Freedom of Conscience in Russia: Restrictions and Challenges in 2021

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

LEGAL REGULATION : Projects that are not (yet) developed
ISSUES RELATED TO PLACES OF WORSHIP : Problems related to the development of churches : Problems with the exploitation of existing buildings :  Conflicts around the transfer of property to religious organizations
DISCRIMINATION BASED ON THE ATTITUDE TO RELIGION :  Criminal prosecution: :  Restriction on missionary activityRecognition of the activities of religious organizations as undesirable: :  Other forms of discrimination Positive Decisions
PROTECTING THE FEELINGS OF BELIEVERS : Protection from aboveProtection from below
LACK OF PROTECTION AGAINST ATTACKS AND DEFAMATION : Violence and vandalism : Defamation of religious minorities

We present a report[1] that is based on monitoring conducted by our Center to collect the whole range of the information during 2021. Information is presented on the Center's website in the section “Religion in a secular society” (, including links to sources in the media and on the Internet; the report provides links only to the sources that are not marked on the site. For the events of the previous year,[2] only necessary updates are given. Our aim is not to give a complete description of all events in the public religious sphere; the events mentioned in the report tend to illustrate the actual trends.

Problems and stories related to the abuse of anti-extremist legislation are mainly presented in a separate report devoted to this topic.[3]


The state policy to discriminate religious minorities, which we noted over the past few years, has been preserved. Accordingly, as before, freedom of religion was most abused by the authorities, and not by other actors.

Commitment to this course was declared in one of the sections of the new National Security Strategy, approved in July by President Putin, the one that was devoted to the protection of spiritual and moral values. The priorities of it in particular mention the support of “religious organizations of traditional confessions, ensuring their participation in activities aimed at preserving traditional Russian spiritual and moral values and culture, protecting historical truth and preserving historical memory” .[4] Thus, it is a small group of major religious organizations that are promised support. And at the same time they are included in the activities to strengthen the ideological projects of the authorities.

The most dramatic example of discrimination policy against minorities remains the repressions towards Jehovah’s Witnesses. The number of those convicted for continuing to practice their religion and posing as a religious organization has more than doubled compared to 2020: from 46 to 105, with 33 followers were convicted to serve real time. For the first time since 2017, a Jehovah's Witness was acquitted, but the situation as a whole was not reversed. New criminal cases continued to be opened and proceedings were accompanied by searches with numerous violations, and violence was often used against followers.

Similar persecutions intensified against peaceful Muslim minorities recognized as extremist – Tablighi Jamaat and followers of Said Nursi.

The persecution of followers and religious organizations for “illegal” missionary activity also continued although less actively: the number of cases under Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses slightly decreased again. Various religious organizations’ representatives were tried for the violations of administrative responsibility, however Protestants became more often the target of “anti-missionary” amendments, as it was until 2020 when Muslims were the most affected.

An innovation of 2021 was the inclusion, among those whose activities are recognized as undesirable in Russia, of a number of religious organizations. This measure affected several foreign organizations of Scientologists and the New Generation Church of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals). Organizations recognized as undesirable cannot create their own divisions and implement projects on the territory of Russia and cooperation with them is prosecuted in administrative and sometimes criminal proceedings. So far the inclusion of religious organizations on the list of undesirables has had one actual consequence: the disruption of a pastoral conference in Ramenskoye near Moscow which was attended by ministers of various Protestant organizations including the Russian New Generation Churches.

The state much more often acted as the initiator of mostly criminal prosecution for insulting religious feelings. The number of sentences under Article 148 of the Criminal Code drastically increased although in recent years it has been used extremely reluctantly. In most cases, the reason for persecution was “obscene” photos and videos posted on social networks and taken with the religious objects, more often Orthodox but sometimes Muslim, at the background. As a rule, there were no complaints about the infliction of moral harm during the shooting of these photographs and videos, that is, the police and investigative committees instead of followers, determined what should offend their feelings.

The scale of the state persecution of “offenders” seemed to be excessive even by the defendants themselves, because representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church have repeatedly said that they do not call for criminal punishment of the authors of “blasphemous” publications. At the same time, the activity of public defenders of religious feelings was even lower in comparison to such activities in the quarantine year 2020.

Conflicts around the development of religious buildings arose with approximately the same frequency as before and in many cases the conflicting parties managed to reach a compromise. There seems to be less conflict over the use of existing buildings.

Defamatory materials about religious minorities, apparently, also became less in numbers but they were still published, including on federal channels.

For that reason, it is impossible to say that relations between secular citizens and religious ones or between groups of citizens of different faiths have become worse in 2021. But the state is more and more ideologizing its policy in this area and the number of cases of persecution of peaceful religious minorities that the state classifies as extremist has increased.

