Freedom of conscience in Russia: Restrictions and challenges in 2013

Edited by Alexander Verkhovsky


LEGISLATION RELATING TO RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS : Federal legislation : Regional initiatives : Initiatives not successfully progressed in 2013
PROBLEMS RELATING TO PLACES OF WORSHIP : Problems with the construction of religious buildings : Problems with existing religious buildings

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

This report is based on information collated during monitoring carried out by the Center. 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.

This report contains only relevant updates on events which have been analyzed in the previous year’s report.[2] Generally events mentioned here serve to illustrate trends that we have observed; our aim is not to exhaustively describe all developments in the sphere of public religion.

Problems and cases connected with the misuse of anti-extremism legislation are discussed in a separate report specifically focused on this topic.


On the whole, many of the tendencies recorded in previous reports continued and developed in 2013.

In terms of relations between the state and religious confessions, one of the most notable events was the passing of a law which toughened administrative measures against, and introduced criminal responsibility for, offending believers’ feelings. This legislation evoked stormy public debate. However, although there were numerous complaints about insult to believers’ feelings, this law wasn’t actually applied during 2013. ‘Orthodox missionaries’ made up for this by continuing to vigorously defend the aforementioned feelings, occasionally by force.

There is continued anticlericalism in society. As in 2012, anticlerical slogans were used not only in ‘specialized’ anticlerical actions, which perhaps slightly decreased in number, but also in opposition protests. Levels of anti-Orthodox vandalism, which remain high, also testify to continuing anticlericalism.

A further particularity of 2013 is that Protestants ceased to be the main religious group to experience difficulties using places of worship. The majority of such cases now relate to Muslims.

The number of conflicts over the construction of places of worship for various confessions has not declined. Moscow remains the locus of particularly heated struggle, as local residents actively oppose the program to build Orthodox churches ‘within walking distance’.

In contrast to the previous year, we recorded several instances of the liquidation of religious organizations, including for the failure to report on current activities. On the whole, however, the level of bureaucratic pressure on religious organizations appears unchanged.

In terms of positive developments, religious organizations – primarily Protestants and new religious movements – are increasingly literate in legal matters, and more actively defending their rights when discriminated against (including taking such cases to court). This relates to cases of bureaucratic harassment as to cases of defamation.

Legislation relating to religious organizations

Several laws regulating the activities of religious organizations were passed in 2013.

Federal legislation

The law ‘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’ (generally referred to as ‘On the defense of religious feelings’) passed by the State Duma on 11 June 2013 and signed into law by the president on 30 June, evoked the greatest public response. It was opposed by the Supreme Court and by the Presidential Council on Human Rights, and even in January 2014 the government issued a negative evaluation of this law, noting that it duplicates already existing legislative norms. Nevertheless, after some changes introduced by its drafters, the law was passed.

This law introduced a new version of article 148 of the Criminal Code (‘Obstruction of the right to freedom of conscience and religion’. Sanctions in the original article – for illegally obstructing the activities of religious organizations or the enactment of religious rituals and ceremonies – were increased, and this is entirely legitimate and advisable.

A fine of up to 300 thousand rubles, compulsory community work of up to 240 hours or imprisonment of up to one year was introduced as a punishment for insulting religious feelings. If the offense happens in a religiously significant place, or during a religious ceremony, a fine of up to 500 thousand rubles, community service of up to 480 hours, or up to three years’ imprisonment – with the possibility of restricting freedom for up to one further year – may be imposed

Amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses also make provision for the strengthening of sanctions relating to the already existing article 5.26 (‘Violation of legislation on the freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession and on religious associations’) and the broadening of its contents. Fines for private individuals were increased ten-fold (up to 10-30,000 rubles), and for those holding public office fines went up to 50-100 thousand rubles. Article 5.26 was expanded to include a fine – of 30-50 thousand rubles for private individuals, and for officials, 100-200 thousand rubles ­– for the premeditated public desecration, damage or destruction of religious or liturgical literature, religiously venerated objects, signs and emblems symbolic of worldviews.

The law has been formulated in an extremely slipshod manner, especially in terms of the offence it introduces in the criminal section: it is not even clear what is new about the crime compared with those which already exist, like hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and the degrading of human dignity in connection with an individual’s attitude to religion. It is also very difficult to comprehend what should be understood by the term ‘desecration’, and which ‘worldviews’ are meant here.[3] There is no doubt, however, that the new legal norms on ‘insulting religious feelings’ allow greater scope for free interpretation and misuse.

It is notable that at the time of writing, the law – which has provoked such argument – has not once been applied in practice.[4]

On 19 June 2013 the State Duma accepted a bill of amendments to a number of laws proposed by the government in connection with the passing of the federal law ‘On education’. The president signed this bill on 2 July. The new legislation proposes holding religious rituals on the grounds of educational establishments, and these amendments evoked some public concern about the principle of a secular education system. The final version only mentions accommodation ‘historically utilized’ for this purpose, which in practice applies only to private churches within educational institutions. The originally proposed point about ‘accommodation, specially set aside by the administration at the request of adult students or parents’ (in other words, about the creation of ‘prayer rooms’), was excluded from the amendments.

The law ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’ changed twice during the course of the year.

On 24 May 2013 the State Duma passed amendments to articles 4 and 24 of this law, and on 29 May these were signed by the president. This change accorded religious organizations the right to impose requirements on their clergy and employees. Anti-extremist amendments proposed in 2012 by the State Council of Tatarstan, which legitimized state control over religious education, were excluded from the final version of the law. The accepted amendments left requirements regarding the educational level of clergy and employees working for religious organizations under the jurisdiction of the said organizations.

On 21 June 2013 legislation introducing amendments to article 9 of the same law passed second and third readings by the State Duma straight away, and was signed by the president on 3 July. In accordance with the new amendments, foreign citizens or stateless individuals whose activities are deemed extremist by the courts or fall under the law on combatting money laundering and the financing of terrorism, or whose presence on Russian Federation territory is deemed undesirable, are forbidden to become founders, members or participants of religious organizations. It should be pointed out that the application of this law will prove difficult, since current legislation does not define membership of a religious organization.

Regional initiatives

We are aware of only one piece of legislation passed by federal subjects which affects the interests of religious organizations – a law initiated by Vitalii Milonov and passed by St Petersburg’s legislative assembly. This law allows the city government to order expertise on publications and media content by recourse to the legislative assembly or the human rights commissioner. According to Milonov, this law is primarily intended to further the struggle with representatives of ‘non-traditional religions’, specifically the Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses disseminating their materials in the city. This material can now be more easily deemed extremist.

Initiatives not successfully progressed in 2013

Considerably more legislative initiatives (relating to the activities of religious organizations in one way or another) failed to be progressed in 2013.

In September St Petersburg’s legislative assembly brought proposed amendments to the federal laws ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’ and ‘On assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, marches and pickets’ before the State Duma. These amendments recommended that in considering applications to hold public actions in close proximity to the property or premises of religious organizations, civil servants take the opinions of those religious organizations into consideration. The government did not support the proposed bill, noting that it limited the right of citizens to free assembly.

The State Duma of the Russian Federation considered a draft bill of amendments to article 16 of the law ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’, proposed by the government of the Russian Federation, at a first reading in November. The proposed legislation outlined places where public liturgies and other religious events could be held without notifying the authorities. Pilgrimage sites, cemeteries, residential accommodation and ‘the territory of organizations founded by religious organizations’ were amongst the suggested places, in addition to places of worship and land belonging to religious organizations.

Several of the legislative initiatives which weren’t taken further related to the participation of religious organizations in charitable and social activities.

