Freedom of conscience in Russia: Restrictions and challenges in 2012

Настоящий материал (информация) произведен и (или) распространен иностранным агентом РОО Центр «Сова» либо касается деятельности иностранного агента РОО Центр «Сова».

Edited by Alexander Verkhovsky


Legal regulations concerning religious organizations  : Federal legislation  :  Regional initiatives  :  Initiatives not successfully progressed in 2012
Problems relating to places of worship  :  Problems with the construction of religious buildings  :  Problems relating to existing religious buildings  :  Positive resolutions
Preferential treatment accorded certain religious organizations by the authorities  :  Financial and material help  :  The authorities and increased pro-Church activism
Other examples of discrimination and unwarranted interference  :  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 latest 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; 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.


The legal action against Pussy Riot, and associated topics, became the event which in many respects defined the developing situation with regards to freedom of conscience and relations between the state and religious confessions in 2012. It clearly demonstrated the contours of, and reasons for, the growing rapprochement between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church.

In response, there was continued growth of the anticlericalism which began in 2011. Protest against the preferential treatment of the Russian Orthodox Church took diverse forms, from the already established tradition of petitioning against the construction of Orthodox churches and challenging decisions about these constructions in court, to meetings and pickets. It is important to note that in 2012 anticlerical slogans were actively used not only in ‘themed’ protest actions, which became geographically more widespread, but also at practically all protest actions organized by the opposition, alongside other political slogans.

It is remarkable that all of this affected debate on the presence of religion in schools to a comparably minor degree, especially since the course which makes such presence possible (offered in six variants: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, secular ethics and world religions) was changed from elective to mandatory in 2012.

A further reaction to the case against Pussy Riot was an outbreak of vandalism against Orthodox targets. This, in turn, led a group of Duma deputies to introduce an entirely dubious draft bill to ‘protect the feelings of believers’, and groups of radically-minded Orthodox to attack citizens and cultural objects on the pretext of ‘protecting holy things’. Instances of violence by such groups were recorded significantly more often in 2012 than before.

With regard to other tendencies noted by us in previous years, we observed a continuation but not a worsening of the situation. As before, conflicts often arise in connection with the transfer of property to religious organizations, but there is no evidence of a growth in the number of such conflicts in comparison with the previous reporting period.

As before, religious organizations experience problems with registration from time to time. In 2012, however, there were no recorded instances of the liquidation of religious organizations.

‘Unpopular’ religious organizations, as in previous years, came under pressure from bureaucrats. The campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses which has continued for several years seems to have eased, and those who experience discrimination are increasingly asserting their rights in the courts.

Legal regulations concerning religious organizations

The majority of federal and regional legislation passed in Russia in 2012 which impacted upon the interests of religious organizations was aimed at simplifying their activities. However, a few of those measures passed in the last year (notably, all passed by constituent parts of the Federation), on the contrary, encroached upon the interests of these organizations. At the same time, the law ‘On education’ passed at the end of the year, which to all intents and purposes legitimized the interference of several ‘traditional’ religious organizations in the educational process, can be evaluated as a departure from the principle of secularity.


Federal Legislation

Arguably the law ‘On education’ passed by the State Duma on its final reading on 21 December 2012, and signed by the president on 29 December, evoked the greatest public response. According to this law, ‘spiritual-moral’ educational disciplines in mainstream schools, and theological courses in secular educational institutions, must be agreed with the corresponding religious organizations, and ‘educational workers from amongst those recommended by the appropriate central religious organization’ must teach these disciplines.

After the first reading, opponents of the proposed legislation attempted to introduce amendments correcting the Fundamentals of Religious Cultures and Secular Ethics course and removing the right of religious organizations to influence the contents of educational courses. These amendments were voted down, however, not without intervention by representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church.

If the very introduction of the Fundamentals course was the first regulatory strengthening of privileged status the four ‘traditional’ religions, then the application of accepted amendments required the government to officially strengthen the privileged position of these religions’ separate organizations.

Moreover, several legislative and regulatory acts which simplify the activities of religious organizations were passed.

In July the presidential decree ‘On the provision to clerics of the right to receive deferment of conscripted military service’ came into force, and in October the government confirmed the rules for granting such deferment. According to the rules, deferment is granted annually to 150 ordained clerics of all confessions. The religious organization must supply a list of candidates for deferment. The distribution of the quota between religious organizations is entrusted to the Government Commission on Religious Organizations. Clerics awarded the privilege of deferment must reaffirm this right annually.

In December the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation responded to a complaint by the Human Rights Commissioner of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Lukin, which identified a discrepancy between the Constitution and point 5, article 16 of the federal law ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’ and point 5, article 19 of the Republic of Tatarstan law ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’. The respective points of these laws prescribe the conducting of church services and other religious rituals beyond specially designated places for doing so according to the procedures established for conducting meetings, marches and demonstrations. The Human Rights Commissioner considered this regulation to be excessive government interference in the affairs of religious organizations.

In considering the complaint, the Constitutional Court came to the conclusion that far from all religious ceremonies require the authorities to take special security measures; accordingly, the religious organization need not notify the authorities in advance of events which do not require special measures. The legislation should be amended accordingly. Until such time as this happens, the Constitutional Court appealed to bureaucrats not to apply the law on meetings to the conducting of such religious events.


Regional initiatives

Laws which in some way concern religious organizations were also passed in constituent parts of the Federation in 2012.

On 3 August the State Council of Tatarstan passed a law ‘On the introduction of changes to the regional law “On the freedom of conscience and religious associations”’, which was signed by the republic’s head on 6 August. In particular, the new law requires religious organizations to appoint or select clergy only from amongst those who have received religious education on the territory of Russia, and also to formulate criteria which will secure the ‘canonical unity of the creed indicated in the statute of the religious organization’. Such demands can only be evaluated as gross government interference in the affairs of religious organizations.

These amendments evoked displeasure in the republic: a group of believers even attempted to challenge them via the courts. The new law is clearly intended to help control radical Muslim organizations; however it will not be straightforward for those religious organizations which the authorities currently have no concerns about to conform to the new legislative regulations. In many organizations, all or almost all of the clergy were educated outside of Russia.

In October the State Council of Tatarstan brought a similar draft bill to the State Duma, but as it was later replaced by new official draft legislation permitting the constituent parts of the Federation to establish similar requirements for clergy, it did not receive serious consideration. Concrete requirements regarding education are not mentioned in the new draft, but undoubtedly they may also be proposed. This same draft legislation also assimilated anti-extremist initiatives by the Ministry of Justice, including a ban on membership (participation) in religious organizations for individuals who have been convicted of extremist activity. This ban is especially surprising, considering that the law – and for good reason – does not define understanding of membership as applied to religious organizations; indeed participation may also be interpreted extremely broadly.[1]

A further piece of regional legislation which complicated the activities of religious organizations was a set of amendments to the regional law ‘On the procedure for giving notification of a public event on the territory of the KhMAO’, introduced by deputies of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug (KhMAO) on 25 October 2012. The amendments forbid the conducting of meetings in a whole series of places, including in cultural buildings, and limit the number of participants in such events.

In contrast, other regional laws passed in 2012 were beneficial to religious organizations.

On 23 August Sergei Sobyanin, Mayor of Moscow, signed a resolution on specially-protected green spaces. Religious activities are specified amongst the types of activity which may take place in these areas. It is likely that this will make it easier to build churches in areas where formerly the erection of religious structures was prohibited by law.

