Freedom of Conscience in Russia: Restrictions and Challenges in 2014

Edited by Alexander Verkhovsky

REGULATIONS : Federal Legislation : Regional Initiatives : Legislative Initiatives not (Yet) Implemented
PROBLEMS RELATING TO PLACES OF WORSHIP : Problems with the Construction of Religious Buildings : Problems with Religious Buildings Already in Use


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

This report is based on the information gathered in the course of the Center's monitoring activities. The collated materials are available on our website under ‘Religion in Secular Society’ ( References to media reports and links to internet sources are included. In the present report, we only include direct references to sources that are not mentioned elsewhere on the site.

The current report provides some updates concerning the events discussed at greater length in last year's report. We do not aim to compile an exhaustive catalog of all events connected to religion in public life. Generally, the events we discuss serve to illustrate our analysis of broader tendencies.[2]

We examine the themes and instances of misuse of anti-extremism legislation in a separate dedicated report.[3]


2014 saw a continuation of some tendencies highlighted in our previous reports.

The construction of religious buildings remains one of the focal points of contention, with no fall in the number of conflicts surrounding it. And, while such conflicts occur in many parts of the country, the situation is worst in the capital. In Moscow, the program of building "churches within walking distance" (khramy shagovoi dostupnosti) continues, albeit more slowly than its initiators would wish.

Same as in 2013, Muslims are still the most likely group to experience problems in using religious buildings. In 2014, however, they also found construction more problematic than other religious groups. On the other hand, fewer problems connected to premises of worship are now experienced by Protestants.

The legislation known as the "Law on Protecting Religious Feelings" (Zakon o zashchite chuvstv veruiushchikh) has not yet seen any use, despite having come into force some time ago. At the same time, the "Orthodox activists" (provoslavnye aktivisty) who aim to protect religious feelings - by physical force if need be - have become substantially more active and have seen some notable support from the law enforcement agencies. Earlier their activity was largely restricted to Moscow; now, however, there are well organised groups in at least two other regions: Novosibirsk and Krasnodar.

Meanwhile, the state seems less than keen to protect the religious feelings of the Muslims protesting against the several regional bans on headscarves in educational institutions.

Broadly, there has been less religious discrimination by officials, but members of the community have come under more pressure from law enforcement agencies.


Federal Legislation

On April 2, 2014 the President signed into law new amendments to the Tax Code of the Russian Federation. These affect religious organizations. Those of them that did not have to pay taxes during the reporting period are now exempt from the obligation to submit financial statements.

The law "Amending Article 16 of the Law ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’" (O vnesenii izmenenii v stat'iu 16 zakona "O svobode sovesti i religioznykh ob"edineniiakh") was ratified by the State Duma on October 8 and signed by the President on October 22. The amendments make provisions for religious services being conducted without the authorities being notified - not only in religious buildings owned by religious organizations but also at pilgrimage sites, on land belonging to religious communes, at cemeteries and crematoria, and in residential premises. Religous ceremonies and gatherings in other places fall under the regulations governing public demonstrations and processions.

The Law "Amending the Federal Law 'On the objects of cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation' and certain other legislative acts" (O vnesenii izmenenii v Federal'nii zakon "Ob ob"ektakh kul'turnogo naslediia (pamiatnikakh istorii i kul'tury) narodov Rossiiskoi Federatsii" i otdel'nye zakonodatel'nye akty Rossiiskoi Federatsii) was passed by the Duma on October 10 and signed by the President on October 30. The amendments were lobbied for by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The new legislation allows municipal authorities to allocate funds to cultural heritage sites owned by religious organizations.

On October 7, 2014, the government's draft amendments to the Federal Law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" (O svobode sovesti i religioznykh ob"edineniiakh) passed a first reading in the Duma. The tabled amendments include an abolition of the requirement that a religious group must exist for at least fifteen years before it may register as a religious organization. The requirement that religious organizations yearly provide information about their continued activity has also been dropped. At the same time, the bill proposes a tougher registration regime for religious groups and a curtailing of the rights of local religious organizations.

In December 2014, the government's draft amendments to Article 14 of Russia's Criminal Executive Code, guaranteeing the right of inmates to request a meeting with a priest of their confession, passed a first reading in the Duma. The law obliges the administration of every corrective facility to make available premises where such meetings can take place and religious ceremonies be conducted.


Regional Initiatives

Religious organizations remained virtually unaffected by the legislative activity within Russia's federal subjects.

On March 26, the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg approved amendments to the law "On holidays and anniversaries in St. Petersburg" (O prazanikakh i pamiatnykh datakh v Sankt-Peterburge) and declared June 14 a public holiday – the Day of St.John of Kronstadt. Five deputies (deputat – elected representative) raised objections to the bill. Alexandr Kobrinsky, a member of the Yabloko [Apple] party, raised the issue of the far right views espoused by John of Kronstadt.

In November, the draft law "On missionary activity in the Pskov region" (O missionerskoi deiatel'nosti na territorii Pskovskoi oblasti), prepared by the region's Civic Chamber passed a first reading at the Pskov Regional Assembly of Deputies. The draft document, among other things, prohibits missionaries from distributing religious literature and audiovisual materials not labeled in accordance with the law.

Under the bill, foreign citizens arriving in the region will have to notify the regional administration of any intent to conduct missionary work. Such work will be prohibited unless its aims are found to be in agreement with the visitor's entry documents.


Legislative Initiatives not (Yet) Implemented

A number of legislative initiatives, for various reasons, have not been implemented.

Several draft amendments to the law ‘On the freedom of conscience and religious associations’ were voted down.

One draft was developed by the Ministry of Justice and put forward for public consideration in November. Among other things, it proposed to oblige religious organizations to separate the accounts of income from foreign funding from those of other sources income. However, the proposal did not stipulate that foreign funding would result in religious organizations being classed as "foreign agents." Work on the draft is now complete, but the bill has not yet (as of early 2015) been put before the Duma.

On September 13, the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly submitted to the Duma its draft amendments to the laws "On the freedom of conscience and religious associations" and "On assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, marches and pickets" (O sobraniiakh, mitingakh, demonstratsiiakh, shetviiakh i piketirovaniiakh). The bill, proposing that public meetings and marches near places of worship or religious schools must be coordinated with religious organizations, was promptly rejected on September 16. The government and the Duma both turned it down. In its response, the government noted that such a law would restrict the citizens' freedom of assembly.

Another draft amendment was submitted to the Duma in November: to the law "On Freedom of Conscience" (O svobode sovesti), also to the law "On Non-profit Organiations" (O nekomercheskikh organizatsiiakh) and the Civil Code. The draft was prepared by the following deputies: A.D. Zhukov, S.A. Gavrilov, E.B. Mizulina, Ia.E. Nilov, and S.A. Popov. It concerns the founders and the charter capital of religious organizations, and is designed to eliminate some of the problems arising from the changes in the Civil Code. The bill passed its first reading in January 2015.