In April LDPR (Liberal’no-demokraticheskaia partiia Rossii, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) deputy Valerii Seleznev introduced amendments to article 10 of the law ‘On advertising’. The deputy proposed supplementing this article – which regulates the dissemination of social advertising – with permission to mention the Russian Orthodox Church or another ‘traditional’ religious organization specific to the relevant region in such advertisements, if the contents of the advertisement were connected with religious activity (in accordance with the current antimonopoly legislation, the advertising of religious organizations may be forbidden). According to the proposer, ‘the dissemination of information on religion and the Russian Orthodox Church can without doubt be regarded as a socially useful type of activity’, and therefore should not be subject to restrictions. In January 2014, however, Seleznev nevertheless withdrew his bill.

Legislators attempted to regulate the activities of fortune-tellers, sorcerers and psychics (ekstrasensy), as they have more than once in previous years, and yet again these efforts have not been crowned with success.

In November State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev introduced a bill ‘On the introduction of amendments to separate laws of the Russian Federation pertaining to regulation of the provision of independent health services and protection of the population from unscrupulous advertising’. The document proposes to allow the provision of ‘occult-mystic services in healthcare’ only with the permission of regional authorities and under the supervision of qualified medical personnel. Thus far the bill has not made it even to first reading.

In March deputy Vitalii Milonov brought similar draft legislation before St Petersburg’s legislative assembly for consideration, proposing that healers and fortune-tellers should register as sole traders in order to receive permission to practice. This bill wasn’t passed either, however.

In February, Moscow’s regional duma introduced a draft bill of amendments to the federal law ‘On the organization of state and municipal services provision’ for consideration by the State Duma. The bill proposed a supplementary point to article 22 of this law, making it possible for a citizen to refuse to accept and use a universal electronic card (UEK, universal’naia elektronnaia karta). It is not unusual for this right to be demanded by the most conservative Orthodox Christians, who see signs of the ‘number of the Beast’ in the card. The proposed legislation was voted down in November.

In May deputies of St Petersburg’s legislative assembly proposed a bill of amendments to the current law ‘On the fundamentals of public health protection in the Russian Federation’ for consideration by the State Duma. These amendments would restrict the right of parents to refuse medical intervention on behalf of their children, and to support their argument for doing so the proposers cited cases of parents rejecting blood transfusions for their children on religious grounds. The State Duma voted down this draft legislation in November.

In June State Duma deputies Yaroslav Nilov and Ruslan Kaliuzhnyi, from the LDPR fraction, proposed amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses which would have increased the time within which those violating the law ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’ could be charged to one year from the point at which the offence occurred. This proposed legislation was voted down in January 2014.

Deputy Elena Mizulina’s initiative on behalf of a multi-party group of deputies should also be noted: she proposed to protect Christian values by including a preamble in the Constitution of the Russian Federation which mentioned Orthodox Christianity as the basis of ‘Russia’s national and cultural distinctiveness’.The idea was widely discussed; however there were more negative responses than positive. Those speaking against the proposal included not only the human rights commissioner, Vladimir Lukin, but also Yaroslav Nilov, head of the State Duma Committee on Civil Society Associations and Religious Organizations, and – most importantly – Prime Minister Dmitrii Medvedev.

Problems relating to places of worship

In 2013 religious organizations continued to experience difficulties both constructing places of worship and using existing facilities.

Problems with the construction of religious buildings

Muslims continued to encounter frequent difficulties with the construction of mosques. However, the construction of Orthodox churches proved just as problematic, if not more so.

The program to construct modular Orthodox churches in Moscow continues to be realized very slowly. In December 2013 Patriarch Kirill announced that only 17 of the 192 planned churches had been completed, and construction had begun on a further 24.

Local inhabitants opposed construction in a number of Moscow districts, particularly in Gagarinskii, Golovinskii, Ostankinskii, Ryzanskii, Khoroshevskii districts, and in Gol’ianov, Kosino-Ukhtomsk, Kuz’minki, Kurkino, Lefortov and Severnoe Izmailovo. Sometimes these protests were supported by various civil society organizations – Yabloko and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (Kommunisticheskaia partiia Rossisskoi Federatsii, KPRF) were active in Ostankino, for example.

Supporters and opponents of the building program organized demonstrations throughout the year. One such action – a prayer gathering in support of construction in Gagarinskii district – was disbursed by OMON because it had not been approved.

The main driver of public opposition to such construction is the resultant loss of green space, especially since the Moscow mayor’s 2012 decision to permit the erection of places of worship on nature reserves. In 2013 a plot of land in the Setun river valley nature reserve was assigned to an Orthodox parish by order of Sergei Sobyanin.

Apart from ecological considerations, protests were often evoked by decisions about construction being made without taking the opinions of local residents into consideration. Either no public hearings were held, or the local population was not given enough warning about them, or there were procedural violations during the hearings.

In some cases the authorities attempted to accommodate the protesters’ demands. In Golovsinskii district, for example, municipal deputies rejected the first proposed location of a church, in a park on Kronshtadtskii boulevard. The construction site was likewise relocated in Khoroshevskii district.

Conflicts over the construction of Orthodox churches were also recorded in other Russian regions.

One of the most notable was the struggle over the Church of the Myrrh-bearing Women (tserkov’ Zhen Mironosits) in St Petersburg’s Malinovka park. During the course of the year opponents of the building program collected signatures (23 thousand people had signed the petition by the beginning of 2014), held protest actions, and appealed to both the public prosecutor and the president. They also brought a lawsuit to court, arguing that construction on green zone territory is illegal. The city court banned the construction, but in November the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation overturned this decision.

Petersburg citizens also protested against the construction of churches on 6th Sovetskaia, Lakhtinskaia and Dolgoozernaia streets. In this last case, opponents of the construction also went to court, and in January 2014 the court recognized the building of the church as illegal.

In Tiumen local residents opposed the building of an Orthodox church in Komsomolskii park with the support of the Russian Communist Workers’ Party (Rossiiskaia kommunisticheskaia rabochaia partiia,RKRP-KPSS). At the beginning of April 2014 the town authorities announced that the church would not be built on park territory, but opposition over this has not ended.

Two conflicts broke out at once in Togliatti, over the construction of churches on 40 Let Pobedy street and on Avtostroitelei street (a former recreation ground). In the former case protesters demanded the ‘creation of a basic playpark and the reinstatement of felled greenery’, and in the latter they demanded the restoration of the recreation ground.

Besides these cases, conflicts over the construction of Orthodox churches were recorded in Kaluga, Kemerovo, Zheleznogorsk (Kursk region), Zhukovka (Moscow region), Viatskii Posad (Orlovsk region), Samara, and Balashov (Saratov region).

2013 saw the resolution of a conflict which had dragged on since 2012 over the erection of a church on a square in Chaplygin street, Novosibirsk. The eparchy bowed to public pressure and agreed not to build on the recreation ground, so long as the authorities granted them another plot. The town administration allotted them a new plot on Krasnogorskaia street in Zael’tsovskii district.

The construction of mosques also remains seriously problematic, and the majority of conflicts have dragged on for over a year. Regional authorities, as before, are very reluctant to grant building plots or permission to build. Even if permission is granted, local residents are generally very opposed to the creation of mosques.

The shortage of mosques is still acutely felt in Moscow, however the city’s mayor has announced that no new mosques are planned, and that it is more logical to build them in Moscow region, rather than in the city.

Meanwhile, building mosques in Moscow region is also proving difficult. The Council of Muftis of Russia, as in previous years, complained about conflicts over the building of mosques in Podol’sk, Kolomna, Balashikha, Pushkino, Zheleznodorozhnyi and Liubertsy.

In Orlov, where the authorities have refused to allot a building plot for reasons relating ‘solely to town construction policies’, problems over the construction of a mosque have remained unresolved for several years.

Muslims have also been unable to secure permission to build a mosque in Stavropol.