On 5 December deputies of St Petersburg’s legislative assembly passed a law ‘On the transfer of fixed property in the ownership of Petersburg to religious institutions’, together with the analogous 2006 law, on third reading. In accordance with the new law, the regional government takes the decision to transfer property independently, establishes the procedure for creating and publishing the plan to transfer the given property and the procedure for the formation and activity of a commission to resolve disputes arising as the claims of religious organizations are considered. Formerly other bodies were also involved in deciding these questions.

On 24 December the duma of Kaliningrad region released religious organizations from the requirement to pay tax on property, having passed the corresponding amendments to the regional law ‘On tax on the property of organizations’.


Initiatives not successfully progressed in 2012

The idea of making the punishment for offending religious feelings more severe has been raised more than once before, but thanks to the trial against Pussy Riot it was formulated for the first time in draft legislation and reached parliament for consideration in 2012.

In April United Russia (Edinaia Rossiia) deputies A. G. Sidiakin, E. L. Nikolaeva, S. A. Poddubnyi, and B. V. Mikhalev brought a series of proposed amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses before the State Duma, which increased the punishment for insulting religious feelings. It was proposed to raise the fine to ten thousand rubles, and similarly to increase the detention period to fifteen days [24 hour periods]. The draft legislation was recalled in June.

On 26 September, however, draft legislation ‘On the introduction of amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and separate laws of the Russian Federation aimed at counteracting offense against citizens’ religious convictions and feelings, the desecration of facilities and items of religious veneration (of pilgrimage), places of religious ritual and ceremony’ was brought before the Duma. This draft legislation was prepared by the State Duma’s Committee for the Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, which is currently headed by LDPR (Liberal’no-demokraticheskaia partiia Rossii, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) deputy Yaroslav Nilov.

It was proposed to supplement the existing Criminal Code with article 243.1 (‘Offending the religious convictions and beliefs of citizens and/or desecrating facilities and items of religious veneration (of pilgrimage), places designated for the conducting of religious rites and ceremonies’) which makes provision for fines of up to 300 thousand rubles or imprisonment for up to three years for insulting feelings. For desecration it makes provision for fines from 100 to 500 thousand rubles or compulsory community service of up to 400 hours, or imprisonment of up to five years. It was proposed to increase the fine for the ‘public desecration and damage of religious and liturgical literature, signs and emblems of worldview symbolism’ to 30-50 thousand rubles in part 2 article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, from which those drafting the legislation suggested importing provisions relating to accountability for the insulting of religious feelings into the Criminal Code.

The law evoked widespread public concern. The Public Chamber recommended that this draft legislation be refused consideration. At the end of November President Vladimir Putin, after meeting with the new presidential Council for Human Rights, also recommended that consideration of the draft legislation be frozen until March 2013. In January 2013 the government had already come to a negative conclusion about this draft legislation, noting that it duplicated already existing legislative provisions. Similar observations were made by the Supreme Court, and the Council for Human Rights. The authors of the proposed legislation, however, having agreed to introduce several minor amendments at a later stage, did not recall the draft bill from consideration.

As in previous years, efforts were made to introduce amendments into the existing law ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’.

In May Andrei Tychinin, a deputy of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (Kommunisticheskaia partiia Rossisskoi Federatsii, KPRF), proposed his own amendments to this law. He suggested that the minimum membership of local religious organizations be changed from ten to 50 people and – by his reckoning – one should be required to have local organizations in no less than 30 regions in order to found a centralized organization. All these measures were invoked to protect society ‘from diverse sectarian manifestations’. This draft legislation had already been withdrawn by October.

In October a LDPR fraction in the State Duma launched yet another attempt to regulate the offering of sacrifices on Muslim feast days, proposing amendments to the law ‘On the freedom of conscience and on religious associations’ and the Code of Administrative Offenses. The authors of the amendments suggested ‘religious rituals, entailing violent actions with regard to people or animals’ be conducted in religious buildings or specially designated places, and that infringement of the prescribed procedure be punishable by a fine. The proposed legislation did not reach the State Duma even for a first reading in 2012. In January 2013 the State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Construction did not support the proposed version of the draft legislation.


In December the Public Chamber attempted to come forward with a legislative initiative, directing a recommendation at the Ministry of Defense, the State Duma and the Presidential Administration to change the text of the military oath ‘to take into account the religious views and national specificities of a significant portion of military personnel’: the proposed change would replace the word ‘vow’ with ‘promise’. This initiative, too, has as yet made no further progress.


Several draft bills relating to the activity of religious organizations were further proposed in the regions.

In November amendments to the law on meetings were brought before the Petersburg Legislative Assembly by deputy Vitalii Milonov, renowned as the author of the regional ‘anti-gay’ law. The proposed amendments require the organizers of public events to gain permission from representatives of religious organizations if the events are to be held on grounds adjoining their buildings. The draft legislation has, as yet, not progressed further, but it should be noted that during public debate its authors declared that ‘the freedom to profess religion is of considerably more value to the state than the freedom [to hold] meetings’ and all those ‘who speak out today against religious convictions, against the traditional values of society, are speaking out against the state.’[2]

The Moscow region Duma Committee on State Power and Regional Security developed a series of amendments to the law ‘On the procedure for giving notification of the conducting of public events on Moscow region territory’, which proposed the creation of ‘a list of places where the conducting of public events is forbidden from the outset’. It was proposed to include religious facilities amongst such places.

Neither of these draft bills progressed further in 2012.


Problems relating to places of worship

Religious organizations continued to experience difficulty with the construction and use of religious buildings in 2012.

Problems with the construction of religious buildings

As before, the construction of mosques remains seriously problematic. Despite a clear shortage of mosques in Moscow, observed not for the first time, the city authorities have taken no steps to resolve this issue. Moreover in November the Mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, declared that there are enough mosques in Moscow, and new mosques should be built in Moscow region, since the main potential parishioners are not Moscow residents. In December Konstantin Timofeev, chair of the Moscow city Committee for the Realization of Construction Investment Projects and Regulation of Shared Construction (Moskomstroiinvest), refuted information about supposedly earmarked Muslim sites circulated by the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of European Russia (Dukhovnoe upravlenie musulman Evropeiskoi chasti Rossii, DUMER).

Muslims do not usually even gain permission to build, but should such permission be granted, the mosque construction comes up against the opposition of local residents. In Mitino, for example, efforts to grant a plot for construction of a mosque were not crowned with success. Influenced by the district’s residents the authorities decided to oppose construction in that spot, but without allocating a new plot.

There are problems in other regions too.

Muslims of Biisk and Ul’ianovsk were not granted permission to build a mosque. For several years now, Muslims in Iuzhno-Sakhalinsk have also not managed to gain such permission. The community has begun to raise funds to buy a plot without waiting for a site to be allocated, but in the meantime is gathering for prayers in a section of a former mechanical repair factory, an unheated premises without a roof. The authorities have allocated a building plot to another Iuzhno-Sakhalinsk community which comes under the jurisdiction of the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims (Tsentralnoe dukhovnoe upravlenie musul’man, TsDUM).

In Novokuznetsk, Kemerovo region, where Muslims were granted permission to build back in 2011, they have not managed to start construction because representatives from a Russian patriotic club have come out in opposition.

The construction of a mosque in Kostomuksha was suspended as a result of local residents’ protests, despite the fact that permission was granted back in 2008.