There are continued attempts to regulate the activity of fortune-tellers and psychics. In June, the State Duma Committee on Health recommended that deputy Ilya Ponomarev's bill proposing controls over the provision of "occult and mystical health services" and limits on the advertising of such services be rejected.

A similar bill, seeking to ban the advertising of services offered by psychics, healers, and fortune-tellers, and to limit the dissemination of information about them in the media and on the Internet, was rejected in October. The draft was put forward by deputy Mikhail Serd'uk of A Fair Russia (Spravedlivaia Rossiia). The Legal Administration concluded that the bill "needs a legal-technical revision."

Another bill pertaining to religious freedom, was brought before the Duma by the Communists (The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, CPRF - Kommunisticheskaia partiia Rossiiskoi Federatsii) in March. It proposed to ammend the law "On Citizens' passports in the Russian Federation" (O passporte grazhdanina Rossiiskoi Federatsii), dispensing with machine-readble data (preserving the paper document alone) and adding "ethnicity" and "religion" to the information contained within. In April, the Council of the Duma chose to return the bill to its authors for further work.

In March, it came to light that the working group on the activities of the members of non-traditional religions, Russian-based non-governmental associations of religious nature, and foreign religious and non-governmental organizations operating in Russia (established in the Duma in 2013) is preparing a legal definition of "sects" and, jointly with the Ministry of Justice and the General Prosecutor's Office, a relevant submission to the Supreme Court. The results of the group's work were never made public.

Problems Relating to Places of Worship

As in previous years, many religious organizations experienced difficulties in both constructing places of worship and using existing facilities.


Problems with the Construction of Religious Buildings

Construction of buildings for worship remains one of the most painful issues. Such problems are most often experienced by Muslims and Orthodox Christians.

One especially prominent conflict surrounds the erection of a mosque in Kaliningrad. This conflict has been running for around twenty years and has gotten worse in 2014. In April, the Moskovsky District Court in Kaliningrad invalidated a decree by the head of the municipal administration about the allocation of two plots for the construction of a mosque and revoked the building permit. In June, this decision was upheld by the Kaliningrad Regional Court. The Region's governor, Nikolai Tsukanov, promised to compensate the community for the outlays on the construction sustained so far.

The Supreme Court refused to consider the Muslim community's complaint. An appeal to Putin personally went unanswered. The case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In late December, the ECHR registered a complaint by Kaliningrad Muslims against the authorities.

There are continued complications around the construction of a mosque near Pyatigorsk. In 2013, the court ordered the owner to demolish two floors of the unfinished mosque. Then, in May 2014, the authorities of the Stavropol Region allocated land for the construction of a new mosque in the village of Vinsady. The decision sparked protests by the villagers; however, by July, they had been reassured that the site was not in the village itself but some 25 kilometers away, and the mosque would cause them no inconvenience. An agreement was reached. Yet, by October, the site still had not passed registration procedures, and appeals by the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims (Dukhovnoie upravleniie musul'man) were being ignored.

Problems with the construction of mosques were also recorded in other regions. The Novosibirsk city administration revoked its decision to allocate land for the construction of a mosque on Pervaya Gruzinskaya Street, in the wake of protests by local residents. The city's residents also objected to the construction of a mosque in the forest-park zone on Uchitel'skaya Street.

In Ufa, objections to the construction of an Islamic business and leisure center Muslim City were raised by members of the Orthodox parish of the Intercession of the Theotokos (Pokrovskii khram), who had a rival claim on the plot.

As in 2013, protests against construction were sometimes supported by members of the far right. For example, protests against the construction of a mosque in Vorkuta that have now been running for several years were joined by the Frontier of the North (Rubezh Severa) members who had already been at similar protests in Syktyvkar a year earlier.

A telling story took place in the Nevsky District of St. Petrsburg. In October, on the eve of a public hearing about proposed changes to the city plan, some media outlets reported about an upcoming construction of a mosque. The reports were denied by the Mufti of the Grand Mosque (Sobornaia mechet'), Ravil Pancheyev. However, calls for a "citizens' gathering" (skhod), aimed at preventing the inclusion of the mosque in the city plan, still appeared on far right websites. The police responded by intensifying security on local government premises where the hearings were to take place. This measure proved unnecessary: in the end, the hearing was only attended by local residents - without placards or any other ideological paraphernalia. The matter of the mosque was never raised at all.

In some cases, the difficulties around the construction of mosques were the fault of religious organizations themselves or those entrusted with the management of the project. Thus, in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the Regional Ministry of Property and Land Relations terminated the lease on the land intended for the construction of a mosque. The lease had been concluded back in 2003 with the community fund Musul'manin [Muslim]. It was revoked because no construction work had taken place in the intervening time. The court ruled that the fund had to pay 2 million rubles in ground rent.

The situation is similar in Vladivostok: a plot for a Grand Mosque was allocated back in 2012, but no work has taken place. Planning permission had been granted to one community, when another had been fighting for it for ten years.

The Ministry of Regional Development of Khakassia has halted the construction of a mosque in Abakan, because the height of the erected building did not match the approved design, and key documentation was missing. If the community submits new plans and gathers the necessary approvals, construction will resume.


There has been no drop in the number of conflicts surrounding the construction of Orthodox churches. As in previous years, the most frequent cause is that the designated site falls within a green space which the local residents want to preserve.

The situation remains problematic in Moscow. Many conflicts have surrounded the implementation of "Program-200" (Programma-200) supported by the municipal government. Protests against the construction of modular churches have taken place in Otradnoye, Yuzhnoye Medvedkovo, Ramenki, Perovo, Ostankino, Khodynskoye Pole, Ryazansky, and Losinoostrovskoy Districts. Protests were held both in support and in opposition of the project. Signatures were gathered, and various instituions, petitioned. Some protests were endorsed by politicians, in particularly by members of the Communist Party and Yabloko.

For example, on the instigation of Andrey Klychkov (CPRF), the Moscow City Duma has taken under special supervision the construction of a church in the square on Fyodor Poletaev Street (south-east Moscow). More than 4,500 signatures had been collected in support of preserving the green space and relocating the project to a different site.

Aside from the churches being put up under Program-200, Muscovites have also been protesting against the construction of a cathedral on the territory of the Sretensky Monastery. The project requires the demolition of several 19th century buildings, and, according to expert opinion, endangers an important 18th century structure nearby.

Many conflicts over the construction of Orthodox churches were recorded in other parts of Russia too. Thus, in St. Petersburg, a group of residents objecting to the construction of a church on the Rozhdestvensky Square petitioned Putin, requesting his personal intervention. A one-man picket was conducted by Sergey Malinkovich, a deputy from Smolninskoye Municipal District.

Two conflicts in St. Petersburg were resolved in favor of those objecting to construction. The city authorities have canceled the construction of a church in the Malinovka Park, after more than 20,000 signatures had been gathered in objection. Instead the eparchy (diocese) would be offered another site. Meanwhile, the protesters against the construction of a 59 metre tall cathedral in the Dolgoozerny Park managed to secure a court ban on the project.