A Muslim community in Iuzno-Sakhalinsk was not only unable to secure a building plot for a mosque, but was also unable to worship in the hangar which the local authorities had promised to transfer to the community back in 2012.

The authorities in the village of Berezovo, Khanty-Mansi autonomous region, agreed to provide the Muslim community with a building plot for the construction of a mosque, but local residents voted against this in public hearings. Shouts of ‘Accept Christianity and go to church!’ and ‘You want to build a mosque and grab our gas and oil!’ were heard during voting.

In Belovo town, Kemerovo region, local residents opposed the construction of a residential building, mistaking it for a mosque, and appealed to the authorities to halt construction.

In December Kaliningrad’s tsentralnyi district court halted the construction of a mosque in Iuznyi park. Conflict over this project had dragged on for several years, and the reason given for the decision was a court case brought by the Finland Gates Museum (Finlandskie vorota) which demanded that the decision to award two plots of land for this construction be deemed illegal. Local Muslims are convinced that the statement of claim was signed under duress.

In several regions, right-wing radical organizations supported protests against the construction of mosques. In Novokuznetsk, for example, nationalists have protested alongside local residents for more than a year. News that the mayor had granted permission for the construction circulated in February, but by April the mayor had denied this story.

A Muslim community in Novosibirsk was granted permission to build a mosque, but local residents – supported by a number of civil society organizations – demanded that the decision of the mayor’s office be revoked. Slogans opposing the construction of the Novosibirsk mosque were also heard in November at the ‘Russian March’.

Representatives of Cheliabinsk right-wing radical organizations initiated an investigation by the prosecutor’s office into the legitimacy of the decision to award a building plot for the construction of a fourth mosque in the town. The public prosecutor recognized the allocation as legal.

During the year we recorded several conflicts over the building of places of worship by other religious organizations.

The authorities in Perm refused to allot a building plot for a synagogue and education center to the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish community. Construction plans were opposed by the director of a local center for the preservation of architectural monuments, as well as by local residents.

Having been awarded a building plot several years ago, Moscow followers of Krishna yet again experienced problems with their temple. In April the Moscow town planning and land commission decided to stop letting the plot allocated for the construction of a Center of Vedic culture in Molzhaninovo. In July bailiffs required the Krishna community to leave their existing temple on Leningradskii prospect – despite the original suggestion that the community use it until a new one had been built – by order of the Savelovskii district court. As far as we know, however, the Krishna community has not been physically evicted from their temple.

After protests by local residents, the St Petersburg authorities refused to allocate a building plot on Khoshimina street to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) for a proposed new building.

In Taganrog, Cossacks initiated protests against the building of a Mormon meetinghouse. The protesters were troubled by the fact that no public hearings about the proposed construction had been held, and by the proximity of the ‘foreign organization’ to a Communications research institute (‘a sensitive site’, rezhimnyi ob’ekt).

Positive resolutions

Following a 2012 court order which instructed the Kostroma administration to permit the Muslim community to continue building their mosque, local officials granted this permission in April 2013 and the community has entered into an agreement with contractors.

The Khabarovsk authorities agreed to allocate a building plot for the construction of a mosque after Muslims announced their intention to picket the local administration building.

In October a mosque was opened in Naro-Fominsk, Moscow region. Local residents had opposed the planned mosque, and in previous years the Council of Muftis had complained about the difficulties faced during this construction.

At public hearings, residents of Krasnoiarsk supported the construction of a Buddhist temple on Poliarnaia street.

Problems with existing religious buildings

In 2013 we recorded slightly fewer operational difficulties with buildings already used by religious organizations. Almost all the cases we know of relate to Muslim communities.

Muslims in Noiabr’sk went to court to secure the return of a mosque shut in 2012 and the transfer of ownership of this building, but were unsuccessful.

Gubinsk town court (Yamalo-Nenetsk autonomous region) satisfied the public prosecutor’s demand to forbid the running of a mosque which had been used by the liquidated Muslim organization Iman (see below).

Kislovodsk town court ordered the demolition of partially-built mosques in Belorechensk and Industriia, two Stavropol region villages. This decision was upheld by Stavropol regional court in July.

The town court of Pyatigorsk partially satisfied a case brought by the town administration. The court required the owner of an unfinished mosque – already in use – to demolish two floors, and banned the building from being used for religious purposes. The construction of this mosque, on 50-letiia Oktiabria street, was deemed illegal in 2012. The town authorities promised to allocate a different building plot for the construction of a mosque.

The Tambov authorities announced the closure and demolition of an active Muslim prayer house, on Ryleeva street, on grounds that it failed to meet public hygiene standards and safety regulations. The house had been built on a plot allocated for the construction of a mosque in 2003. Since then the community has failed to erect a mosque, and in 2013 local residents began to protest against construction on that spot. Nevertheless, the official refusal was motivated by improper documentation. The authorities proposed a different plot – between Kikvidze and Bastionnaia streets – but this was rejected by the Muslim community because of the limited space and lack of communications.

Apart from Muslims, representatives of Orthodox organizations not under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate also faced problems using existing churches. In Penza the question of demolishing buildings belonging to the Mikhailovskii Cloister of the True Orthodox Church (Istinno-pravoslavnaia tserkov’, IPTs), in the village of Pobeda, was discussed by representatives from the local authorities and Penza eparchy (Moscow Patriarchate). Since the 2008 court ruling which deemed the church and prayer house on cloister grounds to be illegal constructions and ordered their demolition, local officials have periodically returned to this issue. Each time, however, believers threaten to burn themselves alive. The buildings were not demolished in 2013 either.

The Moscow Metropolitanate Old Believer Council announced their readiness to transfer the territory of Rogozhskaia Sloboda to the city authorities because of high maintenance costs. The Moscow budget has funded restoration of the Rogozhskaia Sloboda complex over a number of years, and now the community wishes the upkeep of part of the complex to pass to the city budget too, ‘on condition that the territory be used in accordance with its status as a spiritual center of the RPSTs [Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church]’. We noted the community’s inability to maintain property transferred to them in the previous year’s report, and predict an increase in the number of such cases, as the number of property transfers to religious organizations increases.

As in previous years, such situations were rarely resolved in favor of religious organizations. Pervorechenskii district court in Vladivostok ordered the town administration to transfer ownership of the first floor of a prayer house to the Seventh Day Adventists free of charge. The community has been using the building for several years, and the city mayor’s office made several attempts to deprive the religious organization of this accommodation in 2012.

Preferential treatment accorded certain religious organizations by the authorities

As in previous years, federal and regional budget funds were allocated to restore religious facilities in 2013. In the majority of cases this related to buildings of architectural significance, in accordance with the law.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, over five billion rubles were spent restoring 230 Orthodox monuments in 2013. In Moscow, for example, 150 million rubles were spent restoring 14 religious facilities, and a further 200 million went on Rogozhskaia Sloboda. In Petersburg funds were spent on restoring the Sobornaia Mosque and the Great Choral Synagogue. Budget funds were also allocated to restore religious facilities in Ivanovsk, Leningrad, and Tula regions, amongst others.

As well as the direct allocation of funds, the authorities found ways of materially supporting religious organizations using a variety of privileges. In May 2013 the town duma of Togliatti reduced the rent ratio for religious organizations from 3.5 to 1.2. On 18 December deputies decided to recalculate rental costs for ten religious organizations renting accommodation from the town, for the entire year. As a result, the town budget lost 650 thousand rubles.

In a series of cases government officials or state corporations selectively provided material help to religious organizations. It was revealed, for example, that the regional authorities provided Orthodox churches and monasteries in Kemerovo region with twelve thousand tons of coal for free between 2010 and 2013.