Conflict around a mosque construction which is almost already completed continues in Kostroma. After the local administration refused to grant permission for its continued construction in July, the Sverdlovsk court of Kostroma ordered the town administration to grant the Muslim community the necessary permission, but in September the regional court overturned this decision. However, the court of second instance recognized the authorities’ inactivity as illegal: they had not extended permission to build in a timely fashion.


As in the previous year, a large number of conflicts over the building of Orthodox churches were recorded. These were primarily in Moscow, where – as became clear – the program of constructing modular churches is being implemented considerably more slowly than the developers had planned, mainly because of public protests.

On 28 December 2012 Patriarch Kirill, speaking at the Moscow diocesan assembly, verified that ‘the alms-collecting dynamic is not meeting the planned target’. According to his data, by December 2012 eight churches had been built within the framework of the program, instead of the planned 11. More than 200 plots have been allocated for the construction, and 62 of these are already registered. A further 19 plots, situated in areas of ecological importance, were excluded from the program as construction on these sites ‘did not gain the support of the populace.’

Protests against the building of churches ‘within walking distance’ arose in Zelenograd, Ramenki, Novoperedelkino, Khoroshevskii, Gagarinskii, and several other districts. As in the previous year, citizens made their position clear not only by means of protest actions (conducted by both opponents and supporters of the construction projects) but also through the courts. In Voikovskii district, for example, inhabitants demanded that the court declare invalid a public consultation at which most of the participants spoke for the church.

Moreover, a petition was launched in May to appeal to the mayor to retract the order of 20 October 2010 about the allocation of plots within Program 200, to halt all works and public consultation at places where conflicts have arisen.

In several cases protesters have managed to halt construction. This happened, notably, in Tsaritsyno (where the board recognized the erection of two churches as inexpedient), Yasenevo and the micro-district Grad Moskovskii.


Conflicts connected with the construction of Orthodox churches continued in other regions too. Local residents in Petersburg region spoke out against the construction of a church complex within the Okkervil’ forest park. As a result, the authorities declared the park a recreational area, and the developer announced that the construction was cancelled.

Protests against the construction of churches in nature reserves were recorded also in Vladimir, Novosibirsk, Samara and Tomsk. In the village of Gat’, Oryol region, they protested against the construction of a church and an Orthodox center on the site of a school.


We recorded only one case of problems arising in connection with the construction of religious buildings for other confessions: despite the fact that the building plot for a Center of Vedic culture in Khimki was allocated several years ago, the Moscow Krishna Consciousness Society has not yet been able to start construction – also as a result of public opposition. The ceremony for the laying of the first stone was spoiled by participants of a picket against the construction, which the community of the local Orthodox Church of St George took direct part in organizing.


Problems relating to existing

In contrast to the previous year, in 2012 not only Protestants but also representatives of other confessions had to struggle with such problems.

The Pentecostal Holy Trinity church (khram sviatoi Troitsy) in the Moscow district of Novokosino, a building which had existed for several years, was demolished. A court decision from 2011, which ruled that the church construction was illegal, served as grounds for demolition. Conflict over these structures has been continuing since 2005. Bureaucrats promised to allot the community a new plot for construction, without specifying when. Moreover, worship conducted by the community in the wreckage of the church was deemed by bureaucrats to be an unsanctioned meeting, and a report of an administrative violation was drawn up on Pastor Vasilii Romaniuk for conducting this event.

The Word of Life (Slovo zhizni) Pentecostal church in Novgorod region was also demolished, based on a court decision from two years ago which deemed the structure illegal.

Sometimes, however, bureaucrats’ complaints were well-founded. The arbitration court of Samara region refused to recognize a Baptist community’s prayer house in Togliatti as a legal construction, since it was built in 2000 on the basis of permission given in 1980, and was rebuilt in 2004. The court based its decision on the fact that the permission to build expired in 1981, and the religious organization had made no effort to ensure their documentation was in order.


Complaints were brought twice against Muslim organizations. In Noiabr’sk the Iman-Faith (Iman-Vera) mosque was shut by court order for violating fire safety regulations and because their rental agreement had expired back in 2006.

In Kazan the prosecutor’s office considered Faizrakhmanist community constructions to be illegal and began to prepare a case for their demolition, but during the inquiry it became clear that the constructions were based on legal foundations after all, so the prosecutor abandoned demolition plans.


Problems arose also amongst the Orthodox, moreover in Moscow Patriarchate parishes and not just amongst ‘alternative’ jurisdictions.

In Udmurtia the authorities demanded that the parish of the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas in the village of Zav’ialovo leave the premises they occupied despite an agreement with the owners. This community of Izhevsk priests – which in 2011 had refused to commemorate Patriarch Kirill and had transferred to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Tserkov’ Zagranitsei, RPTsZ, under Metropolitan Agafangel) – was required to move to the premises of a former storehouse purchased by the clergy.


In December the parish priest of the Moscow church of the Hieromartyr Clement, Pope of Rome (Khram sviashchennomuchenika Klimenta papy Rimskogo) made an announcement about the conservation of the church in the winter period related to his inability to pay the municipal utilities bill. The reason given was the closure (in accordance with instructions from the Mayor of Moscow) of a network of kiosks selling dairy products from the church. There are no grounds to view this case as an infringement of freedom of conscience, however it is worth mentioning as an example of the negative side-effects of ‘restitution’ [3]: this substantial church (which earlier housed a book depository of the Russian State Library) was restored with funds from the city budget, since it is a significant seventeenth century architectural monument, and was transferred to a parish which does not have the funds to maintain it.

Buddhist organizations experienced problems with accommodation for the first time in several years. In February Ol’khonskii district court, in Irkutsk region, ordered the Manla Buddhist community to vacate an illegally occupied plot of land and to take down the structures which had been erected on it. According to the court, the community had occupied the plot without authorization.

Conflict between the Buddhist monastery of Shad Tchup Ling and Kachkanar mining and processing industrial complex in Sverdlovsk region continued. In order to develop deposits of ore it is necessary to move the monastery to another location, and the industrial complex is prepared to help with this. The monastery, however, does not consider this an option, deeming that it ‘insults the feelings of all Buddhist believers in Russia and creates a negative impression of our country in traditional Buddhist countries and in the world as a whole.’


Positive resolutions

The Baptists of Vladivostok have twice managed to save the prayer house they have inhabited since 1976, which the town administration attempted to seize. The authorities made the first attempt back in 2011, but in January 2012 Pervorechenskii court of Vladivostok ordered bureaucrats to transfer ownership of the contested premises to the church. In June the administration attempted to challenge the 1976 agreement about the transfer of the building to the Baptist and Adventist communities in Primorskii krai’s court of arbitration, but the court rejected this case. Efforts by bureaucrats to appeal against this decision have been similarly lacking in success.

The Ark (Kovcheg) Baptist church also won a case against the administration of Balashikha, which had refused to grant permission for premises of a prayer house to be brought into use. In 2011 this refusal was deemed illegal by Moscow region’s court of arbitration, in 2012 this decision was upheld by Moscow’s Tenth Arbitration court of appeal.


Preferential treatment accorded certain religious organizations by the authorities

Perhaps the clearest example of preferential treatment by the authorities in 2012 was the legal proceedings in the case of the ‘punk prayer’ in the Moscow church of Christ the Savior (khram Khrista Spasitelia). In these proceedings the state unambiguously took the side of the Russian Orthodox Church, ignoring the constitutional principle of state secularity and the requirements of legislation. Criminal proceedings under part 2, article 213 of the Criminal Code (Hooliganism, committed by prior agreement by a group of people motived by hate) were brought against three members of the punk group Pussy Riot – Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – who on 21 February sang a song and danced on the church solea (a raised walkway which runs along the front of the iconostasis in an Orthodox church). The defendants were arrested for the duration of the investigation, which was completely at odds with the gravity of their actions. On 17 August Khamovnicheskii court found all three defendants guilty and sentenced them to two years imprisonment in a standard regime penal colony (Samutsevich’s sentence was subsequently changed on appeal from actual to suspended).