In Ryazan, a conflict flared up around the construction of a church commemorating the fallen seamen in the Park of Naval Glory (park Morskoy Slavy) in the Kanishchevo Neighbourhood. Another conflict occured in Blagoveshchensk, where trees had to be felled in order to construct a church in the Park of Friendship (park Druzhby). In Tyumen, the conflict that started in 2013 around the construction of a church in the Komsomol'sky Square continues. The governor has announced that he is happy to move the project to an alternative site, but the Orthodox community is insisting on the square. The residents of Tolyatti have objected to the construction of a metochion (an ecclesiastical embassy - podvor'e) of the Church of St Seraphim (Serafimovskaia tserkov') and an Orthodox school in a city square. They would rather the space were used for a sports and recreation ground. In Surgut, the residents opposed a church being built on waste-ground - they felt that, all the public hearings notwithstanding, the decision of the municipal authorities had disregarded their opinion.

In Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, a local protest against the construction of a church got support from the nationalists - an extremely rare scenario, if not a unique one. The pressure group of those opposed to the construction came to include members of the Slavic Union (Slavianskii soiuz) and the Russian Commune (Russkaia obshchina). In this case, there was no undercurrent of xenophobia to the protest - the activists simply demanded that the construction site be relocated from a playground to "abandoned land."


Beside those listed so far, we know of only two instances where the construction of religious buildings by other confessions ran into problems. In Yekaterinburg, the locals protested against the construction of a Lutheran church in the Blyukher Park. In Kaliningrad, there are continued complications around the construction of a synagogue. In June, the Kaliningrad Regional Court upheld a 2013 ban on construction until the religious organization secures the necessary permit. The lack of documentation is down to the fact that the site lies within a "protective zone" (okhrannaia zona). In December, the Arbitration Court of the Kaliningrad Region ordered the officials to issue the permit, but the city administration has already filed an appeal against this decision.


Problems with Religious Buildings Already in Use

Problems with the use of religious buildings also most frequently affected the Muslims.

The Muslim community of the Belorechensky village near Kislovodsk could not secure suitable legal representation in order to contest the 2013 decisions of the Kislovodsk City Court and the Stavropol Regional Court about the demolition of two mosques in the villages of Belorechensky and Industriya. While the community searched for a lawyer, the appeal time ran out, and the contract for the demolition of the two buildings was put out to tender.

The Sverdlovsk Regional Arbitration Court granted the Municipal Property Mangement Department a permission to evict Rahmat, a Muslim organization, from the premises it occupied. The eviction was justified by various breaches of the tennancy agreement and issues raised by fire and consumer safety authrities (Gospozhnadzor and Rospotrebnadzor).

In Kazan, the Railway administration closed a station prayer room for Muslims, that had been opened only a few months earlier. It is not clear why.

A Faizrakhmanist commune was evicted from its premises in Kazan. The commune was found to be extremist, and in 2013 the court took the decision to evict. Since then there were two attempts to remove the Faizrakhmanists from the premises, but both times they returned. The third time round, the bailiffs put seals on all the doors in the building.


Several conflict situations connected to the premises used for worship were resolved in favor of religious organizations.

For example, the Krasnodar Region Arbitration Court ordered the municipal administration of Sochi to transfer the ownership of the House of the Gospel in the Resort of Sochi (Dom Evangeliia na kurorte Sochi) to the Church of Evangelical Christians (Tserkov' Evangel'skikh Khristian). They had been using the premises as a meeting house since 1992. The municipal administration had long refused to transfer the ownership of the property to the group and, in 2013, put it up for sale.

In Pervouralsk, Sverdlovsk Region, the authorities tried to secure a court decision to evict a Muslim commune from former barracks in Talitsa. However, in January 2015, the two parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

Preferential Treatment

As in previous years, in 2014, the federal and regional budgets allocated funds for the restoration of religious sites. As a rule, these were intended for the preservation of important architectural heritage sites, making such financing decisions lawful.

In particular, funds were allocated for the restoration of religious sites within the city of Moscow, as well as in Archangelsk, Vladimir, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Pskov, Tula, and Tyumen Regions. The bulk of these funds were destined for the reconstruction of Orthodox sites. However, some moneys were also received by Muslim sites and a Buddhist university-monastery (datsan).

Aside from restoration and construction work, the state financed such undertaking as the celebration of an anniversary of the foundation of a monastery (in Yaroslavl Region) or a pilgrimage to the Sacrament of the Magi (Dary Volkhvov in Kemerovo Region). The Moscow municipal authorities allocated 20 million rubles for the compensation of expenses incurred by the Church in maintaining the St. Alexis Hospital (bol'nitsa sviatitelia Aleksiia) and the purchase of equipment for the surgery complex.

More than 10 million rubles from the budget of the Adygea Republic was allocated for "statutory requirements" (ustavnyie trebovaniia) of religious organizations under the "Strengthening international relations and patriotic education in 2014-2018" program (ukrepleniie mezhnatsional'nykh otnoshenii i patrioticheskoie vospitanie na 2014-18 gody). The expenses covered included the salary of the clergy: 3,2 million rubles for the Adygea Eparchy and 7 million rubles for the needs of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Adygea and the Krasnodar Territory. Meanwhile, Russia's Ministry of Culture has allocated more than 6 million rubles for the development of a virtual tour of Mount Athos in Greece, one of the most revered pilgrimage sites for Orthodox Christians.


Transfer of property continues to constitute another form of support for religious organizations. In most cases, ownership of buildings is transferred to the ROC; however, there are also instances of property being transferred to Old Believer of Muslim organizations. For instance, in the Ryazan Region, the Municipal Council of Kasimov chose to pass the ownership of the premises housing an active mosque and a madrasa to the Muslim community, an outcome the latter had been campaigning for since 2010.

Religious buildings were not the only property to be passed into the ownership of religious organizations. For example, a building formerly occupied by the municipal administration was given to the Gatchina Eparchy as the new episcopal residence.

Sometimes the transfer of a building into the ownership of a religious organisation required a court decision. For example, this was the case with the former Constantinople Metochion (Konstantinopol’skoe podvor’e) on the Krapivensky Lane in Moscow. The Department of Municipal Property Management was refusing to transfer ownership to the Church, since it did not consider the property as one of religious purpose. However, the Moscow Arbitration Court ruled that the religious organization did have rights over the property. One cannot rule out that the court decision will encourage the Church to seek new victories in this direction. At least, the Church has already declared its claim on a residential house near the metochion, the religious purpose of which is far from obvious. If the Church does succeed in gaining ownership of this property, then 13 families will have to be re-housed at the expense of the municipal budget, and the building will have to be renovated.

An Old Believer community of Yekaterinburg failed to secure a transfer of the former Church of the Trinity (Troitskii khram), occupied by a TB clinic. Even though the transfer had been agreed by the governor of the Sverdlovsk Region and the Metropolitan Cornelius of the Russian Orthodox Old Believers Church, the Regional Property Fund put up the building for auction. This decision was later reversed. New premises were made available to the TB clinic. Still, the transfer never took place. The authorities were ready to pass the church to the Old Believer community, but the Ural Tubercular Research Institute announced that, according to sanitary regulations, religious services cannot be held in a building which had for a long time been used for TB treatment. The Old Believer community does not have the funds to demolish the building and erect a new one. Towards the end of the year, there were ongoing negotiations between the regional authorities, two Old Believer communes, and a construction company regarding possible solutions.


