in comparison with 2010. The majority of liquidated organizations were Muslim, claims made against them were of a technical nature and their liquidation evoked no protests. In October, for example, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation liquidized the central religious organization the Kazan Council of Muftis (Kazanskii muftiiat). The Ministry of Justice had discerned a number of infringements in the organization’s activities, in particular the failure to work ‘for the upbringing, education and rendering of assistance to Muslims in the Volga region in defense of rights’ (specified as an activity in the organization’s governing document), the use of non-registered symbols, and the presence of more associations in the organization’s membership than declared in the governing document. In the words of the Ministry of Justice’s representative, even the ‘Council of Muftis themselves did not oppose’ the liquidation of the organization.

In Ufa a court ruling on 15 July banned the activity of the Horde (Orda) organization, against which criminal proceedings were instituted under part 1 article 239 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (‘The creation of religious associations whose activity entails violence against citizens or other infliction of harm to their health’). According to the investigation the management of the organization exacted money from organization members, manipulating them with the help of psychological techniques.

Moscow’s Khamovniki district court supported the Ministry of Justice’s legal action to liquidate the League of Muslim Journalists, created in 2005. The reasons for this liquidation were not reported.

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation liquidated the Islamic Cultural Center. The organization’s activity had been halted by the Ministry of Justice in 2010 for a number of violations, including a lack of ‘evidence supporting the legitimacy of activities and use of disputed non-residential premises’.

In Yamalo-Nenetsk autonomous okrug two Muslim organizations – Iman in the town of Muravlenko and Islam in the village of Purpe, Purovsk district – were liquidated for registration violations during the year.

One further Muslim organization was liquidated in Primorskii krai for some unspecified infringement of legislation.

Novosibirsk regional court began consideration of a lawsuit brought by the regional prosecutor to close Allia aiat, an organization which has operated in the region for ten years. Prior to this, legal proceedings under article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (‘Fraud’) were brought against Allia aiat. On 1 September the case was deferred until the defendant’s complaint has been considered by the Supreme Court.


There were also claims against Protestant organizations in 2011. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation liquidated the Russia-wide charitable NGO Transfiguration of Russia (Preobrazhenie Rossii), whose activity was halted by the Ministry of Justice in 2010. The Cassation Board upheld this ruling.

Osinniki prosecutor’s office, Kemerovo region, attempted to secure the closure of another charitable organization – Source of Life (Istochnik zhizni), a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol abusers founded in part by the Pentecostal church – asserting that the center is an association ‘which infringes on the personality and rights of citizens’. However, neither Novokuznetsk district court nor Kemerovo region court could find any cause to liquidate the organization.

In April Khabarovsk krai court liquidated the Grace (Blagodat’) Pentecostal church at the request of the prosecutor’s office, which considered the rituals of this church harmful to parishioners’ psychological health. However the church managed to secure the overturning of this decision. In July the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ordered that the case be heard again, and Khabarovsk krai court reconsidered the case in December, this time rejecting the prosecutor’s demand to liquidate the organization.


Moscow’s Golovinskii court refused to register a Jehovah’s Witnesses community despite last year’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the dissolution of this organization was illegal.

St George’s Armenian Catholic parish in Moscow also failed to achieve registration, despite the fact that the Meshchanskii court ordered the Ministry of Justice to register this organization back in 2010.

In Primorskii krai the Petropavlovsk Kamchatka Jewish religious community (affiliated with the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia) was dissolved for failing to submit reports of its activity.


Interestingly, in April a report appeared about the liquidation of an Orthodox organization – a parish in the village of Iakonovo, Tver region – at the request of a priest. The reason for the closure was given as poverty and the extremely small number of parishioners. Later Tver eparchy clarified that this was not a question of liquidating the parish but about transferring it to the ‘attached’ category, which means without juridical status and attached to a larger parish.


Discrimination against ‘non-traditional’ religious organizations

As earlier, religious organizations which do not belong to the ‘traditional four’ religions were subjected to harassment from bureaucrats and security forces representatives – from negative public declarations about ‘non-traditional’ organizations to the practical obstruction of their activities. Most often, as in the previous period, Protestant organizations and Jehovah’s Witnesses were targeted. 

The Belgorod authorities, who in previous years have consistently practiced ‘anti-sect’ politics and worried about the ‘spiritual security’ of the region’s residents, continued to do so in 2011. In spring the region’s Public Chamber and the governor’s press office warned the public about the ‘threat from sects’ and reported on a regional telephone hotline for the victims of ‘sects’. Chamber representatives recommended that Belgorod region residents ‘do not associate with sect members on any pretext, should they insist, swiftly call the police and complain to the prosecutor’s office.