Moreover, there was practically no evidence of guilt according to article 213 in the indictment, particularly as regards the motive of religious hatred. The text of the indictment and the verdict abounded with ecclesiastical terms absent in criminal law, even citing the canons of church councils, and as a whole gave the impression of an indictment for blasphemy rather than for hooliganism.

The clear injustice of the verdict, the cruel treatment of young women (two of whom have young children) and the flagrant use of a criminal law for exclusively ecclesiastical ends evoked public protest. Support events for Pussy Riot were held in various regions.


Other methods of demonstrating preferential treatment towards religious organizations which have already become traditional were also observed in 2012. Some regions announced supplementary holidays for religious feast days, for example, as they have before: Radonitsa (when Orthodox Christians commemorate their dead) was declared a day off in eight regions, and in a few constituent parts of the Russian Federation, including Tatarstan and Adygeia, Muslim feast days were.

There were also exceptions. In Tver region, part of the territory of the St Nil Stolobenskii hermitage on Lake Seliger, where the main official youth forum is held annually, was transferred to the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs (Rosmolodezh’). This went against the trend to transfer property to the Russian Orthodox Church which formerly did and did not belong to it, and there were no ensuing protests from the Church.

Sometimes bureaucrats got ahead of themselves, rushing to defend the interests of some religious organization to the detriment of others, and ended up in curious situations. The administration of the Vologda region town of Ustiug forbade employees of the local history museum to hold a book launch for a volume dedicated to Metropolitan Iosif (Petrovykh), canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (RPTsZ). It is notable that in this particular case the Moscow Patriarchate eparchy did not oppose the proposed event, but bureaucrats decided to cancel it, interpreting the bishop’s standard response to a request for a blessing – ‘God will give a blessing’ – as ‘tacit refusal’.


Financial and material help

As in the previous year, the means to restore religious structures – generally, but not exclusively, monuments of cultural significance in accordance with the law – was allocated from federal and regional budgets.

About 300 million rubles has been allotted from the federal budget to restore the Holy Trinity St Sergius monastery (Sviato-Troitskaia Sergieva lavra) and the Savior-Transfiguration Solovetskii stravropegial monastery (Spaso-Preobrazhenskii Solovetskii stavropilgal’nyi muzhskoi monastyr’). Over the year around 20 structures, predominantly Orthodox, were restored in Moscow using budget funds. Funds were also allocated in other regions, in particular in Leningrad, Kaliningrad and Kemerovo regions, and in St Petersburg. The Old Believer historic architectural complex of Rogozhskaia Sloboda, which the Moscow authorities refused to restore in 2011, ended up once again on the list of buildings to be restored in 2012.

In Dzerzhinsk, Nizhnii Novgorod region, the authorities allocated three million rubles for the construction of a mosque and planned to set aside two million rubles for the construction of a second in 2013. Oil companies and the authorities of Yamalo-Nenetsk autonomous district helped the Old Believer community of Nar’ian-Mar to restore the Caves (Pecherskii) monastery complex.

As before, besides direct finance, bureaucrats quite often used ‘administrative resources’ to prompt entrepreneurs and other citizens to participate in financing the building of religious structures, generally Orthodox ones. The governor of Stavropol krai, Valerii Zerenkov, issued an appeal to donate money for the completion of the diocesan cathedral, for example. Vladimir Resin, an advisor to the mayor of Moscow, appealed to town residents to financially support the construction of 200 Orthodox churches. The governor of Kursk region, Alexander Mikhailov, appealed to businessmen to raise the 30 million rubles still required to complete the restoration of the Kursk Root Hermitage of the Nativity of the Mother of God (Korennaia Rozhdestvo-Bogorodichnaia pustyn’). Given that Mikhailov has issued similar appeals before, one may conclude that the entrepreneurs are not responding to such requests with much enthusiasm.


Besides financial help real estate was transferred to religious organizations, as in the previous year. In the majority of cases this process was not accompanied by conflicts, as the evicted organizations were given other premises. Often regional budgets bore the expense of restoring the premises before transfer, as happened in Pskov and Rostov regions in particular. Property was most often transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, but sometimes it went to other organizations. In Kaluga region, for example, the authorities decided to transfer the historic synagogue building, occupied by the regional cultural and art institute, to the Kaluga Jewish community. The institute was given another building.

However, as before, there were also many situations of conflict associated with the transfer process when the interests of those occupying the property were encroached upon. As earlier, it was most often cultural institutions which suffered in such conflicts, in which bureaucrats almost always side with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The catholicon (main church) of the Nativity of the Mother of God Snetogorskii convent (Rozhdestva Bogoroditsy Snetagorskii monastyr’), with frescos dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century, was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church. Moreover, the church had been under the jurisdiction of the Pskov state museum reserve and the head of the museum reserve department responsible for the preservation of the frescos was not informed. Specialists fear that conducting services in the church will prove fatal for the frescos. Regional leaders did not perceive any violations of the law in this transfer, but included a point about the necessity of creating appropriate conservation conditions in the text of the transfer decision. Pskov region department of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments (Vserossiiskoe obshchestvo okhrany pamiatnikov istorii i kul’tury, VOOPIiK) announced a petition for the protection of the catholicon.

Nizhnii Novgorod eparchy sent the Committee for the Management of Town Property a letter requesting that the building of the former archbishop’s house, occupied by the conservatoire, be transferred to it. The authorities promised to allocate a new building to the conservatoire, and asked the eparchy to wait until they select such a building. A petition has been started in support of the conservatoire.

One of the corpuses of the Sverdlovsk region music and arts teacher training college was transferred to Ekaterinburg eparchy, which had declared its right to the building on the grounds that an ecclesiastical parish school had been housed in it before the revolution. The college did not receive a substitute premises.

The authorities of Ryazan promised to transfer the building of the former Immaculate Conception of the Most Holy Virgin Mary church (Khram Neporochnogo Zachatiia Presviatoi Devy Marii), occupied by the Ryazan art institute, to the Catholic parish by 2015. However, the accommodation proposed as a substitute does not meet the needs of the institute so the transfer has been postponed for an unspecified period.

The eparchy of St Petersburg once again demanded that the building of the former Edinoverie church of St Nicholas (Nikol’skaia edinovercheskaia tserkov’), occupied by the Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic, be returned to them. Victor Boiarskii, the director of the museum, announced that the museum is ready to vacate the church building if appropriate premises are given to them: ‘Today it is clear that there are no such premises in the town, and no one can grant them to us.

Vladimir eparchy declared their claim on the district hospital building in the village of Bogoliubovo, motivated by the fact that until 1917 it housed a pilgrim hostel.

There were fewer cases of property which historically belonged to other religious organizations being transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, but some were recorded. The metropolitan see of Novgorod was given St Dimitrii Solunsk church (Tserkov’ sv. vmch. Dimitriia Solunskogo), claimed by the Old Believer community without success. The church is a cultural monument of federal significance dating from XIV-XV centuries.

It was not only real estate that was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church. In May the seventeenth century icon of the Mother of God of Iversk was transferred to the Moscow New Maidens’ Convent (Novodevichii monastyr’) from the collections of the Historical Museum.