In the majority of cases, the transfer of property to religious bodies passes without conflict, and the authorities find new premises for the organizations being evicted from their habitual location. As before, complexities tend to arise where heritage sites are concerned. The authorities are still willing to sacrifice the interests of cultural institutions to favor those of religious organizations. The museum workers, possibly in the light of the futility of earlier protests, rarely bother to object to their eviction. At least, in 2014, we recorded no protests by museum workers against the transfer of buildings into the ownership of religious organizations.

In 2013, the staff at the Yaroslavl State Historical-Architectural Reserve (Yaroslavskii gosudarstvennyi istoriko-arkhitekturnyi zapovednik) described their prospective eviction and relocation from the Monastery of Holy Transfiguration (Preobrazhenskii monastyr') as the "murder of the museum." Nonetheless, in 2014, the plans to relocate the museum were confirmed and alternative premises were found, a complex of buildings that were formerly a military hospital. The churchware and the icons that are currently museum exhibits will stay in the buildings while formally remaining part of the museum collection. Elena Milovzorova, the Deputy Minister of Culture assessed this situation as "generally very good."

Politicians have sometimes come out in support of museums. Two such cases were reported in St. Petersburg. One was related to the Arctic and Antarctic Museum (Musei Arktiki i Antarctiki) located in the former St. Nicholas Church. Several years ago, it was announced that the buiding would be passed to the Common Faith (edinovery) community. Two members of the Federation Council, Artur Chilingarov and Vadim Tyul'panov, made statements in support of the museum. A number of deputies in the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg also requested that the museum be allowed to remain in the buildings it currently occupies. In April, the Federal Property Management Agency (Rosimushchestvo) suspended the transfer of ownership - but only because the community had not submitted a draft preservation plan (the building is listed as a federal heritage structure). Presumably, the document was eventually submitted, because, by the end of the year, the municipal authorities did take the decision about relocating the museum to different premises in 2016-2017.

In a different case, St. Petersburg deputies supported another museum. Five of them appealed to the governor, Georgiy Poltavchenko, asking him not to allow another transfer of ownership: that of the Blagoveshchenskaya burial vault (Blagoveshchenskaia Usypal’nitsa) to the ROC. The transfer had been announced back in 2013. The vault is currently controlled by the Museum of Urban Sculpture. According to the deputies, the transfer violates existing law, because within the vault are 108 memorial stones and sculptures, 68 of them at actual burial sites. In other words, they are an integral part of the building.


Besides the financial help and transfer of property, other forms of state patronage towards religious organizations were observed. The well established practice of designating religious festivals as public holidays continued. Thus additional public holidays marking Muslim festivals were announced in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Dagestan, and Adygea. Radonitsa (an Orthodox festival commemorating the dead) was declared a public holiday in several regions (including the Krasnodar Region).

The Moscow Department of Education, in response to a request by the Department of Catechesis (Otdel katekhezatsii) of the Moscow City Eparchy, confirmed that the premises of ordinary state schools may be used for parish activities on Sundays. However, the final decision still rests with the school board.

Protecting Religious Feelings

Over the course of 2014, not one person was convicted of insulting religious feelings (neither under Article 148 of the Criminal Code, nor under Article 5.26 of the Administrative Code). However, there were no fewer complaints of insulted religious feelings than last year. Perhaps, in fact, there were more. All complaints we are aware of were made by Orthodox Christians.

On the whole, this year we registered fewer cases of officials reacting to complaints by religious people claiming that a particular event is insulting than we did last year. It is probable that this is down to event organisers' unwillingness to face a full scale scandal and their greater preparedness to change arrangements at the behest of those most publicly sensitive to insulted religious feelings.

For instance, in the run-up to the premier of The Hobbit, the Svecheniye [Glow] art group chose not to put up the "Eye of Sauron" fan-art installation above one of the Moscow-City buildings. This decision came immediately after a radio broadcast by Protoiereus Vsevolod Chaplin, expressing concerns that an appearance of a "demonic symbol" above Moscow may bring about negative consequences. At the same time, the organisers of an ice building festival in Novosibirsk, in spite of the protests by the Orthodox community, went ahead with a similar installation.

We did become aware of several cases where the officials pressured the organisers of mass events in the name of protecting religious feelings. Thus in the Tomsk Region, the yearly Solar Plexus festival (Solnechnoie Spletenie) near the village of Takhtamyshevo was canceled. Among other reasons (disturbance to local residents, possible damage to environment) one of the officials mentioned the infringement of local Muslim traditions.

In some cases, the authorities would take preemtive steps without there being any complaints, sometimes with peculiar results. Thus, in St. Petersburg, the members of the municipal Committee on Culture responsible for supervising the Battle of the Neva festival (Bitva na Neve) at the Peter and Paul Fortress insisted that participants must amend the acts that initially appeared "un-Orthodox." In the end, the organisers were forced to rename a performing piglet from Napoleon to Boris, Western knights were rebranded as Russian bogatyrs, the participants of a horseback display got Russian names in place of European ones, the bagpipe orchestra had to change its repertory, jugglers had to perform accompanied by a balalaika, and the jester had to change his costume to that of a 17th century Russian soldier.


The most prominent conflicts motivated by the protection of religious feelings surrounded the tours of several foreign rock bands. Their work was branded as "satanist," amoral, and advocating violence. In the face of pressure from Orthodox activists(sometimes physical), concerts by Cannibal Corpse were canceled in Moscow, Novosibirsk, and St. Petersburg. Cradle of Filth and Marilyn Manson canceled performances in Novosibirsk. Concerts by Behemoth were called off in Novosibirsk and Vladivostok. Orthodox Christians protested against performances by these artists in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar, Primorye, Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk, and other parts of the country. The Slovenian rock band Laibach canceled a planned tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg. On their Facebook page, the band members explained to the fans that the tour was canceled due to the "high political risk of an alarmed response on the part of local 'Orthodox' activists."

Given the nature of the music (these are all heavy metal bands), it is unlikely that the artists are widely known among the Orthodox communion. Therefore, we are clearly talking about well planned actions by "Orthodox activist" groups. Some were attended by elderly parishioners clearly incapable of independently assessing the English lyrics. If in 2013, we reported about such groups conducting organized operations in Moscow alone; in 2014, similar levels of activity were observed in at least two other regions: Novosibirsk and Krasnodar. In Novosibirsk, the activists adopted the violent methods of their Moscow colleagues. One of the concerts was halted after the activists beat up several concert-goers and a security guard who tried to protect them.

Besides disrupting the concerts, members of Orthodox organizations requested that the regional authorities ban "Monstrations" (mock demonstrations), Halloween activities, and other popular events.