In October Bashkortostan’s Ministry of Education sent a letter signed by the republic’s Deputy Minister of Education Artur Surin to the heads of education management services and educational institutions, warning of the danger of ‘foreign religious organizations of destructive persuasion’.  The letter’s author enumerated around a hundred such organizations operating in Bashkortostan (including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Moonies, Mormons, Pentecostals, Adventists and Baptists) whose methods he considered ‘criminal’. The letter contained recommendations to refuse representatives of the listed organizations entry into educational institutions without a letter of recommendation from the Ministry, and also to discuss the danger these organizations pose with schoolchildren during class time. In response to this letter, the Guild of Experts on Religion and Law appealed to the General Prosecutor to check whether the Ministry of Education’s action violates Russia’s legislation on combating extremist activity.

The press office of Podol’sk Internal Affairs Directorate also expressed concern about the possibility of ‘sects’ penetrating schools. Its announcement, disseminated in November, accuses new religious movements and Protestants of extremism, ‘of the destruction of the national-cultural identity of the Russian people’, of lowering its ‘internal immunity’, and also ‘creating artificial barriers’ to the teaching of the foundations of Orthodox culture in Russian schools.

Klin prosecutor’s office, Moscow region, reproached the municipality for not sufficiently closely cooperating with the law enforcement agencies ‘with regard to exposing the cult buildings of non-traditional religious movements, and also the premises where pseudo-religious totalitarian organizations conduct meetings.’  

 In Arkhangelsk region a working group was created to combat destructive religious cults, chaired by the Deputy Governor of Arkhangelsk region Roman Balashov who was developing a related program. The ‘sectologist’ Alexander Dvorkin took part in a press conference held in November, together with a number of local government officials. We also note that in 2011 Dvorkin’s ‘anti-sect’ Irenei Lionskii Center received a presidential grant of two and a half million rubles to implement their ‘Providing help to the victims of totalitarian sects’ project.


Administrative interference in the affairs of religious organizations in 2011 was also noted fairly often. In particular, bureaucrats frequently hindered the performance of various public actions planned by religious organizations.

In Yakutsk and Lipetsk, for example, Krishna Consciousness Society representatives encountered problems with conducting street events. During the year Krishna devotees were twice arrested while performing their songs in Yakutsk, for the unsanctioned conducting of mass events. On one occasion those arrested were fined by order of the town court, but the Supreme Court later overturned this ruling.

Protestants also encountered this sort of difficulty. During the year the administration of Syktyvkar refused to permit local Pentecostals to hold public events (meetings and concerts) several times, on various pretexts. The God’s Glory (Bozh’ia slava) church appealed these refusals in court. The court supported four of their appeals, recognizing the actions of the authorities as illegal.

At the request of Bishop Iosif (Balabanov) of Birobidzhan and Kul’dur, the Birobidzhan authorities attempted to forbid an Easter festival concert organized by six Protestant churches in the town. Permission to hold the concert was, however, nevertheless granted.

The authorities in Sakmara district of Orenburg region attempted to disperse a summer camp organized by the Word of Life (Slovo zhizni) Pentecostal church, accusing the organizers of illegally grabbing land. Representatives from the administration and the police conducted a surprise search of the tents and threatened to take away holiday-makers’ children.


In March at the request of the town prosecutor Blagoveshchensk town court forbade the dissemination of audio and video materials produced by the New Generation (Novoe pokolenie) church of Christians of Evangelical Faith, deeming that they might ‘exercise a negative influence on the psychological health of an individual’. Amur regional court’s judicial collegium for civil cases overturned this ruling, but the regional prosecutor’s office announced the annulment of the cassational ruling and the case was sent for a new hearing in the regional court’s presidium. Unfortunately we do not know how the case progressed thereafter.


Regrettably, the persecution campaign against the Jehovah’s Witnesses continued. This campaign began in 2009 after several local communities were banned and several of their publications were deemed extremist.   Over the year the Witnesses themselves counted more than 300 instances of discrimination against their believers by representatives of the security services and authorities at various levels. We do not possess detailed evidence of each of these incidents, however during the year we also noted discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses in various regions.

As in 2010, we observed the illegal arrest of Jehovah’s Witnesses by law enforcement officials, who conducted frequent compulsory fingerprinting and occasional assaults. Such incidents were recorded in Chuvashia, Zabaikalskii krai, Belgorod, Kostroma, Moscow and Rostov regions.

Apart from arrests, security services representatives often interrupted Witnesses’ church services, and also conducted searches of the prayer houses and homes of believers. This happened in Petersburg, Adygea, Tatarstan, Udmurtia, Primorskii krai, Arkhangelsk, Astrakhan, Kaliningrad, Kemerovo, Moscow and Rostov regions. Representatives of the People’s Council movement (Narodnii sobor) appealed to the prosecutor’s office to prevent a Jehovah’s Witness congress being held in Moscow region.