The authorities and increased pro-Church activism

The growth of attacks committed by radical Orthodox groups and motivated by religious hatred was a particular feature of 2012. Their activity increased sharply during the court examination period of the Pussy Riot case, when many events were held in support of the group’s members. Several attacks by Orthodox activists were recorded in Moscow, committed against citizens and various organizations who, one way or another, were considered by their attackers to have insulted Orthodox Christianity. It is likely that these attacks involved one and the same group of people, many of whom participated in protests against Pussy Riot. The most well-known of them is Dmitrii Tsorionov (Enteo), an activist of the Prophet Daniel Missionary Movement (Pravoslavnoe missionerskoe dvizhevie v chest’ sv. proroka Daniila).

Attacks on the picket in support of Pussy Riot were recorded twice. In March several people, including Nikita Slepnev, an activist from the People’s Council movement (Narodnyi sobor, who call themselves the National Union in English), Orthodox activist Andrei Kaplin and Alexander Bosykh, head of youth projects for the Congress of Russian Communities (Kongress russkikh obshchin), provoked a fight in which a young woman was injured. In July Orthodox activist Sergei Ekimov hit a participant of a similar picket in the face. According to the girl’s lawyer, doctors diagnosed her with concussion, a partially dislocated jaw and several dislodged teeth. Other attacks did not result in such serious injury.


The number of complaints by Orthodox activities about cultural events ‘insulting to religious feelings’ increased in 2012. Exhibitions and particular exhibits within them were considered as such, as were plays, including a Bolshoi Theatre staging of the ‘Golden Cockerel’ opera. Several investigations by the public prosecutor were conducted at the request of believers, including of the ‘Jake and Dinos Chapman. The end of fun’ exhibition at the Hermitage, ‘Spiritual abuse’ at the Winzavod Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow and a staging of the rock opera ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in Rostov on Don, but the public prosecutor detected nothing insulting in them. The authorities did not intervene in the remaining cases of complaints, and the majority of events which evoked displeasure nonetheless took place. The cancellation of the ‘Icons’ exhibition in Petersburg – which evoked the greatest number of protests in different regions – was an exception, but in this case the decision to cancel was taken by the organizers and not at the direct demand of bureaucrats.

Probably the most comic event of this type was the attempt by Petersburg Orthodox activists, headed by the aforementioned deputy Milonov, to extract 333 million rubles compensation for moral damage from the pop star Madonna for offending religious feelings (by trampling on a cross during a concert) and declaring support for sexual minorities in the presence of children. In December the Moscow district court of St Petersburg dismissed the lawsuit, decreeing that the plaintiffs should cover the legal costs.

Novosibirsk artist and activist Artem Loskutov, however, incurred punishment for offending religious feelings. In June two courts found him guilty under part 2, article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (‘Insulting the religious feelings of citizens’) for disseminating posters with a stylized icon-like image of Pussy Riot in the town, and sentenced him to a fine. In October two further cases were initiated against Loskutov under the same article, but this time for the distribution of t-shirts with similar images. As a result of one of these cases, by now in 2013, he was similarly sentenced to a fine; the other was halted for lack of corpus delicti. Loskutov considered the fines unjust and has complained to the European Court of Human Rights.

Bearing in mind that protests against conducting cultural events which ‘insult the feelings of believers’ do not lead to their cancellation in the majority of cases, zealots sometimes attempt to stop ‘blasphemous’ events by force.

In May Orthodox activists led by Kirill Frolov, head of the Corporation of Orthodox Action, chanted slogans and distributed leaflets at the Moscow street exhibition ‘Nomadic Museum of Contemporary Art’, and tore one of the exhibits, a picture depicting a member of the Pussy Riot group crucified on a cross.

 In August two cultural institutions were subject to attack by Orthodox activists: in Theatre.doc activists attempted to ruin a performance devoted to the Pussy Riot trial, and they organized a pogrom in the G-Spot Museum of Sex, Erotica and Erotic Art on Moscow’s Arbat.

 The Museum of Erotica also caught it from radical zealots of Islam. In October G-spot promoters were beaten up by unknown assailants while distributing leaflets about the museum. The attackers declared that the leaflets ‘insulted the Muslim faith’.

In September Cossacks organizing a protest action against the ‘Spiritual abuse’ exhibition in the Winzavod (Vinzavod) Center for Contemporary Art in Moscow beat up a France Presse journalist.

In December D. Tsorionov, together with two young women, tried to wreck a one-day photo exhibition in the Sakharov Center. The exhibition ‘To Russia with love’ was dedicated to same sex families.

It is important to note that although the cases outlined above often involved violent actions, we are not aware of one instance in which those using force were held accountable for it.


The trial against Pussy Riot drew public attention to the actions of church organizations. Mikhail Anshakov, head of the Society for the Protection of Consumers (Obshchestvo zashchity prav potrebitelei, OZPP), twice brought legal proceedings against the Church of Christ the Savior about the protection of consumer rights and the arbitrariness of the Christ the Savior Foundation management, but lost both times. After an interview with Anshakov was published in the newspaper Novaia gazeta, in which he described the car washing, servicing and parking, laundry, canteen, commercial offices and retail outlets active on the territory of the church complex, the Foundation’s director Vasilii Poddevalin accused him of slander. At first proceedings were instituted under part 3 article 5.60 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, despite the fact that this article had been already eliminated from the Code, but the court did not perceive any administrative violation in Anshakov’s activities. New proceedings were then instigated under the article ‘Slander’ which had been returned to the Criminal Code. In January 2013 Anshakov was charged under part 2, article 128.1 of the Criminal Code (‘Slander, contained in a public speech, publically displayed work or the mass media’). In December 2012 an unknown assailant attacked Anshakov and hit him several times over the head with a crowbar. According to the head of the OZPP’s lawyer, the attack could be connected with the victim’s professional activities.


Other examples of discrimination and unwarranted interference

Liquidation of religious organizations and denial of registration

In 2012, in contrast to previous years, we did not record any cases of religious organizations being liquidated.

In December information appeared which suggested that the Ministry of Justice had brought a lawsuit to the Selizharovskii district court of Tver region ordering the liquidation of the Orthodox parish of Smolensk church in the village of Okovitsa in connection with the failure to produce reports on current activities, including financial activities. However in this instance the issue was only about changing the status of the parish: they were being transformed from ‘principal’ into ‘attached’, that is, ceasing to have their own juridical status but not ceasing their activities.

The Grace Church of Christians of the Evangelical Faith in Khabarovsk (tserkov’ khristian very evangel’skoi Blagodat’) once again managed to defend themselves against attempts to liquidate them by the regional prosecutor’s office. After the Khabarovsk regional court had refused to liquidate the church in 2011, the Supreme Court, considering an appeal by the regional prosecutor’s office, overturned this decision and sent the case for reconsideration. However, in August 2012 Khabarovsk regional court once again found no reason to liquidate the church and refused to satisfy the claim of the prosecutor’s office, and in November 2012 the Supreme Court upheld this decision.


Several religious organizations experienced difficulty registering or re-registering.

The parish of the Moscow church of St Nicholas on Bersenevskii embankment (tserkov’ Nikolaia Chudotvortsa na Bersenevke), for example, was warned once again about being refused registration should they refuse to accept an individual tax number (INN). Parishioners, headed by the parish priest hegumen Kirill (Sakharov), have been consistent opponents of INN for many years. The parish was not re-registered, but there was no liquidation either – to all appearances, the Ministry of Justice once again gave them an extension.