The involvement of law enforcement agencies in the protection of religious feelings has been another distinctive feature of 2014. If previously the prosecutors were content to ignore the occasional complaint by the insulted believers, now protesters against the "satanic" rock bands began to call on the law enforcement structures en masse. In several regions simultaneously, the law enforcement agencies took the side of the defenders of religious feelings.

The prosecutor's office of the Karasunsky District in Krasnodar declined to act on the complaint of the Orthodox Union, demanding the cancelation of a concert by Cannibal Corpse and the declaration of the band's lyrics as extremist. However, the band was obliged to perform only those songs that had passed linguistic expertise and been found to contain no signs of extremism. The organisers of the concert were issued with a warning regarding the "unacceptability of any changes to the program that may result in the inclusion of a song containing extremist statements or incitements." An analogous warning was received by the organisers of a Cannibal Corpse concert in Chelyabinsk. The Chelyabinsk Regional Prosecutor's Office demanded that several songs be dropped from the program, and minors be barred from attending. The Prosecutor's Office of the Oktyabr'skii District in Ufa requested a ban on the dissemination of the Cannibal Corpse lyrics and their translations on Russian soil on account of them "harming the health and development of minors." In Novosibirsk, following complaints from Orthodox Christians, the Regional Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the narcotics police conducted a search at the Rock City club where Cradle of Filth were due to play. (The concert was later canceled.)


In Moscow "Orthodox activists," mostly from the God's Will (Bozh'ia Volia) faction of Dmitrii (Enteo) Tsarionov, also kept up the good work. Aside from protesting against the aforementioned rock bands (Marilyn Manson was even pelted with eggs), they participated in the disruption of various street actions and cultural events. For instance, in April, there was an attempt to disrupt the premiere of Askold Kurov's documentary film Children 404 (Deti 404) about the persecution of LGBT adolescents in Russia. After bursting into the cinema with Sodom-themed placards, they demanded that the film be stopped, given the presence of minors in the audience. In November, D. Tsorionov and several associates damaged two exhibits at the Tsenzura Shlyu-ha-ha [Censorship Ho-ho-whore] exhibition organised at the Vinzavod center by Marat Gelman.

In October, three Orthodox activists picketed the home of Aleksey Navalny. They were protesting against a publication of his: he expressed his disapproval of the cancelation of the Laibach concert and jokingly suggested that the band should be awarded the Orthodox Prize (a monetary award). The picketers called on Navalny to "beg for forgiveness of the millions of Russian Christians whose feelings his words had offended."


Naturally, the activities of the defenders of religious feelings displease a certain section of society. From time to time people try to oppose the Orthodox activists. There are even some counter-protests. In July, there was a demonstration in Novosibirsk following the disruption of rock concerts by Orthodox Christians. The protest was organised by Viktor Zakharenko, the director of the Siberian Tours (Sibirskie Gastroli) agency, involved in the preparation of the canceled Marilyn Manson concert. About 300 people joined it. The speakers included Oles Valger, the deputy chairman of the youth wing of the Yabloko party, and Ivan Starikov, the deputy mayor of Novosibirsk. Also in Novosibirsk, in November, five people went out on Krasny Prospekt (one of the main streets) with a banner reading "Rockers of Novosibirsk do not object to holy liturgies." There was a protest against concert cancelations in Moscow. However, all these protests were too small for there to be any real talk of an effective opposition to "Orthodox activists."

Disbandment of Religious Organizations and Denial of Registration

Like the preceding review period, 2014 saw the liquidation of several religious organization. The reasons were extremely varied.

Perhaps the most unusual case is what took place in the village of Reftinsky, Sverdlov Region. The parish of the church of the Three Hierarchs (Trekhsviatitel'skii khram), the house chapel of a school for troubled teens, was disbanded after about 20 years in existence. The social services followed by the Prosecutor's Office demanded that the church be stripped of its legal body status, citing Paragraph 12, Article 27 of the Federal Law "On Education" (Ob obrazovanii). According to this law, "creation and operation of political parties and religious organization within state and municipal education organization are not permitted." It is interesting that the eparchal administration agreed with this demand and itself contacted the school with a request to liquidate the parish. Services in the shrine are allowed to continue, but a different priest has been appointed to conduct them. The former rector has been removed from the position after objecting to the liquidation of the parish.

The Samara Regional Court liquidated the local Jehovah's Witnesses group after recognizing it as an extremist organization. The basis of this decision was a fine issued to Pavel Moskovin under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code, for distributing banned Jehovah's Witness materials at prayer meetings. The Prosecutor's Office had earlier issued a warning to the group. We believe, the decision was unlawful.

The Chelyabinsk Regional Court prohibited within the region the activities of a religious organization known as The Horde (Orda). The organization, put on the Federal List of Extremist Organizations in 2013, had evidently resumed its activities in some form. The accusations of the Prosecutor's Office, same as before, come down to "psychological impact" on followers and non-traditional medical treatments, among them treatment by pilgrimage to holy places.

It is probably the same organization that was banned in Volchikhinsky District, Altai Region. The prosecutor's report does not specify the name of the organization, but the same reasons are given for the ban. In addition, it refers to the ban on a similar organization in Kazakhstan, namely the Ata Zholy [The Way of the Ancestors] which the Russian law enforcement agencies tend to identify with The Horde. In Ufa, so far a case has only been launched regarding the liquidation of Ata Zholy.

The Novosibirsk Regional Court banned the religious group Ashram Shambala, because its activities "are connected to violence against citizens, incitement to refusal of civic duties, coercion to destroy the family, attacks on personhood and the rights and freedoms of citizens, and damage to the morality and health of citizens." The leader of this group, Konstantin Rudnev, was in 2013 convicted under a whole string of articles of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 11 years in a high security penal facility.

A madrasa attached to the Zangar mosque in Kazan was closed for a collection of reasons: the mosque did not have a license to conduct educational activities, sanitary and epidemiological rules were not complied with, and banned books were discovered at the madrasa. The court fined the Imam for 30 thousand rubles under Part 1, Article 19.20 of the Administrative Code ("Exercising Activities Which Are Not Connected with Deriving Profit without a Special Permit (license)"). In addition, he was given a warning about the unacceptability of violating the federal legislation on counter-extremist activity. After the court began the consideration of the case brought by the prosecutor, the mosque administration decided to close the madrasa.

In St. Petersburg, the Krasnogvardeysky District Court, at the request of the Prosecutor's Office, disbanded the St. Petersburg Christian charity fund AGAFE. The disbandment was justified by the violations uncovered by the Prosecutor's Office: misappropriation of funds and three years of failure to submit activity reports. The fund tried to appeal against this decision, but the Trial Chamber for Civil Cases (Sudebnaia kollegiia po grazhdanskim delam) of St. Petersburg City Court upheld it.