State corporations also provided support. Gazprom, for example, announced that it was allocating 50 million rubles to build an icon painting school in the Mirozhskii Transfiguration of the Savior Monastery (Spaso-Preobrazhenskii Mirozhskii monastyr’) in Pskov.

Some bureaucrats even resorted to extorting money from the local population in their desire to support religious organizations. In Elekrostal, Moscow region, an additional line was added to the bill for communal services – a 50 ruble monthly donation to the church. This practice appears to have been in existence for more than a year.

The transfer of property remains another widespread method of supporting religious organizations, although such transfers are not as common as might be expected in the third year since the law on the return of property of religious purpose was implemented.

The Federal Agency for State Property Management (Rosimushchestvo) published data on the transfer of real estate to religious organizations over the course of the year: according to Sergei Anoprienko, head of the Rosimushchestvodepartment for the accommodation of federal agencies, only 19 facilities were transferred. Moreover, by the end of December religious organizations had submitted 216 applications, of which 175 were allocated to Rosimushchestvo, about 30 to the Ministry of Defense, and the rest passed to the Department of Presidential Estate and Property Management for consideration. 21 applications were rejected, mainly on grounds of inadequate documentation. The majority of applications – 161 of them – were submitted by the Russian Orthodox Church; five were submitted by Muslim organizations and two each by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, and the Roman Catholic, Old Believer and Evangelical Lutheran churches. One application was submitted by a Buddhist organization.[5]

Buildings were transferred primarily, but not solely, to the Russian Orthodox Church. In Moscow more than 500 square meters of non-residential accommodation was transferred to the Augsburg Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Moscow Buddhist Center of Lama Tsonkapa for use free of charge. In Novgorod and Tambov regions several facilities were transferred to the Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church (RPSTs). Buildings were also transferred to Muslim organizations.

In a number of cases court decisions resulted in the transfer of real estate. In Tula region, for example, the town court of Kimovsk recognized the right of the Pokrov parish in the village of Pokrov, Kimovskii region, to own the eighteenth century church it has been using since 1998.

In Sochi a community of evangelical Christians also took matters to court. Back in March 2011 this religious organization had asked the mayor to transfer ownership of the House of the Gospel building used by the community since 1992, but had received no reply. The congregation filed a lawsuit after the Sochi authorities put the building up for sale as a municipal facility in March 2013. In October the court of arbitration ordered the town administration to consider the evangelical Christians’ request to have ownership of the building transferred to them.

In contrast, two courts in Kirov region – the court of arbitration and Second arbitration appeal court – refused to transfer ownership of the former Vyatka Town Guardianship of the Poor to the eparchy. This building currently belongs to the Kirov State Medical Academy.

The Muslim community of Kasimovo, Ryazan region, also experienced problems. Since 2007 they have been attempting to secure ownership of the building they use as a mosque and madrasah, and in October bureaucrats again turned the religious organization down. At the same time the Khanskaia mosque – which has a fifteenth century minaret and had been occupied by a local history museum – was transferred to community ownership. It is proposed that, despite this transfer, the museum also be allowed to use the building in the future.

The transfer of real estate took place without any conflict in the majority of cases, and those institutions evicted for the sake of religious organizations are being rehoused by the authorities. In Nizhnii Novgorod, for example, new accommodation was allocated to the Blokhin epidemiology scientific research center, which had until recently occupied a building transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Conflicts arose from time to time, however, and as before cultural institutions remain the most problematic.

The Rosimushchestvo’s territorial administration of Vladimir regionrecommended that the head of the Vladimir-Suzdal Museum Reserve transfer the building of the Cathedral of St George (Georgievskii sobor)in Gus-Khrustalny to Vladimir eparchy for use free of charge. This building has housed a museum of crystal since 1974, and it was proposed that the building be used by both the museum and the Church to begin with. Museum workers rejected this proposal, since it does not allow for the accommodation of the museum repository and the museum does not have another building. Moreover, the building will require expensive restoration before religious services can be conducted there.

In Yaroslavl region the authorities were also prepared to sacrifice the interests of two museums for the sake of the Church. The eparchy demanded the transfer of five churches of the Transfiguration of the Savior Monastery (Spaso-Preobrazhenskii monastyr’): the churches of the Epiphany, Elijah the Prophet, St John the Forerunner, the Nativity of Christ and St Nicholas Nadein, jointly used by the Yaroslavl State Historical and Architectural Museum Reserve. The regional authorities announced that the museum would be moved only when a new building had been built for it – in other words, in several years’ time. Local officials also agreed to move the Pereslavl-Zalessky State Historical, Architectural and Art Museum Reserve out of the former Dormition Goritskii Monastery (Uspenskii Goritskii monastyr’) by 2018, but are unable to guarantee that a new building will be ready for the museum by that date.

In observing this general tendency to transfer property to religious organizations, the bureaucratic bias against the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (Rossiskaia pravoslavnaia avtonomnoi tserkov’, RPATs) – from whom property is, by contrast, removed – should also be noted. Several churches belonging to this organization were taken from it between 2010 and 2011, and in 2013 the RPATs lost a religiously venerated item: in August the Suzdal district court confiscated the relics of saints Evfimii and Efrosiniia of Suzdal. This decision was upheld by Vladimir regional court in October, and Suzdal district court ruled that they should be removed and transferred to the territorial department of Rosimushestvo. The RPATs did not manage to contest this decision, but although bailiffs attempted to remove the relics, thus far they remain with the Church. This is the first case of ecclesiastical relic removal by the state since Soviet times.

Besides financial help and the transfer of property, other types of state patronage of religious organizations were noted during the course of the year. The Russian Federation government once again enlarged the list of individuals who have the right to use VIP halls in Moscow, Moscow region, St Petersburg and Sochi airports, to include – amongst others – new religious figures: those accompanying the Patriarch, members of the Higher Church Council, heads of metropolitanates, directors and deputies of Moscow Patriarchate synodal institutions.

The practice of designating religious festivals as public holidays continued. Sagaalgan (New Year ’s Day according to the Lunar calendar) was declared a day off in Buryatia. In Bashkortostan and Tatarstan it was Uraza Bairam (Eid al-Fitr). 25 September was declared a holiday in Kursk, as this is day the Kursk Korennaia icon of the Mother of God of the Sign (Znamenie) is ceremonially processed into the town. In some regions, notably Krasnodar, Briansk, Kemerovo, Saratov, Orenburg and Adygea, Radonitsa [when Orthodox Christians commemorate their dead] was declared a public holiday.

Defending believers’ feelings

Despite the fact that the above-mentioned law on protecting religious feelings was not once applied in 2013, complaints were regularly made about offence to such feelings. For the most part, such complaints came from Orthodox Christians. It is worth noting that bureaucrats and the organizers of various events deemed dubious by some believers were a little more inclined to cancel or amend them in accordance with believers’ wishes than in previous years.

At the request of the Orthodox metropolitan the mayoralty of Omsk cancelled an agreed Farewell to Winter festival, organized by a community of local neo-pagans (rodnovery), because it was scheduled during Lent.

In Krasnodar region Pavlovsk district administration cancelled 1 May celebrations because they fell within Holy Week [the week leading up to Easter]. It was not only the folk festival and demonstrations that were cancelled – the market fair was also banned.

In Voronezh region, the Rossoshanskii district authorities cancelled Ivan Kupala day [the nativity of St John the Baptist, conflated with midsummer] celebrations at the request of parishioners from two Orthodox churches, and also forbade ‘pagan rituals as part of Youth Day celebrations’.

Concerts in Kaluga and Tver by a Tver group, the Christ the Savior and Moist Mother Earth Ensemble, were cancelled at the initiative of the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods (Soiuz pravoslavnykh bratstv). Orthodox activists convinced the regional authorities that the group is ‘anti-Church’ and has a blasphemous name.