The Muslim community in Velikii Novgorod was unable to secure registration for the third year, since the Ministry of Justice finds fault with the charter documents which it has not yet managed to improve in the manner required.


Sanctions were taken against religious organizations, as before, for conducting religious activities without an appropriate license. In the majority of cases this involved Sunday schools.

Timashevskii district court of Krasnodar krai supported the case brought by the prosecutor’s office demanding the closure of a school attached to the Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, since the educational institution did not have state accreditation and was operating in violation of sanitary and fire safety standards.

Kirovskii district prosecutor’s office in Samara halted the activities of the Sources (Istoki) church parish school for 60 days via the courts, for lacking a license to conduct educational activities.

Since the activities of Sunday schools come under the jurisdiction of the law ‘On the freedom of conscience and on religious associations’ and do not require licensing, these decisions seem unjust to us. Krasnoiarsk regional court supported this supposition in February 2012 when it overturned a ruling of the Central district court of Krasnoiarsk, which on 16 June 2011 had deemed the activities of the Sunday school attached to the town’s Cathedral mosque (Sobornaia mechet’) to be illegal. Imposing a fine of 170 thousand rubles on the Muslim community for conducting educational activities without a license was also recognized as illegal.


The public prosecutor also had issues with the charter documents of several religious organizations.

In February 2012 prosecutors’ offices in two districts in Samara region, Bezenchukskii and Borskii, submitted objections to the charter documents of two local Evangelical Christians-Baptists churches. In both cases one of the reasons for issuing the objection was citing Holy Scripture as the foundation of their activities. According to the prosecutors, religious organizations should not be basing their activities on Holy Scripture.

In October Ialutorovskii inter-district prosecutor’s office perceived a violation of the Constitution of the Russian Federation’s article 28, which guarantees freedom of conscience, in one point of the regulations of Tiumen Bible seminary of Christians of the Evangelical Faith. The complaint was that only believing evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) or followers of other Christian confessions could be educated in this seminary, which the prosecutor interpreted as ‘privileging evangelical faith or followers of other Christian confessions over others’ and an infringement of the rights of followers of non-Christian religions and atheists.

Avtozavodskii district prosecutor’s office in Togliatti served the director of the Orthodox classical gymnasium with a statement regarding the elimination of a violation detected in the educational establishment’s charter documents. In particular, the regulations for selective entry into the gymnasium stipulated that a recommendation from one’s spiritual father be presented together with other documents, and the gymnasium’s compulsory rules contained a regulation regarding possible disciplinary punishments for pupils which are not stipulated in legislation. The violations were removed.


Discrimination against ‘non-traditional’ religious organizations

In 2012, as before, religious organizations which did not belong to the four ‘traditional’ religions experienced pressure from bureaucrats at various levels and from representatives of the security services. This was manifested on the level of public pronouncements and in the form of practical countermeasures. As in previous years, Protestant organizations and Jehovah’s Witnesses were subject to such discrimination more often than other groups.

On 25 October Vladimir Putin declared it necessary to improve the legal base for control over ‘totalitarian sects’. It is true that he also mentioned the importance of observing the principle of freedom of conscience, but if this part of the president’s speech did not engender a notable response from bureaucrats and the public, then the suggestion of strengthening control over ‘sects’ evoked a speedy reaction.

On 29 October Aleksei Grishin, a member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and formerly chief advisor to the Presidential Administration on internal politics, declared it necessary to create a register of ‘totalitarian sect’ leaders with whom the security services should ‘work’. Moreover, he suggested developing a single methodology for combatting dangerous religious organizations, using – amongst other things – the know-how of the Russian Orthodox Church.

On 1 November United Russia’s Young Guard (Molodaia gvardiia Edinoi Rossii) picketed the building of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). On 19 November the People’s Council announced the creation of a special wing to help the Ministry of the Interior expose ‘sects’.

However, even before the president’s announcement, bureaucrats and civil society organizations in various regions were taking measures which impede the normal activities of Protestant organizations – for the most part also regarded as ‘sects’.

In March the Kurgan region Department of Health distributed a letter to the managers of institutions within its jurisdiction which warned that Baptist representatives might be using ‘covert influence techniques on citizens’ psyches in order to increase parishioner numbers’. In order to prevent this, the medical establishment managers are instructed ‘to organize and conduct work with staff which explains the undesirability of cooperation’ between Baptists and psychiatrists or psychologists.

In Belgorod representatives of United Russia’s youth organization Nashi held a one night picket with ‘anti-sect’ posters in front of a Jehovah’s Witnesses building.

In April, 15 of Kamchatka’s Protestant pastors complained to the regional authorities about increasingly frequent cases of believers’ rights being violated by representatives of the authorities and the creation of a negative image of Protestant churches in the mass media.


Instances of religious services and other public events being impeded by both administrative methods and by force were recorded, as in earlier years.

In July police interrupted a church service at the Adygeia Revival Christian Center (Vozrozhdenie Adygeiskii khristianskii tsentr) in Maikop to conduct checks. As a result of this audit the pastor Alexander Kravchenko was fined ten thousand rubles under part 1, article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (‘Violation of the prescribed procedure of an organization or the conducting of assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, marches or pickets’) for conducting the service. In October Maikop town court overturned this decision, not considering the pastor’s actions to constitute a violation.

In August OMON troops broke into the grounds of the Sandpit (Pesochnitsa) holiday camp in the Primorskii krai town of Fokino, where the Fresh Wind (Svezhii veter) youth festival of Christian song was being held. OMON troops woke up those who were sleeping, frightened children, demanded the passports of those present and began procedures to demand a fine. The official reason given was the lack of a special permit for the gathering, as the camp was located next to a military base.


According to both our observations and the data of the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves, the persecution campaign conducted by bureaucrats and employees of law enforcement agencies against Jehovah’s Witnesses continued, but abated.[4] Nevertheless, as in previous years, law enforcement officers often detained preachers of that organization. Such cases were recorded in Moscow and Bashkortostan, in Altai, Krasnodar and Primorskii krais, and in Astrakhan, Belgorod, Vladimir, Kostroma, Magadan, Moscow, Novgorod, Orenburg, Tiumen and Cheliabinsk regions. Most often the detained preachers were taken to the police station and released after their passport details had been taken down, and after conversations about the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not infrequently the police conducted personal searches of those detained, photographed and fingerprinted them. Such detainments were mostly accompanied by procedural violations and insults directed at the detainees and their faith.

In Belgorod region a female preacher was fined for preaching on the street.


Not only Protestant organizations and Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced pressure from bureaucrats and law enforcement employees.

In August the Maloiaroslavetskii district prosecutor’s office in Kaluga region issued a caution to the leader of the local Muslim organization imam khatib Rinat Batkaev about the impermissibility of a violation the law ‘On assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, marches and pickets’. The reason given was the imam’s attempt to secure premises in which to celebrate Uraza Bairam (Eid al-Fitr), as the premises rented by the community could not accommodate all those who wished to join the celebrations. The prosecutor’s office cited the fact that he informed the administration not ten days prior to the event, as required by law, but later. After a visit to the prosecutor’s office the would-be lessor refused to lease to the Muslims. The regional prosecutor’s office began to check the legality of the caution issued.

In September a dance march of Hare Krishna devotees which had been agreed with the Sochi authorities was ruined. The town mayor, who halted the procession together with a Cossack patrol, announced that he had not signed the permission letter. Community representative Konstantin Skliarov was detained.