Moscow region’s Ministry of the Interior developed the Apostates (Otstupniki) program in 2011, aimed at combatting Jehovah’s Witnesses. Notably the program provides for the collection of information on the leaders and members of the community, checks on church premises, and the monitoring of bank accounts.

In Cheliabinsk region a commission of security services representatives and managers from a subdivision of Ozersk administration basically recommended that the town council of deputies ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization as ‘a structure of anti-state and anti-Christian orientation’.

Moreover, in several regions internet service providers blocked access to Jehovah’s Witness sites. In Mari El, Ioshkar-Ola town court made a ruling obliging providers to limit access to Jehovah’s Witness materials. In Petersburg and Chita access was blocked at the behest of the prosecutor’s office. Providers also limited access to these sites in several towns in Chuvashia, and also in Kemerovo and Moscow, citing security requirements.

In a number of cases those suffering discrimination managed to defend their rights. In Udmurtia, Tver and Kaliningrad region, for example, courts overturned fines or stopped proceedings in administrative cases related to Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been accused of illegally conducting church services or disseminating religious literature. Police officers were held to account for unlawfully detaining believers in Tatarstan, Kurgan, Vologda and Sverdlovsk regions; in Kirov the detainees were apologized to.

Belgorod regional court upheld the complaint of local resident N. Korotysheva, earlier fined a thousand rubles for conducting missionary work by order of an administrative commission.


We note that in 2011 pressure from the security services on representatives of ‘alternative’ Orthodox jurisdictions intensified. In particular, a search was conducted at a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (under Metropolitan Agafangel) in Leningrad region. They threatened to confiscate the community’s plot of land, since the place of worship was built on land belonging to the priest (this became possible because the church had been built as an ROC parish, and the parish subsequently joined the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad).


Other cases

During the year several cases of discrimination against believers of ‘traditional’ confessions were recorded.

A Vologda region imam, Ravil Mustafin, complained about the infringement of Muslims’ rights to the town prosecutor’s office: the management of hostels belonging to Vologda ball bearing factory and Vologda polytechnic university hindered resident Muslims from fasting, refusing to allow them to prepare food at night and not admitting those returning late from prayers.

The community of Krasnodar’s cathedral mosque was fined by the courts for ‘unlawfully’ running a Sunday school which had been operating from the mosque for ten years. The legality of educating the children of parishioners in the fundamentals of religion in parishes and communities has been stormily debated – including in the courts – in previous years. We note that attempts are no longer being made to liquidate communities on this basis, but the question itself is not yet resolved.

The Moscow authorities attempted to obstruct the charitable work of two religious organizations. Mayor’s office employees requested that volunteers at the Church of Kosma and Damian in Shubin (khram Kosmy i Damiana v Shubine) stop feeding the homeless hot food, which they have been doing for many years. They justified this demand by the need to keep the city center clean (the church is located opposite the Moscow mayor’s office). The parish and the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Ministry of the Russian Orthodox Church appealed to the mayor’s office to make other city center premises available, but such premises have not been provided.

At the request of the prefecture of the eastern administrative district, the Moscow Court of Arbitration ordered the demolition of buildings belonging to the Catholic refuge of the Society of Mother Theresa, which has supported people with severe mental health problems for more than twenty years. One of the buildings was completely demolished; moreover the sisters were obliged to pay for the demolition work themselves.

Both organizations have nevertheless continued their charitable activity.


Insufficient protection from defamation and attacks

No murders on the grounds of religious enmity were recorded in 2011. The murder of a Yaroslavl imam is questionable: in November 2011 the second imam of the local cathedral mosque, who had been threatened more than once by neo-Nazis, was shot. A motive for the killing has not yet been established, however.

There were, unfortunately, assaults motivated by religious hatred. As in 2010, the main victims (more than twenty of them) were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Attacks on them were recorded in various regions, in particular in Moscow, Petersburg, Tatarstan, Udmurtia, Chuvashia, in Krasnodar and Primorskii krais, and in Arkhangelsk, Moscow and Sverdlovsk regions. Usually attacks took place during church services. In a number of cases representatives of the religious organization were received death threats and knife injuries, and several people required medical help. In Irkutsk region the drunken head of a village administration twice forced his way into a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ house, threatening those assembled with a pistol. Moreover, law enforcement agencies at first refused to open a criminal case about the attack, but the materials were then sent for supplementary examination and the order to reject the case was overturned.

Attacks on representatives of other religious confessions happened significantly more rarely than before: in Voronezh three Mormon missionaries were victims, in Moscow – one Orthodox priest. One further citizen was beaten on a Moscow suburban train because he was mistaken for an Orthodox priest.

59 cases of vandalism on religious grounds were recorded in 2011. The vandals’ targets were most often Muslim (17), new religious movements (16, 15 of which were the property of Jehovah’s Witnesses and one which belonged to Krishna devotees) and Orthodox (12). Apart from these, Jewish (8) and Protestant (5) religious objects were subjected to attacks, as was one pagan temple.