The Rizzordi Art Foundation, organizing an exhibition of Marat Gel’man’s ‘Icons’ in St Petersburg, changed the time and place of the exhibition after protests by Orthodox believers. It should be recalled that the exhibition was cancelled in St Petersburg the year before, after similar protests.

A display of Islamic children’s fashion was cancelled as a result of pressure from Cossacks. The Cossacks were particularly distressed by the news that non-Muslim girls would be modelling Islamic clothes.

Journalists at deemed an illustration in Kornei Chukovskii’s book Moidodyr, published in Rostov on Don by Kniga, to be offensive. The journalists considered that the artist had placed pages from the Qur’an in the paws of a crocodile. The publishing company decided not to use the ‘inappropriate’ illustration in the new edition, despite the fact that neither the editors, nor the local mufti, supported this perspective.

As in previous years, many regional officials – as well as Orthodox activists – led a crusade against Halloween, viewing this festival as a threat to ‘spiritual security’. The education ministries of Omsk and Sverdlovsk regions sent a letter to the directors of educational institutions requesting that they suppress this festival ‘for the purposes of preventing and not tolerating extremist moods in children and young people’.

Vitalii Milonov, a deputy in St Petersburg’s legislative assembly, together with a group of activists, personally interrupted a Halloween festival in the Frunzenskii district Internationalists’ park. The deputy considered it unacceptable to hold a ‘[witches’] sabbath’ next to an Orthodox church.

There were also some refusals to take the ‘feelings of believers’ into account, but these were rarer than in previous years. One of these cases was the refusal by the organizers of an Elton John concert in Kazan to cancel the event, despite protests by an imam from one of the city mosques.

As before, the authorities rarely intervened when there was talk of insult to believers’ feelings, and – as a rule – any interventions they did make did not have serious consequences for the ‘blasphemers’. Chira Koval’ski, a model photographed naked against the backdrop of a sacred grove, faced no sanctions after the Altai republic’s Ministry of Culture appealed to the public prosecutor to evaluate her actions. The model apologized to believers, explaining that she had not known the place was venerated as holy by the local Altai people.

Mikhail Markelov, deputy chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Civil Society Associations and Religious Organizations, asked the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation to examine Nikita Dzhigurda’s video ‘New Year Dzhigurdance’ or ‘Santa Dzhigurda’ for insult to believers’ feelings: an image of the crucified Christ is used in the video. The Investigative Committee found no grounds to initiate proceedings, however.

The sole case which evoked punishment for offending religious feelings as such is that of the Novosibirsk artist and civil society activist Artem Loskutov. In February Zheleznodorozhnii district magistrate court in Novosibirsk fined him a thousand rubles under the old version of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, for the dissemination of an image of Pussy Riot members in the style of an icon. In September the image itself was found insulting to religious sensibilities and banned as extremist by the city’s Tsentralnii district court.

In November Tiumen regional court sentenced Andrei Korablev, a representative of the Union of Militant Atheists (Soiuz voinstvuiushchikh bezbozhnikov) to two years’ imprisonment, suspended, for the publication of a pornographic video clip depicting women dressed as nuns. The court found Korablev guilty under point b, part 3, article 242 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (‘Illegal production and distribution of pornographic materials or items using mass media or the internet’).

The champions of ‘religious sensibilities’ have notably increased their campaigning activity since 2012. In 2013 ‘Orthodox activists’ carried out several attacks on cultural establishments and participants in street actions in Moscow. These activists are basically a fairly small group of one and the same people; representatives of the God’s Will (Bozh’ia volia) movement, headed by the ‘missionary’ Dmitrii (Enteo) Tsorionov.

In February a group of Orthodox Christians attempted to get into the G-Spot Museum of Erotic Art in Moscow. A man with an icon and a group of elderly women with bags and a holy water sprinkler attempted to enter, but were stopped by security guards. During the resulting scuffle the icon was damaged.

Several attacks happened at once in March. Orthodox activists headed by Tsorionov attempted to disrupt two street actions: they threw eggs at participants in a meeting for women’s rights organized by the Yabloko party, but instead of attacking those conducting single person pickets in defense of Pussy Riot, they read them extracts from the Bible.

Moreover, God’s Will representatives attacked the Yabloko party office and the State Darwin Museum. They took literature from Yabloko’s office and ceremonially burned it as ‘pulp literature of a party of Satanists and perverts’ near metro Novokuznetskaia. They hung a banner reading ‘God created the world’ up at the Darwin Museum, conducted a prayer service and scattered leaflets in the central hall: ‘We are protecting our children from lies! The universe was created by God 7522 years ago. The “theory of evolution” is a pseudo-scientific myth, an untenable thesis unproven by anyone at any time. Trotsky and Hitler and the “Russian Breivik”, Vinogradov, used this frightening occultist myth to justify the murder of millions of people’.

Then even members of the Federal Migration Service interrupted a performance of ‘The Moscow Trials’ at the Sakharov Center, accompanied by Cossacks, Orthodox activists headed by Enteo and Kirill Frolov, and an NTV film crew. The play offered its own interpretation of the court cases against the ‘Danger, Religion!’ and ‘Forbidden Art’ exhibitions, and the trial of Pussy Riot. After representatives of the Federal Migration Service had left, declaring that they had no problem with the Center, the Orthodox activists and Cossacks – wishing to ‘prevent lawlessness’ in relation to Orthodoxy – disrupted the performance yet again.

In July, the Orthodox Faith Corps, part of the youth organization Nashi, organized an Orthodox F.A.Q. festival at Triumfalnyi Square in Moscow, during which they hung up a banner listing twelve enemies of Orthodoxy: Stanislav Belkovskii, Marat Gel’man, Sergei Bychkov, the newspaper Novaia gazeta, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pavel Gusev, The New Times, FEMEN, the Sakharov Center, Alexander Soldatov, Alexander Nikonov, and Pussy Riot.

In November a group of Orthodox activists headed by Tsorionov attempted to wreck a performance of ‘An Ideal Husband’ at the Moscow Art Theatre. They rushed onto the stage crying ‘How can you tolerate this mockery of our faith? Why do you so hate Christ, when he was crucified for us?’ In December God’s Will began gathering signatures for a petition demanding that the plays ‘An Ideal Husband’ and ‘The Karamazovs’ be cancelled, and the theatre’s artistic director Oleg Tabakov – together with all those responsible for these performances – be dismissed.

Liquidation of religious organizations and denial of registration

In contrast to 2012, we recorded some instances of religious organizations being liquidated.

Two Muslim organizations were liquidated for failing to provide reports on their activities, for having charter documents which did not accord with legislation, or for providing inaccurate information.

In February, at the request of the Ministry of Justice, Primorye regional court liquidated the Qadi Directorate of Muslims of Primorye (Kyzyiatskoe upravlenie musul’man Primor’ia). The Ministry had already asked the Directorate to eliminate a number of legislative infringements on several occasions, but the organization had not done so. These violations included being composed of only two local religious organizations, instead of the required three, and failing to report on activities.

In June Yamalo-Nenetsk autonomous region court liquidated the Iman Muslim religious organization (under the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Asian Russia) of Gubkinskoe, at the request of the regional prosecutor’s office. The organization had provided inaccurate information in the documents they submitted for registration, and failed to provide reports for 2010-2012. In October the Supreme Court upheld this decision.

Sanctions were also applied to two Orthodox organizations for failing to submit reports on their activities or tax declarations by the deadline, but matters didn’t proceed as far as liquidation.

In Tula region a magistrate’s court fined the parish priest of the Church of the Holy Epiphany (Sviato-Bogoiavlenskii khram) in Kimovskii district 300 rubles for this sort of violation.