In September, on the eve of Patriarch Kirill’s impending visit to Vladimir eparchy, local bureaucrats and employees of law enforcement agencies began to hold talks with parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (Rossiskaia pravoslavnaia avtonomnoi tserkov’, RPATs), persuading them not to protest during the patriarchal visit. An employee of one of Suzdal’s enterprises – a RPATs parishioner – was threatened with dismissal.


In comparison with last year, foreign preachers began to experience significantly more difficulties on Russian territory.

The Russian Federation Ministry of the Interior, according to long established tradition, refused to issue an entry visa to the fourteenth Dalai Lama. A letter from the Russian Federation Ministry of the Interior states frankly that ‘The Chinese authorities assess the international activity of the Dalai Lama extremely negatively; according to them it inflicts direct detriment on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China’.[5]

Junsei Terasawa, a Buddhist monk travelling from Japan to Gorno-Altai, had his visa annulled at Novosibirsk airport in April. Russian Buddhists linked the ban on his entry with the fact that Terasawa participated in Russian political opposition meetings.

In May-June several Baptist students, US citizens studying in Samara international higher education center for the pre-university education preparation of foreign citizens, were held administratively liable under part 2, article 18.8 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (‘Violation of the residency regulations of the Russian Federation by a foreign citizen’). According to the Federal Migration Service department these students, who had entered on an educational visa, were in reality conducting religious activities which did not correspond with their declared aim of residency in the country.


Other cases

During 2012 the public prosecutor found fault not only directly with religious organizations, but also with social institutions under their aegis.

In autumn the public prosecutor began a check on the New Life (Novaia zhizn’) rehabilitation centers in the villages of Kotly and Preobrazhenka, Kingiseppskii district, Leningrad region. At the same time, complaints were also made against the rehabilitation center in Kotly by the fire safety inspectorate. According to the results of all manner of checks on the New Life church’s rehabilitation center in Kotly, a criminal case was brought under article 330 of the Criminal Code (‘Arbitrariness’) – one of the center’s patients claimed they had been forcibly detained there. Two administrative cases were also brought, under part 5, article 20.4 (‘Violation of fire safety requirements’) and part 1, article 19.20 (‘Implementing activities, unconnected with generating profit, without special permission’) of the Code of Administrative Offenses. We are unable to assess how well-founded these accusations were.


Cases in which the management of educational establishments did not allow pupils to attend lessons in Muslim dress were more frequent than in previous years. This happened in Nizhnevartovsk, Astrakhan region and Stavropol krai. In the two latter regions conflicts reached such proportions that the authorities attempted to resolve the issue centrally.

The Stavropol regional Ministry of Education passed a resolution introducing restrictions on the external appearance of pupils, which included the impermissibility of demonstrating religious affiliation and using youth subculture symbols. Astrakhan regional authorities recommended that provision for the introduction of school uniform and a ban on the public demonstration of confessional affiliation be included in the regulations of the region’s educational institutions.


Believers and religious organizations subjected to discrimination increasingly turned to the courts to defend their rights, and frequently with success.

At the request of the Bashkortostan prosecutor’s office, a letter from the regional Minister of Education, Artur Surin, was recalled in January. The letter, dated 26 October 2011, recommended that representatives of ‘sectarian’ organizations be denied access to schools. An appeal to the General Prosecutor by the Human Rights commissioner Vladimir Lukin preceded the prosecutorial review.

In January Viliuchinsk town court in Kamchatka region declined to find Galina Ivancha, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, guilty under article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (‘Violation of legislation on the freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession and on religious associations’).

In April the leader of a Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Perm, Alexander Solov’ev, managed to annul a fine of a thousand rubles imposed under article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (‘Violation of established procedure of an organization or the conducting of assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, marches or pickets’) for conducting a church service in the Pushkin House of Culture in 2011.

In April Syktyvkar town court satisfied the sixteenth complaint of the God’s Glory (Bozh’ia slava) Church of Christians of the Evangelical Faith against the actions of the town administration, which had prevented them from holding a meeting in 2011.


Insufficient protection from defamation and attacks

As in previous years there were several murders of, and attacks on, Muslim figures. The deputy mufti of Stavropol region, Kurman Ismailov, died as a result of a car bomb. The main imam of the Historical Mosque, 75 year old Khasian Fakhretdinov, was beaten up in Moscow. In these cases, however, we cannot confirm that the crimes were committed on religious grounds.

A clearer motive of religious hatred is discernible in the attempt on the life of the Mufti of Tatarstan, Ildus Faizov, and the murder of his deputy Valiulla Yakupov, which took place in Kazan. The investigation is primarily following a ‘Wahhabi’ lead.

As in previous years there were more than a few attacks motivated by religious hatred, above all – like last year – against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Attacks usually occur during preaching ministry, when believers go around housing blocks talking to residents. Such attacks happen every month in various regions but, as a rule, do not usually inflict significant harm on the health of the victims. We know of ten more serious cases: preachers were beaten and threatened with weapons in Cheliabinsk and St Petersburg, Vologda, Kemerovo and Sverdlovsk regions, in the republic of Komi and in Stavropol krai. Two children also suffered – an eleven year old girl (in Novorossisk) and a nine year old boy (in Ufa), were beaten up by classmates for belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

There were a few isolated instances of attacks on representatives of different religious movements. Sergei Konstantinov, pastor of a branch of the Good News Mission (Missiia Blagaia Vest’) Church of Evangelical Christians, and his assistant Aleksei Mukkonen were attacked in the village of Gorbunki, Leningrad region. The pastor sustained a fractured rib and multiple contusions as a result of the attack.

In Nefteiugansk an assistant to the imam beat his coreligionist for ‘incorrect prayer’.

In Moscow’s Bitsevskii Park neo-pagans from the Unification of the Slavs (Skhoron ezh Sloven) community were attacked while marking the midsummer festival of Ivan Kupalo in the woods. The attackers injured four members of the community with a traumatic pistol, and one was wounded with a knife.

The attack on journalist Sergei Aslanian, which left him with 20 knife wounds, had a real religious cause. During it the attackers cried ‘You are an enemy of Allah!’ On the eve of the incident, in a broadcast by the Lighthouse (Maiak) radio station, the journalist had made a few pronouncements about the prophet Muhammad which had provoked the indignation of believers.


69 cases of vandalism against religious targets were recorded in 2012. This is more than in 2011, when 59 were recorded. Another change in comparison to the previous year is that the majority of acts of vandalism (42) were committed against Orthodox targets (in 2011 this was the case for 12). This can only be explained as a reaction to the numerous conflicts connected with the Russian Orthodox Church, and in the first instance, by the trial against Pussy Riot. For the first time memorial crosses became the main target of vandalism (23); they were sawed down, knocked over, chopped up and had paint thrown over them in various regions (following the scandalous actions of the FEMEN group in Kiev). Several times vandals left graffiti on church walls in support of Pussy Riot.

In contrast, the level of vandalism targeted at other religious organizations fell. The number of attacks on targets belonging to new religious movements dropped somewhat – from 16 to ten – and they all belonged to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The number of Jewish targets subject to attacks remained pretty much the same: seven as opposed to last year’s eight. In comparison with last year, however, Muslim targets declined significantly in number: five in contrast to 17 in 2011. Attacks were also committed on four Protestant and one Catholic target.