In Samara, an attempt was made to shut down a kindergarten because of the lack of a license for educational activities. The kindergarten had been founded by the parish of the Church in Honor of the Mother of God "Unexpected Joy" Icon (khram v chest' ikony Bozh'ei Materi "Nechaiannaia radost'"). The organization failed to obtain the license, because necessary paperwork connected to the premises was lacking. Administrative proceedings were initiated against the kindergarten head-teacher under Article 19.20 of the Administrative Code ("Exercising Activities Which Are Not Connected with Deriving Profit without a Special Permit"). The administration then began to prepare the documents need to obtain a license.


Some organizations tried to appeal against earlier disbandment orders. Two of them failed. Russia's Supreme Court upheld the decision of the St. Petersburg City Court, dated 14 November 2013, regarding the liquidation of the local Church of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) known as Zhatva [Harvest]. Their disbandment was justified by the absense of a license to conduct educational activities and failure to specify such activities in the organization's charter. In the opinion of the court, the church was involved in educational activities. Also unsuccessful was the appeal against the decision to disband the Center for Orthodox Education (Centr pravoslavnogo prosviashcheniia) in St. Petersburg, taken in December 2013.

A favourable court decision was secured by the Bible Center of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) in the Chuvash Republic. The European Court of Human Rights upheld its appeal, quashing the 2007 decision to liquidate the center.

The ECHR also upheld a complaint by the Church of Scientology regarding the actions of the authorities in St. Petersburg. It ruled that the refusal to register local communes constitutes a violation of Article 9 ("Freedom of thought, religion and conscience") and Article 11 ("Freedom of assembly and association") of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The Church of Scientology in Moscow had secured a similar ECHR ruling back in 2007 but never succeeded in having the changes to its charter recognised by the authorities. In 2014, Moscow's Izmailovo Court began the consideration of another complaint by the Scientologists against the Ministry of Justice in connection with the refusal of registration. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Justice appealed to the Moscow City Court, seeking to disband this religious organization on the grounds of its charter violating the law "On Freedom of Conscience." In December 2014, both trials were temporarily suspended. Moscow City Court adjourned the case until the end of the process in the Izmailovo court. Meanwhile, the proceedings in Izmailovo were halted pending a report by religious studies experts.

Discrimination against Religious Organizations and Citizens based on Their Attitude to Religious Belief

In 2014, discrimination was mostly directed against Muslims and members of new religions. However, instances of discrimination against Protestant organization were also not rare. Notably, pressure from law enforcement agencies was reported more frequently than in earlier years.

The campaign of discrimination against Jehovah's Witnesses, which began in 2009, continued. In several regions, throughout the year, officials and acting landlords were refusing to make premises available to Jehovah's Witnesses. For example, in Prokopyevsk, Kemerovo Region, the local administration terminated the lease agreement with Jehovah's Witnesses on the eve of a religious service. The service was then interrupted by members of the municipal administration and police officers who rudely, with threats, ejected the attendees from the premises. In Ivanovo, the management of the Olympia sports complex terminated the Jehovah's Witnesses' lease, after receiving notice from the Prosecutor's Office regarding breach of the law "On Physical Culture and Sports in the Russian Federation." In Archangelsk, the management of the Ilma trade center refused to rent out a conference hall to Jehovah's Witnesses for an Easter Service - they feared provocation in the wake of "anti-sectarian" leaflets being circulated in the city.

However, just like in the previous years, Jehovah’s Witnesses most frequently faced discrimination while engaged in door-to-door preaching. In particular, police had detained preachers in Moscow, Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Trans-Baikal, the Krasnodar Region, as well as in the Belgorod, Bryansk, Voronezh, Ivanovo, Kemerovo, Kirov, Kostroma, Leningrad, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Orel, Rostov, Ryazan, Samara, Saratov, Tver, Tyumen, Ulyanovsk, Chelyabinsk, and Yaroslavl Regions. As a rule, the arestees would be brought to the police station, their passport (Russia's standard internal ID) details would be taken down, and they would be questioned. In several cases, an administrative offense was recorded.

In the Tver Region, the police and officers of Center E (the anti-extremist branch of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) tried to disrupt a Jehovah's Witness service, claiming that they have information about a bomb in the building. The building where the service was taking place was cordoned off. However, the law enforcement officers did wait until the service was finished before checking the papers of all the attendees. Attempts to disrupt religious services on the part of law enforcement agencies were also recorded in Krachevo, Bryansk Region, in Labinsk, Krasnodar Region, and in Samara.


In a number of regions, the FSB questioned members of the Falun Gong. For example, three followers of this movement were questioned in Tuva in connection with the screening of Free China: The Courage to Believe, directed by Michael Perlman, in one of the city's schools. In Abakan, FSB agents searched the office of the general director of the Falun Gong Regional IT Center as well as adjacent rented premises used to hold meetings of the group. It also searched one of the group's followers. A computer was seized during the search, and six members of the community had their passport details taken down. In Nizhny Novgorod, the FSB and Center E raided the premises of a kindergarten the head of which was also a follower of the Falun Gong. Other kindergarten staff and parents were also subjected to questioning.

The Taganrog Prosecutor's Office shut down early an exhibition entitled "Truth - Compassion - Tolerance." The event, organized by followers of the Falun Gong, was being held at the House of Culture. The authorities deemed the images on show as intended to discredit China's political system and form a negative opinion of it among Russians. Members of the Prosecutor's Office also noted that the Falun Gong symbol, present on many of the exhibits, is a mirror image of the Nazi swastika.


Pressure by the law enforcement forces was also experienced by Muslims. As in previous years, there were frequent reports of police brutality. In one case, Moscow police detained no fewer than a hundred Muslims before the start of Friday prayers at the mosque on the 2nd Frezernaia Street. The detainees were transported to several police stations, where they were held until evening and then released with neither charge nor explanation of why they had been detained. All the detainees were fingerprinted; some were beaten inside the police van.

In the Stavropol region, the search conducted at the house of Movlid Aliyev, the Rais-Imam of the village of Yusup-Kulak, Ipatovsky region, so shocked the elderly cleric that he refused to read the Friday sermon and abdicated from his position as Rais-Imam.

Arbitrary police actions have been the cause of progressively more serious confrontations. Members of the congregation of the mosque on Bol'shaya Tatarskaya Street freed a fellow Muslim after a scuffle with the police. Members of the community surrounded the police van where the detainee was being held and demanded his release. When he was not released, they stormed the van. As a result the detained Muslim was released, but those who stormed the van were rounded up by a SWAT team. All were placed in administrative detention. Criminal proceedings were instigated against two people under Article 318 of the Criminal Code ("Use of Violence against the Representatives of Authority").


Bans on the wearing of headscarves in schools have become another prominent form of indirect discrimination against Muslims. The "hijab problem" has escalated in several regions. The most difficult situation is the one that has formed in Mordovia. The conflict whose origins lie here has now spilled beyond the borders of the region. In June 2014, the government of the Republic approved school uniform requirements that prohibited the wearing of religious paraphernalia in schools, as well as the wearing of headgear. In the wake of this regulation, the region's Muslims began to complain of the many instances of discrimination against Muslim girls attending educational institutions. School and college students who wore a headscarf to school were not allowed into class, expelled from lessons and morning line-ups... As a result, some families decided to opt for home education.