The Moscow Federal Tax Service Office excluded the Russian Orthodox Church from the Unified State Register of Legal Entities for failure to submit the necessary documentation on time, but within a few days the matter was sorted out and the Church once again accorded the status of a legal entity. Naturally there was no question of liquidating the Russian Orthodox Church; rather this was simply a conflict over its failure to provide the required documentation.

Efforts to ban the Horde (Orda) organization were also noted over the course of the year, with criminal proceedings being initiated against this religious association in Cheliabinsk and Kurgan regions, and in Bashkortostan. In February, the Horde organization in the village of Izmailovskii, Cheliabinsk region, was banned as extremist by order of the Kizil’skii district court. First the public prosecutor, and then the court, identified this organization with the religious association Ata Zholy (The Way of Ancestors), banned in Kazakhstan. However, the provision of non-traditional healing methods, cases of diagnoses being made by people without medical training, and instances of refusing traditional medicine were the main complaints against the local Horde.

Thereafter the Horde was included in the Federal List of Extremist Organizations. In April Cheliabinsk prosecutor’s office requested that the court ban Horde activities in the regional center. The Horde organization was banned in the village of Lesnikovo, Kurgan region, in October, and in December the woman who ran the Ufa Horde was found guilty by a Bashkortostan court under part 1, article 239 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (‘Organization of an association which encroaches upon the person and the rights of citizens’). She was fined 100 thousand rubles. In all these instances the law enforcement agencies’ complaints amounted to using ‘psycho-technologies, including alteration of consciousness’, the application of prayer and kamchevanie (blows of the lash) and interaction with the spirits of the dead. We do not propose to evaluate the harm inflicted by such practices, but we do consider the banning of the Horde for extremist activity to be unlawful, since the violations the organization is accused of are not covered by anti-extremist legislation.

Besides these, several organizations conducting educational activities without a license were liquidated.

The prosecutor’s office shut the Bible College of the Far East (Dal’nevostochnyi bibleiskii kolledzh) in Khabarovsk, because ‘the organization is a professional religious education institution’but was not registered as religious.

St Petersburg city court liquidated local religious organization the Harvest (Zhata) Church of Christians of the Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), for not having a license to conduct educational activities. Moreover the church’s charter documents did not mention the provision of educational services, and the court considered that the church had provided them. The Supreme Court upheld this ruling in 2014. According to the defense, the decision to liquidate the church was unlawful because the church had not conducted educational activities, but simply provided accommodation for children’s classes.

In contrast, the Petersburg Orthodox Enlightenment Center was liquidated for conducting religious activities instead of the educational activities specified in its charter documents. The fact that Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church parishes were accommodated in the Center’s premises was also considered an infringement of this charter, despite the fact that – according to Center director, archpriest Alexei Lebedev – the Center has no legal relationship with this church, but simply provides accommodation to various religious organizations.

The Nizhegorodskii district court of Nizhnii Novgorod supported the legal action brought by the regional department of the Ministry of Justice to liquidate the Nizhnii Novgorod Faizkhanov Islamic Institute (Nizhegorodskii islamskii institut im. Kh. Faizkhanova). The lack of a license to conduct educational activities, use of symbols not registered in accordance with established procedures on their forms and stamps, and misrepresenting the legal-organizational type of the institution in charter documents served as reasons to close the organization down. Incidentally, when Damir Mukhetdinov received an order to rectify the violations back in 2012, he himself suggested dissolving the organization since by then another organization with the same name had been registered, but this time as a private educational institution. It is precisely this second organization which has continued its activities.

As in previous years, several religious organizations experienced difficulties securing state registration.

The Primorye regional department of the Ministry of Justice refused to register two local Muslim organizations called Islam, in Partizansk and Arsen’ev, because it deemed the information provided about the founders of these organizations to be unreliable.

The Moscow Church of Scientology once again failed to appeal against the refusal by the Ministry of Justice to re-register them. As before, the Ministry of Justice did not implement the 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which found the refusal to re-register the organization unlawful. Moscow city court refused to uphold the Scientologists’ complaint against the Ministry’s actions. The Ministry, and the Moscow city court thereafter, considers that the charter documents of this religious organization contain violations which contravene legislation, in particular, that the name of the organization does not indicate its legal-organizational and confessional nature. The Church of Scientology considers these complaints groundless, since the charter has previously been registered by the Ministry of Justice.

Religious organizations encountering difficulties with government agencies often managed to defend their rights in court. It was most often Protestant organizations and representatives of new religious movements (henceforth, NRMs) which succeeded in proving the sanctions taken against them to be unlawful.

In April Kemerovo regional court failed to uphold a complaint by Iurga prosecutor’s office, Kemerovo region. The public prosecutor had hoped to overturn the decision not to ban the activities of a local group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, taken in 27 December 2012 by the Iurga town court.

In Rostov region a Protestant organization managed to contest the decision to liquidate it. An unregistered group of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, who ran a rehabilitation center for those dependent on drugs and alcohol, was liquidated in June as a result of an action brought by the Shakhta town prosecutor’s office. Lack of state registration and a failure to comply with the law ‘On civil society organizations’ were cited as grounds for the ban, although this law does not apply to religious groups and they are not required to register. Not perceiving any violations in the group’s activities, the Rostov regional court overturned this decision in August.

In March the St Petersburg prosecutor’s office filed a lawsuit requesting the liquidation of the Islamic Cultural Center for violations it had identified, including of public hygiene and fire safety regulations at the property rented by the center. Moreover, two copies of a book deemed to be extremist, Gardens of the Righteous (Sady pravednykh) by the famous medieval imam al-Nawawi, were found at the center. In December the Thirteenth arbitration appeal court decided the actions of the public prosecutor were unlawful.

Discrimination against religious organizations and citizens on the basis of their attitude to religion

As in previous years, Protestant organizations and representatives of NRMs were most often subject to discrimination, as government officials and members of the security services perceive them to be followers of ‘non-traditional’ religious teaching, and to represent a danger to Russia. Bureaucrats made ‘anti-sectarian’ announcements and attempted to restrict the rights of representatives of such religious organizations, one way or another, at both regional and federal level.

A special structure was even created in parliament to further the struggle with these religious organizations. A working group, supervised by Mikhail Markelov, was set up under the State Duma Committee on Civil Society Associations and Religious Organizations to study the activities of ‘representatives of non-traditional religions’, ‘civil society associations of religious persuasion’, and ‘foreign religio-civil society organizations’, and to ensure that the law on protection of religious feelings would not apply to them. The group did not report on its findings during the course of the year, however.

Government officials united with various civil society forces – in first place, the Russian Orthodox Church – in the fight against ‘sectarians’. In Kaluga region, for example, only ROC representatives were invited to attend a round table on ‘Freedom of conscience and religious confession’. At the behest of local officials, representatives from Protestant and Muslim organizations were refused entry to the event by security guards.

The governor of Stavropol region, Valerii Zerenkov, proposed to ‘protect the region from dangerous teachings’ with the help of the Cossacks. We are unaware of how, or whether, this idea has actually been applied in practice.

Religious organizations of all confessions, in various regions, were affected by the wave of checks on non-commercial organizations initiated in connection with the law on ‘foreign agents’, despite the fact that they are not even covered by this law. According to the Pentecostals, for example, checks were conducted on 1,500 of their communities. In the majority of cases the religious organizations did not face any serious consequences as a result of these checks: occasionally they were asked by investigators to make some changes to documentation. Many of those organizations against which sanctions were applied managed to contest them.

In Rostov region Catholic parishes in Rostov-on-Don, Novocherkassk, Volgodonsk and Azov were subjected to such checks. A check on the Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin Mary parish (prikhod Uspeniia Presviatoi Devy Marii) in Novocherkassk revealed violations of fire safety regulations, and both the religious organization and the parish priest were fined. The fine, moreover, amounted to more than the parish’s annual income. A court later repealed the decision about the fine.