Unfortunately, the number of dangerous acts of vandalism remains high. In 2012 arson attempts on Orthodox churches and synagogues were recorded. All the attacks on Protestant churches may be categorized as comparatively dangerous – the breaking of windows, stone throwing. The Word of Life (Slovo zhizni) Church of Christians of the Evangelical Faith in Nizhnevartovsk, which twice came under fire in 2011, was fired at twice in 2012. A Russian Orthodox Church Abroad church (under Metropolitan Agafangel) in Moscow was also subject to an attack which involved the smashing of windows and throwing of stones and bottles. None of the religious organizations’ parishioners or employees were harmed in any of these cases.


In 2012 a good deal of material sharply critical of the Russian Orthodox Church appeared in the mass media, which gave church representatives and also many state and public figures cause to declare that an ‘information campaign’ was being conducted against the Church. In our view, this assertion has no foundation. In the majority of cases the negative material was provoked by real problems and events – primarily the actions of the patriarch and the behavior of church figures during legal proceedings against Pussy Riot – and reflected the reaction of a significant section of society to these events. The sharply critical response, naturally, came predominantly – but not only – from those of secular mind-set.

In June the radio station Silver Rain (Serebrianyi dozhd’) awarded Patriarch Kirill the ‘Silver galosh’ joke prize in the category ‘Arms up to the elbows in miracles’ for the ‘immaculate disappearance of watches’, provoking indignation amongst the Orthodox public. According to a statement made by the Association of Orthodox Experts the prosecutor’s office began to examine a video recording of the ceremony ‘for indications of extremism’ (if it did indeed begin, however, it has not found anything). The Worldwide Russian People’s Council (Vsemirnyi russkii narodnii sobor, VRNS) circulated a statement in which it called on ‘Orthodox entrepreneurs’ to cease all collaboration with the Silver Rain radio station.


As in previous years, xenophobic material about other religious organizations appeared in both the federal and regional mass media.

In September for example, the Maximum program on NTV accused Jehovah’s Witnesses of using hypnosis, convincing believers to sign over all their property for the use of the community, and forbidding them to associate with their unbelieving relatives.

The Voronezh newspaper Bank (Bereg) accused Mormons of preparing an ‘orange revolution’ and of spying on behalf of the FBI and CIA.

The television news programme Vesti issued a report on the Islamic threat to Stavropol, provoking indignation amongst Muslims.

The Tula edition of Komsomol truth (Komsomol’skaia pravda) interviewed a representative of the local Orthodox eparchy about the ‘dangerous’ nature of the Sahaja Yoga movement in an issue timed to coincide with a concert of Indian music and dance organized by the movement.


As before, religious and public figures made xenophobic remarks about diverse religious groups, and also attempted to oppose these groups in practice.

Orthodox priests publically justified the use of force in defending Orthodox holy things. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Synodal Department for Cooperation between Church and Society, spoke out on this issue more than once. Commenting in particular on the ‘punk prayer’ in the church of Christ the Savior, he declared: ‘In answer to this blasphemy and in answer to attempts to justify it, the state must employ force. If it does not employ force, then the people must employ force’.[6]

Hegumen Sergii (Rybko), dean of the Decent of the Holy Spirit church (khram Soshestviia Sviatogo Dukha) in Moscow’s Lazarus cemetery, blessed (granted permission to) his parishioners ‘to use physical force’ towards ‘suspicious visitors’ should they suspect that acts of blasphemy are intended. He then declared his regret that he could not participate in the rout at the 7freedays nightclub, where gay activists spend their evenings. ‘While this rubbish does not remove itself from the Russian land, I entirely share the views of those who attempt to cleanse our Motherland of it. If the state does not do it, then the people will do it’, the priest declared.[7]

Archpriest Dimitrii Smirnov, head of the Synodal Department for Cooperation with the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies, on television called on the authorities ‘to outlaw all totalitarian sects’. The priest advised those who do not like the activities of new religious movements to ‘gather the people, destroy this sect![8]

In reaction to the refusal of a Tomsk court to recognize the book Bhagavad Gita: As it is as extremist material, Mufti Mukhammedgali Khuzin, chair of the Perm region Spiritual Directorate of Muslims, suggested that followers of Hare Krishna should be ‘put beyond the legal framework of the country’. In Moscow, as a mark of protest against this ruling, representatives of the Movement of Opposition to the Murder of Children (Dvizhenie soprotivelniia ubiistvu detei) gave Russian Hare Krishna followers humanitarian aid in the form of a consignment of stewed beef. This insulting act was simultaneously a response to a charity event organized in the church of Christ the Savior in 2010 by the Food of Life (Pishcha zhizni) foundation. The protesters were convinced that the treats distributed to children during this event were prasada (food offered to a deity during worship).

Tver eparchy’s missionary department distributed leaflets about the ‘spiritual threat of the neo-pagan sect of Mormons’. An Orthodox group distributed similar leaflets in the Moscow region of Domodedovo, directed against Seventh Day Adventists.

Saratov division members of the All Russia Parents Assembly (Vserossiiskoe roditel’skoe sobranie) sent an open letter to the governor Valerii Radaev and the head of the Interior Ministry’s regional chief directorate Sergei Arenin, requesting that Mormons living in Saratov region be sent ‘en masseto their primordial motherland – the state of Utah’.

In Belgorod the authorities granted permission for a meeting ‘Against sects’ to be held during a Jehovah’s Witnesses congress, next to the building where the congress was being hosted. Meeting participants loudly chanted ‘anti-sect’ slogans and beat on drums. A Jehovah’s Witnesses member challenged the actions of the administration’s employees who had permitted the meeting in court. The court found that the noisy protest action impeded the congress participants from ‘freely listening to a program of religious events’, which was a violation of the law ‘On the freedom of conscience’. The court fined the town’s administration 1000 rubles, and the organizers of the meeting 500 rubles (for using a drum without permission). The court did not support the other demand of the plaintiff – that the authorities refuse permission for the conducting of public events which offend the feelings of believers close to places of prayer.

[1] The State Duma has already passed this legislation at first reading in February 2013.

[2] Milonov: ‘Te kto vystupaet protiv religii, vystupaiut protiv gosudarstva’,, 20 November 2012 (

[3] The law about the transfer of fixed property to religious organizations which came into force at the beginning of 2011 is incorrectly called ‘restitution’: religious organizations receive buildings and grounds irrespective of who owned them before the confiscations of the revolutionary period. Indeed, the transfer process itself was also well under way before the passing of this law, so perhaps one shouldn’t refer to the mass transfer of property to religious organizations as happening in the last two years specifically.

[4] Monitoring SMI: Kampaniia protiv Svidetelei Ierovy zamedliaet khod? Ofitsial’nyi predstavitel’ etoi religioznoi organizatsii v RF podtverdil, shto seichas situatsiia kazhetsia bolee spokoinoi’,, 9 January 2013 (

[5] ‘Rossiiskii buddisty poluchili otritsatel’nyi otvet na pros’bu o predostavlenii vizy Ego Sviateishestvu Dalai-lame’, Sokranim Tibet, 26 September 2012 (

[6] Ivan Simochkin, ‘RPTs ob’iavliaet voinu grazhdanskomu obshchestvu’,, 19 March 2012 (

[7] Igumen Sergii (Rybko) o razgone gei-kluba: Sozaleiu, shto kak sviashchennik ne mogu prizniat’ uchastie v aktsii’ Pravoslavie i mir, 12 October 2012 (

[8] Otets Dimitrii Smirnov ‘Sobiraite narod! Gromite poganye sekty!’ Slavianskii pravovoi tsentr, 7 June 2012 (