The community attempted to challenge the legality of the regulations adopted by the government of the republic. However, the Prosecutor's Office of Mordovia, then the Supreme Court of Mordovia, and then, in February 2015, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld their legality. The Muslim community inteds to take the matter to the Constitutional Court. People believe that the position of the authorities violates their constitutional right to freedom of conscience and is in breach of the federal law.

Similar problems arose in other regions. For instance, the rector of the N.I. Pirogov Moscow Medical University (Moskovskii meditsinskii universitet imeni N.I. Pirogova) issued a decree outlining the external appearance requirements for students'. These, among other things, banned clothing "which indicates a belonging to any ethnicity or religion (including national head-dress)," as well as clothing that "may offend the political(!) and religious feelings of those around."

Muslims deemed this a breach of their rights. Several one-person pickets took place in Moscow. The conflict was eventually resolved. Following a meeting with Rushan Abbyasov, the deputy chairman of the Mufti Council of Russia, the university's chancellor agreed that agreed to a compromise, stressing that "the possibility of differences in external appearance on religious grounds must be minimized." Aside from the doctor's white coat and white cap covering the hair (normally worn by Russian medics), female Muslim students were permitted to wear a white neck or headscarf, or a tall collar covering the neck.

A similar directive was issued by the chancellor of the State Medical Academy in Astrakhan. One student complained that, in the wake of the directive, people wearing Muslim dress would be "put on lists," become subjects of reports, and receive "reprimands at a disciplinary committee." The dean of the Overseas Student Faculty justified the directive by the institution's "preference for a secular lifestyle and a businesslike style of dress."

There must, unquestionably, have been other episodes in a similar vein that were not reported, thanks to their smaller scale. Only some incidents become known to us. For instance, at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (Moskovskii gosudarstvennii institut mezhdunarodnykh otnoshenii), two young women in headscarves were not allowed to attend an open lecture on Volga Bulgaria. Representatives of the institution also cited the "purely secular nature of education." Meanwhile, the administration of a sports school at the village of Vesyoly of the Rostov Region, threatened to fire a teacher, should she continue to wear a headscarf to school.


As in the previous years, members of Protestant churches also faced discrimination. We are mostly talking about selective law enforcement. The case that received the most public attention took place in Sochi. Alexey Kolyasnikov, the leader of an evangelical group known as The Commune of Christians (Soobshchestvo Khristian), was arrested for reading and discussing the Bible in a cafe. The Sochi Prosecutor's Office launched administrative proceedings against him under Part 2, Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code ("Conducting a public event without filing a notice in the prescribed manner"). In October, the Magistrate's Court found him guilty and fined him 30,000 rubles. In December, the Khostinsky Regional Court in Sochi repealed the Magistrate's decision and ruled that the case must be reheard. The new hearing, however, returned the same result. The Regional Court of Krasnodar upheld this ruling in January 2015.

In the Samara Region, the pastor of the New Generation (Novoe Pokolenie), Pavel Vorobiev, was fined 500 rubles under Article 13.11 of the Administrative Code ("Violating the Procedure for Collecting, Keeping, Using or Disseminating Information about Citizens (Personal Data)"). The Prosecutor's Office, followed by the Magistrate's Court, deemed it a violation that the pastor handled forms filled in by parishioners without obtaining their consent. The leader of the Scientologists in Yakutsk has been subjected to a similar penalty.

In Belgorod, nine school students belonging to the Seventh-day Adventists were not allowed to take their State Final Examinations on account of their religious beliefs. The examination took place on a Saturday, which is holy day for the Adventists. The parents asked the school administration and the regional Department of Education to allow the children to take the examination on a different day. Their request was refused, despite an existing recommendation by Rosobrnadzor (the federal body overseeing education) regarding the possibility of moving an examination on account of religious beliefs.

In the village of Duvanovka, Rostov Region, members of the Prosecutor's Office, criminal investigation officers, the Federal Migration Service, and the FSB, without showing their service ID, forced their way into the premises occupied by Evangelical Christians-Baptists (Evangelskie khristian-baptisty) and the organization's center for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. Without explanation, they rounded up everyone present and took them to a plolice station.


On the whole, the authorities look favourably upon the transfer of property to religious organizations - even when this infringes upon the interests of other organisations; however, there continuous to exist a bureaucratic bias against the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC). Between 2010 and 2013, this organization lost (through seizure) not only churches buildings but even material objects like sacred relics. In 2014, it lost the last church in its possession, the Church of the Holy Righteous Boris and Gleb. Moreover, the decision was "administrative," i.e. taken without court involvement. In February, the Regional Court of Vladimir and then, in July, Russia's Constitutional Court upheld the decision to seize the relics of St. Euphemia and Euphrosyne of Suzdal that were in the possession of the ROAC. One judge did, however, express doubt over the legality of the seizure. His opinion was appended to the decision of the Constitutional Court. He noted the indeterminate legal status of relics and expressed uncertainty over whether it is at all possible for such objects as relics to be federal property.


Foreign preachers on Russian soil repeatedly experienced problems throughout the year.

Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs yet again refused to grant a visa to the 14th Dalai Lama. Successful application was made conditional to a complete withdrawal from political activity.

A group of US citizens was fined for breaches of immigration law in April in the Altai Region. Among them were Mormons who had used a puppet theatre as a medium for preaching in Rubtsovsk.

The Border Protection Service of the FSB refused permission to enter Russia to Archbishop of Pavlovskoye and Rockland, Andrey (Maklakov) of the ROAC. The Archbishop is a citizen of the US, where he oversees ROAC parishes. He came to Russia with a valid visa on the invitation of the Hierarchal Synod of ROAC. However, at the Shremetyevo airport he found out that his name is on the "sanction list," along with those of other US citizens. It is unknown, why he was on this list.


Protection from Discrimination

Some of those who experienced discrimination managed to successfully defend their rights, in some cases in court.

Daria Ramazanova, a resident of Kaliningrad, won a lawsuit against a transport company, after a member of its staff refused to serve here and her mother. The two women were asked to leave the bus by its driver on account of their Muslim dress. The young woman wrote a complaint to the company management. After receiving no answer, she took the case to court. The court found the company liable for 22,000 rubles, including the 10,000 RUB of non-pecuniary damages.

Jehovah's Witnesses successfully defended their rights at the ECHR. In 2014, the court found Russian authorities in violation of Article 5 and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights after a disruption of worship incident in Moscow in 2006. Russia was ordered to pay 30,000 EUR in compensation (non-pecuniary damages) and 6,000 EUR in court fees.

In Murmansk, the conflict with Jehovah's Witnesses was resolved without court involvement. Following a submission by the Human Rights Ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, to the governor of the Murmansk Region, the deputy of the latter, Anatoly Veshkin, agreed to withdraw his 2013 letter to the heads of municipal institutions, where he talked about the "danger" of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Insufficient Protection against Defamation and Attack

We recorded 16 attacks motivated by religious hatred, which is half of what we recorded in 2013. However, there are now more serious injuries. Moreover, we have recorded one double murder motivated by religious hatred. A nun and a parishioner were killed, and another six people were wounded in a shooting at an Orthodox church opened by a local resident in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

In Moscow, an attacker stabbed a woman in Muslim dress in the stomach six times. The victim survived.