In 2012 we noted the abatement of a long-running campaign of harassment against Jehovah’s Witnesses. We can verify that in 2013 representatives of this organization experienced discrimination as before, but the pressure on them from bureaucrats and the security services has not increased.

In August the vice governor of Murmansk region, Anatolii Vekshin, sent a letter out to the heads of municipalities which talked about the ‘threat’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses and ordered them to inform the law enforcement agencies about any events organized by this organization. In December the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia appealed to Murmansk’s Oktiabr’skii district court to recognize this letter as unlawful and recall it. The vice mayor agreed to recall the letter in January 2014, and the case was closed.

Detaining Jehovah’s Witnesses who are engaged in door-to-door preaching continues to be the main way of discriminating against them. Police officers detained believers in Moscow, Bashkorstostan, the Komi republic and Tatarstan, in the Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenetsk autonomous regions, and in Altai, Belgorod, Cheliabinsk, Irkutsk, Kirov, Kostroma, Krasnodar, Orenburg, Orlov, Primorye, Ryazan, Samara, Saratov, Sakhalin, Tambov, Tver, Tiumen, Volgograd, and Vologda regions. As a rule those detained were taken to the police station, where ‘conversations on religious themes’ were conducted. Sometimes they were searched, literature was seized and they were forcibly photographed and fingerprinted.

Bureaucrats and members of the law enforcement agencies also obstructed the worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Police officers attempted to disrupt services in Novyi Urengoi and Novokuibyshevsk, for example. A Jehovah’s Witness community in Orlov region was fined for conducting a service without the permission of the authorities. The director of a House of Culture in Nakhodka, Primorye region, received a warning from the prosecutor’s office and was fined under article 19.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (‘Arbitrariness’) for providing accommodation to a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ assembly.

There were also cases of discrimination against representatives of ‘traditional’ religions.

As in previous years, instances of discrimination against foreign preachers were recorded. Despite a request from the parliament of Kalmykia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once again refused to issue an entry visa for the Dalai Lama.

Several cases of police arbitrariness with regard to Muslims were recorded. While checking the documents of customers in a café next to a mosque, Surgut police demanded that Muslims cut off their beards, threatening to set fire to their beards if they didn’t. The victims attempted to initiate a criminal case against the police officers under article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (‘abuse of office’), but the Investigative Committee for Khanty-Mansi region refused to initiate proceedings, perceiving no indications of violence in these police actions.

Muslim café customers were subjected to police attack in Moscow, too. Forcing the Muslims to lie on the floor, police officers beat them with gun-butts, stood on their hands and insulted them. According to the official line, this operation was implemented to apprehend a band of robbers.

Several citizens were sacked as a result of conflicts in which religion was the underlying cause. A Perm resident, for example, was sacked for expressing his displeasure at the Orthodox ritual blessing of an office.

Artist Lusine Dzhanian, who had worked at the Krasnodar University of Culture and Arts for a decade or so, was sacked by university management after demonstrating support for Pussy Riot. The management demanded that she stop supporting the punk group and delete photographs of placards from LiveJournal. The artist was called ‘an enemy of Orthodoxy’ during the academic board meeting at which the decision was taken to sack her.

We recorded the first instance in several years of a religiously-motivated refusal to treat a medical patient. A doctor at one of Petrozavodsk’s clinics for women refused to accept a patient in a Muslim headscarf, declaring that she herself was a Jew and ‘because of my religious feelings, I will not accept a Muslim woman [patient], or any other such [women] in headscarves’. After the administration intervened, the patient was admitted, but ‘with a hostile attitude’. The doctor was formally disciplined, and the victim received apologies for the incident from the republic’s Ministry of Health and Social Development and the head doctor.

Attending educational institutions – especially state schools – in Muslim dress remains seriously problematic. Even Vladimir Putin has commented on this issue: on the program ‘A direct line to Vladimir Putin’ in April, asked about the possibility of girls attending lessons in Muslim headscarves, he declared that ‘there has never been any such tradition in our country, including in the Muslim regions’.

Nevertheless, many Muslims consider the school dress code, which excludes scarves for girls, to be an infringement of their rights. When school uniform was introduced in Stavropol region in 2012, around ten Muslim students transferred to alternative types of study. The necessary consultations with teachers were arranged for all these children.

Muslims in Ulyanovsk region appealed to the governor to reconsider the regional legislative assembly’s ruling on school uniform requirements, which included a ban on wearing headgear. According to the petitioners, this requirement ‘is unacceptable for Muslims who practice their religion’.

Wearing the ‘hijab’ occasionally became an issue in higher educational institutions too. A student of Krasnodar’s medical university was expelled for wearing a Muslim headscarf, but managed to get herself reinstated and to collect five thousand rubles compensation from the educational institution for the moral injury suffered.

Protection from discrimination

Many of those who experienced discrimination – above all, Jehovah’s Witnesses and representatives of Protestant organizations – successfully defended their rights in court. Legal proceedings against the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Bryansk and Belgorod for administrative offences were halted by higher legal authorities, for example.

The Tsentralnyi region court of Cheliabinsk upheld the complaint of a Jehovah’s Witnesses community which demanded that the 2012 ban on their holding a convention be recognized as illegal.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Gorodets, Nizhnii Novgorod region, appealed against the district administration’s refusal to grant them permission for a convention. The head of the district administration, moreover, had cited the opinion of the local Orthodox bishop. Gorodets town court found this refusal to be unlawful.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia should pay five thousand euros compensation each to Jehovah’s Witnesses Ekaterina Avilkina (from Nal’chik) and Valentina Zhukova (St Petersburg) for moral damages. The women’s medical records had been disclosed to the public prosecutor without their consent, after they refused blood transfusions on religious grounds in 2007. The ECHR considered this a violation of article eight of the European Convention (the right to respect for private and family life).

The public prosecutor applied to the courts to shut down a rehabilitation center for drug addicts and alcoholics run by the Exodus (Iskhod) Church of Christians of the Evangelical Faith in Rostov region. After running checks on the activities of the Exodus Church, the prosecutor’s office decided that the religious organization’s social work was unlawful. Moreover, a number of violations were identified in the work of the rehabilitation center itself, which included – for example – ‘the unsmiling faces of drug addicts during examination’ and the presence of ‘crawling lice’. The court found the prosecutor’s arguments unsound, all the witnesses called by the prosecution gave evidence in defense of the rehabilitation center, and the case was terminated.

Syktyvkar town court found the town administration’s failure to agree somewhere for the God’s Glory (Bozh’ia Slava) Church to hold services to be unlawful, and recognized the organization’s right to conduct services near the Avrora shopping center and a household services center. This is not the first time that church representatives have successfully appealed against the actions of the town’s bureaucrats.

Insufficient protection against defamation and attacks

We did not record any murders clearly motivated by religious hatred in 2013, but there were around 30 attacks in which the underlying causes were religious. Although in the majority of cases the victims were not seriously injured, this represents a significant increase on the previous years’ figures.

Jehovah’s Witnesses engaged in their door-to-door missionary work were – as before – most often subject to attack. Over the course of the year Witnesses were attacked in Moscow, Mari El, and in Voronezh, Ivanov, Moscow, Omsk and Rostov regions, amongst others. No fewer than 12 witnesses were assaulted, but – with one exception – the victims suffered no serious harm to health. The exception was an elderly woman assaulted by an Omsk resident in March: she received a broken rib and damage to her right lung. Witnesses conducting missionary work in Moscow, Moscow region and Kirov were threatened with pistols.

We also recorded one attack apiece on representatives of Islam, Protestantism, Judaism and Orthodox Christianity.