Once again, as in the year before, more than a few cases of dangerous vandalism were recorded: efforts were made to burn down two Orthodox churches, synagogues, buildings belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. A mosque was fired upon in Kamensk-Ural’skii, in Rostov and Orenburg regions buildings belonging to the Jehovah’s Witness were shot at and in Nizhevartovsk a Pentecostal church was twice fired upon.

Nizhnii Novgorod region became the ‘champion’ of cemetery vandalism: over the year ten incidents were recorded in the region. Most often Muslim graves were subject to attack, and Novosormovskoe cemetery was subjected to three pogroms. In a number of cases vandals left neo-Nazi graffiti on the gravestones.


Religious and public figures continue to allow xenophobic remarks to be made about various religious groups. As in 2010, Bishop Pitirim (Volochkov) of Syktyvkar and Vorkuta once again made a xenophobic speech. Commenting on the terrorist attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport he declared that terrorism in Russia ‘has clear national and religious coloring’, yet again denounced the equality of religions before the law and demanded that the authorities no longer foster ‘the development of alien cults and religious tendencies in our country’.

A transition from speeches to the active opposition of ‘foreign cults’ was observed in several cases. In Syktyvkar representatives of the national-patriotic organization Frontier of the North (Rubezh Severa), who had played an active role in protests against the building of a mosque in the town in 2010, turned their attention to Protestants in 2011. They attempted to disrupt several concerts organized by parishioners of the God’s Glory church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals). The ‘patriots’ distributed ‘anti-sect’ leaflets to those attending these events.

In Tomsk the Siberians movement, the Pan-Slavic Youth Association, the Congress of Russian Communities and the Tomsk Cossacks opposed the installation of a khachkar, an Armenian stone cross, and appealed to the public prosecutor’s office. The lack of‘places of memory connected with the presence of Armenians in Siberian/Tomsk history’was specified by the application’s authors as one of the reasons for considering the cross illegal.


As in earlier years, ‘anti-sect’ articles appeared in the mass media – especially in the regional media. Xenophobic materials focused on Jehovah’s Witnesses, Krishna devotees, Mormons and Scientologists. In contrast to previous years, there was a significant growth of anti-Muslim articles in both regional and federal publications. As a rule all these publications linked followers of Islam with extremism.

Above all it is worth recalling here the campaign to discredit two imams in Novosibirsk, Il’khom Merazhov and Kamil Odilov, in connection with whom criminal proceedings under part 1 article 2822 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (‘Organizing the activities of an extremist organization’) were initiated in October 2011. This case was reported by the Novosibirsk editions of the newspapers Kommersant and Komsomol’skaia pravda, the federal publications Komsomol’skaia pravda and Labor (Trud), the website, federal television channels Russia (Rossiia) and Channel One (Pervyi). Moreover the publications abounded in insulting statements about the accused and dubious information about the Turkish theologian Said Nursi (whose books Merazhov and Odilov are suspected of distributing) and his pupils.

Anti-Muslim articles were also published in Moskovskii komsomolets and the Tatarstan newspaper Chelny LTD.

Increasingly often the victims of defamation not only issued statements in response but also appealed to the courts to protect them, sometimes successfully. For example the court of Naberezhnye Chelny, followed by the Supreme Court of Tatarstan, obliged the editors of the newspaper Chelny LTD to retract information ‘inconsistent with reality and damaging to the business reputation published in the article ‘Scandal in the Tauba mosque’ in March 2011.

The Good Sense foundation (Zdravomyslie) demanded that a criminal case be brought against the press secretary of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, archpriest Vladimir Vigiliansk, under articles 129 (‘Slander’) and 282 (‘Incitement of hatred or enmity’). This was prompted by the fact that Father Vladimir, in responding to an inquiry from the foundation about the validity of the provision of Federal Security Service guards to Patriarch Kirill, called members of the foundation swindlers and added that ‘atheists are guilty of a million victims from amongst our fellow citizens. Initially the applicants were refused, however then the Investigation Department of the Russian Federation overturned this decision and ordered a second examination of the complaint. That there will be no criminal proceedings is not in doubt, however, and this is completely fair: Father Vladimir’s remarks about atheists could in no way be sufficient grounds for a criminal trial, and article 129 is not applicable to remarks about an unspecified group of people. Moreover, since December 2011 this article has been excluded from the Criminal Code. In the given example a civil lawsuit would have been more appropriate.

[1] See A. Verkhovsky, ‘Miniust prizyvaet zakon k poriadku’, NG-religiia 19 October 2011, available online at; Roman Lunkin, ‘Illuziia svobody. Miniust reshil ukzakonit dedovshinu v sfere religii’, Religiia i pravo 19 October 2011, available online at