A yeshiva student was subjected to a beating in the Moscow Region. The attackers made blows to his head, presumably with knuckledusters.

Same as in 2013, the majority of victims - no fewer than 12 - were Jehovah's Witnesses engaged in door-to-door missionary work. In the majority of cases the victims received no serious injuries; however, there were more cases of substantial harm than in 2013. In the Vologda Region, in a bid to escape his attackers, an 18-year-old Jehovah's Witness jumped from the first floor of a building. He suffered a concussion, a broken nose, and bruises. In Petrozavodsk an attacker broke a 73-year-old woman's finger. In most cases, the attackers received no punishment.


The number of acts of vandalism motivated by religious hatred has also halved in comparison to 2013: from 64 to 32. The majority of the affected sites are still Orthodox; however, they are much fewer in number than in the previous year: 10 as opposed to 32. At least three occurrences of vandalism were likely triggered by the construction of Orthodox churches against the wishes of the locals. These took place in the Kosino District of Moscow, in the town of Korolev near Moscow, and in the eastern city of Blagoveshchensk. Cases of vandalism directed at worship crosses (open air Orthodox shrines) numbered four in total, same as last year. However, given the overall decline in acts of vandalism, cross-toppling can now be seen as more of a prominent phenomenon.

There have been no newcomers in the second and third place of this anti-championship. There were eight instances (down from last year's 11) of vandalism at new religious movement sites, all of them belonging to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and seven at Muslim sites (down from nine). We also recorded five acts of vandalism at Jewish sites (down from 10) and one at a Protestant site (same as last year).

In most cases, human life was not at risk, but there were exceptions. We are aware of two cases of arson at Orthodox churches and two fires at mosques where the police have not ruled out arson as a possible cause. Shots were fired at the Word of Life (Slovo Zhizni) church in the Saratov Region. However, thankfully, no one was injured.


As in previous years, xenophobic material about religious organizations was published in both federal and regional mass media. Mostly these took the form of "anti-sectarian" reporting. We are not aware of any anti-Islamic reporting in the mainstream national media. (In 2013 there was a considerable amount of such material.) The religious organizations that featured in such reports usually tried to clear their name. Sometimes they succeeded.

In November, NTV and Russia-1 (Rossiia-1) released several "anti-sectarian" reports damaging the credibility of the New Generation (Novoe Pokolenie) evangelical movement. Russia-1, as part of the Vesti news program, ran a feature on Alexey Lediaev, a New Generation pastor living in Latvia. The programme asserted that "branches of the new church started opening up all over the place in the wake of Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution,' whose shock troops the coreligionists of Mr Lediaev happened to be."

NTV dedicated two separate programs to the New Generation: Lords of the Demons, a film with A. Lediaev as the central figure (part of the Profession: Reporter (Professiia - Reporter) series), and a program entitled An Extraordinary Event about the work of rehabilitation centers run by Protestant churches in Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don. The reports contained the usual "anti-sectarian" clichés: accusations of extortion, charlatanry, unethical recruitment, the use of psychological trickery...

Following the broadcasts, the Association of Christian Churches and Spiritual Education Organizations (active in the Rostov Region) demanded an apology from NTV's management.

In Penza, several publications connected the murder of a three-year-old child by her grandmother with the woman's religious beliefs, mentioning that she had for a number of years attended Word of Life, a "non-traditional" church. A representative of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians, Sergey Kireyev, appealed to the media outlets concerned to deny or withdraw the information concerning the woman's religious affiliation. Only two publications responded to his request; the rest ignored it.

In the Kursk region, a community of Evangelical Christian-Baptists complained to the prosecutor and the mayor about the numerous media reports accusing its members of reluctance to vaccinate their children against measles. The list of media outlets that disseminated the objectionable comments about the Baptists included Russkaia Planeta [Russian Planet], NTV,, a local TV channel known as STV, etc.

The dissemination of the Zaraysky Ekklesiast [Zaraysk Ecclesiast] newspaper known in the town of Zaraysk near Moscow triggered a complaint to the Moscow Regional Prosecutor's Office from the Evangelical Christian Union of Russia (Rossiiskoe ob"edinenie khristian very evangel'skoi). The publication that was mentioned in the complaint had published material that did not correspond to fact. Among other things, it had accused the organization of using the Zaraysk Kremlin (a historic fortress) as a prayer center.


In January, Moscow's Savelovsky Court ordered the TV channel Russia-1 to issue a refutation of a story about the Divya Loka center for Vedic culture, aired in 2013, and to compensate the community for non-pecuniary damage.

The ROAC brough a suit against the Suzdal News (Suzdal' Nov') and Vladimir News (Vladimirskiye Novosti) newspapers. In 2013, they had published offensive material about the organization. In June 2014, the Suzdal District Court issued an interlocutory judgement in this case.. The parties had reached a settlement out of court: Suzdal News promised to publish within two weeks a peice prepared by the plaintiff about the history of ROC, how the organization came into being, and its current activities.

However, in December, Vladimirskiye Vedomosti ran a story by Anton Zlobin entitled "Extremism: who 'calls the shots'" (Ekstremism: kto "zakazyvaet muzyku"). It was about Bailiff's Piety (Pristavnoe Blagochestiie), a film formally declared extremist. The editorial office of expressed its outrage at the material which they found offensive to members of the ROAC, at the factual errors therein, and at the slander directed against the portal's staff.


Members of community organizations also tried to disrupt the legal activities of Jehovah's Witnesses. Such disruption took the shape of both defamation and physical interference.

For instance, in January, in Yershov, Saratov Region, a drunken man burst into a service in progress, shouting insults, brandishing a handle of a shovel, attempting to strike those present, and threatening further violence. In the Krasnodar Region, the Cossacks interfered with the distribution of Jehovah's Witness literature. In Syktyvkar, the Cossacks accused the local Jehovah's Witnesses of distributing extremist literature and demanded that the police launch criminal proceedings against them.

"Anti-sectarian" actions were conducted by various community organizations in various regions. The Orel Orthodox Initiative conducted an "anti-sectarian" picket outside the House of Culture of the Russian Society of the Deaf. The picket was directed against the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses in the city and timed to coincide with Evensong commemorating the death of Christ. Several anti-Jehovah's Witness actions also took place in Murmansk.

[1] This project has been supported by government funds, awarded by the President of the Russian Federation on 17 January 2014, Decree no. 11-RP, and via a competition organized by the Civil Dignity Movement.

[2] O. Sibireva Freedom of conscience in Russia: Restrictions and challenges in 2013 // Xenophobia, freedom of conscience, and anti-extremism in Russia 9n 2013 M.: SOVA Center, 2014

[3] M. Kravchenko Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2014 See elsewhere in this volume.