A worker from the God’s Glory Pentecostal church in Syktyvkar was beaten up. He had been participating in a picket in support of Pastor Viktor Dudin, on hunger strike to protest what he perceives to be a forcible takeover of property belonging to one of the Protestant charitable foundations.

A man attacked an imam’s aide after Namaz/Salah [prayers] in Nefteiugansk, bursting into his office with the words: ‘you pray incorrectly’.

In Moscow region, a group of young people wearing kippot [Jewish skullcaps] were beaten up by two passengers on a suburban train on the eve of Yom Kippur. The attackers shouted nationalist slogans.

In Volgograd hieromonk Gerontii (Potapov), out walking in a cassock, was beaten up by unknown assailants. The victim suggested that his attackers might be nationalists or Satanists, but it is possible that the attack was connected with the upcoming ataman elections and a pre-election struggle amongst Cossack organizations.

72 cases of vandalism against religious targets were recorded in 2013, slightly more than those recorded in 2012 (69 cases).

The majority of targets, as in 2012, were Orthodox (32), but this represents a drop of about a quarter in comparison to the previous year (42 cases). In Vladimir three Orthodox churches were all desecrated on Christmas night. Although the campaign of cutting down crosses in public places has continued, it is winding down – there were four cases of vandalism against crosses recorded in 2013.

In second place came NRM targets (11 cases), barely changing since last year, when ten instances were recorded. All of these cases, moreover, were directed against Jehovah’s Witnesses’ property.

The number of attacks against Muslim targets almost doubled – from five to nine cases – possibly in reaction to the terrorist attacks in Volgograd.

Six cases of vandalism against Jewish property were recorded, and one case each of attacks on Protestant, pagan and Yezidi targets.

The number of dangerous acts of vandalism remains high. A synagogue in Ekaterinburg was shot at, as were Jehovah’s Witnesses buildings in Altai region and Kurgan. There were arson attacks against a Jewish community center in Perm, a Baptist prayer house in Belgorod (possibly the result of an explosion), Muslim prayer houses in Astrakhan and Volgograd, and a mosque in Kazan. Seven Orthodox churches were set on fire in Tatarstan, and a further seven cases of arson against Orthodox targets were recorded in other regions. Happily no one was injured in any of these incidents.

As in previous years, xenophobic material about religious organizations was published in both federal and regional mass media. Most often this sort of reporting was ‘anti-sect’ and anti-Islamic. As a rule the organizations mentioned in this material sought an official retraction, and some of them received it.

One of the most sensational cases was the ‘Followers of Aum Shinrikyo want to build a “City of Happiness” in Nizhnii Novorod region’ report by the Rossiia-1television channel, which focused on the Divya Loka Center of Vedic Culture in Nizhnii Novgorod region. Settlement residents were accused of ‘damaging the spiritual health of another person, driving a person to commit murder, similarity with the terrorist sect Aum Shinrikyo, group sex and orgies’. Representatives of Divya Loka took the television channel to Moscow’s Savelovskii court over the defamatory information disseminated, and in January 2014 the court ordered the television channel to publish a retraction.

Novosibirsk eparchy’s missionary department published an article entitled ‘Hare Krishna followers go on the offensive in Novosibirsk’, which called for the mayor ‘not to allow Krishna devotees’ religious marches, which represent a threat to the spiritual health of our citizens and the country as a whole, onto the streets of our town’. The Novosibirsk public prosecutor’s office issued a warning to archpriest Alexander Novopashin, the director of the eparchy’s Information and Consultation Center on Sectarianism, reminding him not to infringe the rights of citizens to freedom of conscience and religious confession. The article was withdrawn.

In addition to the above mentioned anti-Krishna devotee reporting, the Rossiia-1 television channel also broadcast anti-Islamic material. The story ‘Aggressive Islam: Stavropol splits into our own and aliens’ attracted the attention of the Chechen ombudsman, Nurda Nukhazhiev, who requested that it be examined for evidence of inciting enmity.

Members of the Assalam women’s Islamic community in Stavropol were disturbed by the contents of a news story, ‘An ordinary house, hostel, or sect?’ on the same television channel. The story focused on the search of a madrasah on 1 November 2013, and journalists represented members of the religious group as extremist.

Representatives of ‘alternative’ Orthodox Christianity were also subject to defamation. Newspapers Vladimir Gazette (Vladimirskie vedomosti) and The Virgin Soil of Suzdal (Suzdal’skaia nov’) published an article about the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church entitled ‘State department in a cassock?’ Representatives of RPATs demanded a retraction and declared that the article offended their feelings, containing as it did ‘50 slanderous assertions, insults and misinformation, much of which contains open incitement to inter-confessional enmity and confrontation, together with extremist slogans’.

The ‘anti-Church campaign’ – material critical of the Russian Orthodox Church which appeared in the media in 2012 in connection with the Pussy Riot case – evidently disturbed the authorities, since in 2013 a federal channel was moved to expose it. At the beginning of the year NTV aired a film by Boris Korchevnikov, ‘I don’t believe!’, presented as a journalistic investigation into the ‘information war’ against the Church. The film was a selection of incomprehensible ‘pictures’ and interviewees’ remarks taken out of context, intended to convince the viewer that the ‘anti-Church campaign’ was the work of art gallery owner Marat Gel’man and blogger Rustem Agadamov in particular, supported by Ukraine and the West.

One of the participants in this ‘campaign’ – Mikhail Anshakov, head of the Society for the Protection of Consumers (Obshchestvo zashchity prav potrebitelei) – was found guilty under part 2, article 128.1 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (‘Slander, contained in a public speech, publically displayed work or the mass media’). Anshakov was fined 100 thousand rubles for a 2012 interview in which he talked about the business center, the car washing, servicing and tyre fitting, the 305 parking spaces, the laundry, canteen, and retail outlets active on the territory of the Christ the Savior Church (khram Khristos Spasitelia).

As in previous years, private individuals and representatives of civil society organizations periodically attempted to oppose religious organizations by a variety of means, from defamation to threats.

Activists from the organization Emergency Services for Youth (Skoraia molodezhnaia pomosh’) held a few single person pickets against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgorod. Picketers handed out brochures entitled ‘Beware – a sect’ to passers-by.

In Syktyvkar Aleksei Kolegov, leader of the national-patriotic organization Frontier of the North (Rubezh Severa) disrupted the single person picket in support of the aforementioned pastor of God’s Grace Church, Viktor Dudin.

In 2013 we recorded a type of defamation that we had previously not encountered. On the eve of Eid al-Adha in October, hackers attacked three Muslim websites. The hackers posted images of a pig’s head and an insulting inscription on sites belonging to the Council of Muftis of Russia, the chair of the Council of Muftis, and the Moscow Sobornaia Mosque.

[1] This project has been financially supported by government funds, awarded by the President of the Russian Federation on 18 September 2013 decree no. 348-rp, and via a competition run by the Civil Dignity Movement.

[2] O. Sibireva, ‘Freedom of conscience in Russia: Restrictions and challenges in 2012’ // SOVA Center. 2013. 15 May (

[3] For a detailed commentary see: A. Verkhovsky, ‘Zakon, vyrazhaiushchii neuvazhenie k zdravomu smyslu’ // Ezhednevnyi zhurnal.2013. 20 May (

[4] In March 2014 a case of insulting religious feelings (article 148 of the Criminal Code) was initiated in relation to a Khanty-Mansi autonomous region resident who swore obscenely in a church.

[5] On 29 January 2014, speaking at the Christmas Readings, Anoprienko cited different figures: 203 applications were received during 2013 from religious organizations, 187 of them from the Russian Orthodox Church. 32 transfers were finalized, a further 92 received a positive response but have not yet been implemented, and 53 are currently being worked on.