Legal regulation

This chapter will be regarded to the laws and other normative acts that in one way or another affect the life of religious organizations.

On 20 March Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a resolution amending the “Basic Provisions for the Formation and State Regulation of Gas Prices,” according to which religious organizations will be able to pay 20 per cent less for gas.

On 1 July Vladimir Putin signed a law specifying the procedure for the use of religious property owned by the religious organizations. Now religious organizations can not only use such property, even if it cannot be transferred to them and remains in state or municipal ownership, but also receive compensation for repairs or landscaping/remodeling if the agreement on the costless use of this property is terminated. The law refers to real estate – premises, buildings, including objects of cultural heritage, intended for worship and religious rites, religious education, monastic and charitable activities, religious worship, as well as the interior decoration of buildings and objects intended for worship and other religious purposes.

On 2 July, Putin signed a law amending Article 26 of the Law “On Banks and Banking.” The amendments oblige banks to provide the Ministry of Justice with access to the financial documents of all non-profit organizations excluding religious ones. According to these amendments the Ministry of Justice cannot request information about the financial and economic activities of religious organizations.

However, the amendments to the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” adopted by the State Duma on 24 March, approved by the Federation Council on 31 March and signed by V. Putin on 5 April caused the greatest speculation. On the one hand, these amendments simplified the registration of religious organizations. But on the other hand, they extended to religious groups a number of repressive norms that had previously been introduced for NGOs. In particular, the amendments prohibit foreign citizens and stateless persons whose stay in the Russian Federation is considered undesirable to become the leader and even a member of a religious group; persons whose actions the court recognized as extremist; persons on the Rosfinmonitoring list of extremists and terrorists (in addition to the previous category, the list may also include those under investigation in such cases); as well as those whose accounts are frozen by the Interdepartmental Commission on Combating the Financing of Terrorism. All the mentioned persons are actually deprived of the constitutional right to collectively profess their religion.

In addition, the law significantly expands the possibilities for state interference in the internal affairs of religious organizations. In particular, it obliges clerics and employees of religious organizations who have received religious education abroad to undergo recertification and receive additional professional education in Russia. This rule does not apply to religious figures already serving in Russia – only to those who are going to serve in Russia and are receiving or planning to receive education abroad. This requirement discriminates against religious organizations that do not have their own theological schools in Russia, and its implementation is fraught with numerous difficulties and abuses: there are not enough religious educational institutions that could provide the necessary additional education, and secular universities, even those with departments of theology, cannot take into account the specifics of all religious organizations.

The amendments entered into force 180 days after signing.


The parliaments of the subjects of the federation, in order to bring regional legislation into line with the federal one, also made changes to regional laws affecting the activities of religious organizations. For example, in September the Legislative Assembly of the Trans-Baikal Territory approved amendments to the local law on meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and picketing, excluding religious organizations from the list of places where the said actions are prohibited. In September, the State Council of Tatarstan approved amendments to the republican law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.” These amendments duplicated the federal requirement for the recertification of the clergy. In addition, the amendments clarified the regulation of the participation of children – it is expressly prohibited “involving minors in religious associations, as well as teaching minors religion against their will and without the consent of their parents or persons replacing them.”


Projects that are not (yet) developed

In January, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a bill “On Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On Combating the Legalization (Laundering) of Proceeds from Crime and the Financing of Terrorism’ in Part of Clarifying the Requirements for Religious Organizations and the Legal Entities They Create.” The proposed amendments, in particular, relieve banks, insurance companies and other organizations dealing with finance from the obligation to collect, store and provide information on the beneficial owners of religious organizations. The second reading in 2021 did not take place, the exact date for it at the time of writing the report was not set.

In addition, in December, the government approved the “Action Plan for the implementation in 2022-2025 of the Strategy of the state national policy of the Russian Federation for the period up to 2025.” Among other things, this plan provides for three types of monitoring affecting the activities of religious organizations: 1. “Monitoring of citizens’ appeals about violations of the principle of equality of citizens regardless of race, nationality, language, attitude to religion, beliefs, membership in public associations, as well as other circumstances including when hiring, filling positions when forming a personnel reserve at the federal and regional levels.” 2. “Monitoring media coverage of facts of violation of the principle of equality of citizens regardless of race, nationality, language, attitude to religion, beliefs, membership in public associations as well as other circumstances, including when hiring, filling positions when forming a personnel reserve at the federal and regional levels.” 3. “Monitoring the activities of public associations, religious and other non-profit organizations, exchanging information on identifying the facts of extremist manifestations on national and religious grounds by these associations, including possible attempts to spread extremist ideology and literature.”

The Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs of the Russian Federation (FADN) and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Russian Federation are responsible for the first monitoring, the FADN for the second, and the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General's Office for the third. At the same time, quantitative or qualitative performance indicators for the implementation of all three of the above-mentioned monitoring sectors are not indicated. It is likely that the determination of these indicators will be entrusted to the implementing agencies. In any case, the additional close attention of the aforementioned departments to religious organizations urges us to suggest further tightening of control over the activities of these organizations.

At the request of the President, the Supreme Court in October considered the question of how, in the event of tagging a religious organization as extremist, to distinguish between the criminally punishable continuation of the organization's activities and the legitimate religious activities of followers. The resolution of the plenum of the Supreme Court declared the need for such a distinction but did not clarify the question of how to make it.[5]


Issues related to places of worship

Problems related to the development of churches

As it was before, conflicts arose from time to time around the development of religious buildings. In Moscow, the implementation of the program for the development of modular churches, as in the previous year, did not create social tension. All the conflicts we know about the development of churches took place in other regions. In particular, such conflicts were noted in St. Petersburg, Astrakhan, Irkutsk, Krasnodar, Miass, Nizhnyaya Tura, Sverdlovsk region, Novosibirsk, Odintsovo, Tolyatti. As in previous years, these conflicts were most often caused by an unsuccessful choice of a development site, violations during public hearings or refusal to hold them. One of the most painful problems is development in green areas.

One of the biggest amongst such conflicts was the confrontation resumed in Irkutsk in connection with the development of a church in the Primorsky district. The townspeople are unhappy that the authorities again set out to build a church on the site of a grove planted by the builders of the Irkutsk hydroelectric power station, although in 2016 they abandoned this idea after public protests. This time, the mayor of the city, Yevgeny Kharitonov, said that a building permit could only be revoked in court, after which a group of opponents of the development appealed there. The townspeople organized a petition to collect signatures against cutting down the grove and set up a tent camp, which was removed after representatives of the regional administration promised to find another site for the church. However, in January 2022, it was revealed that development within the park was still being considered. During the trial on the claim of opponents of the development, a representative of the mayor's office said that regardless of the court's decision, the church will be built on the site of the grove. It is noteworthy that in this case the position of the city and regional administrations diverged. The mayor's office told the protesters that the diocese had rejected another site offered to it, but agreed to reduce the height and area of the church, while the regional administration said they had not agreed on such an option.

New conflicts arose in St. Petersburg: local residents opposed the development of the Exaltation of the Cross church on Krestovsky Island for the sake of which a patch of birches was cut down. A similar conflict in the village of Metallostroy led to the arson of a change house at the construction site, which began despite the results of the hearings held in 2017. It is noteworthy that the administration of the Kolpinsky district did not confirm the issuance of a permit to the parish to conduct development work.

Residents of Tolyatti demanded that the authorities cancel the permit for the development of the church of St. Mary Magdalene in the park opposite the “Rusich Palace of Culture” and hold public hearings on changing the purpose of the land plot allocated for development from a zone with permitted development of religious buildings to a public landscaping zone. The appeal notes that this park is the only place of recreation for residents of the micro district.

In other cases, opponents of the development wanted to see another object on the site intended for the church. Residents of the Novaya Trekhgorka micro district in Odintsovo protested against the development of an Orthodox church on Chistyakova Street, as they would prefer to arrange parking for patients of the local medical center under development at this site. Residents of Novosibirsk opposed the appearance of an Orthodox church on Adrien Lejeune Street, since a children's sports ground could be destroyed during that development. However, the Novosibirsk diocese on its website promised not to destroy the site and even equip another playground on the territory of the future church. Residents of Nizhnyaya Tura, Sverdlovsk region, collected signatures against the development of a church near the art school and a playground, and many would like to see a school, swimming pool or hospital in this place. Most people didn’t know that these hearings took place.

Residents of Astrakhan also collected signatures against the development of the church of Alexander Nevsky at the merge of the Volga and Kutum near the wedding palace. Opponents of the development were not satisfied with the chosen place since the church would violate the architectural ensemble of the Astrakhan Stock Exchange and reduce the recreational space for the citizens. “We believe that the favor of the authorities of one of the religions creates an unequal position with other religious denominations, violating their rights and inciting an inter-religious conflict. We believe that among other things the main problem is the lack of dialogue with society,”[6] says the text of the petition.

In a number of cases, the authorities took into account the wishes of local residents, and the warring parties managed to reach a compromise. So, for example, the authorities of Krasnodar sent for revision a project for the development of a church in the Yubileiny borough. Opponents of the development feared that the development of the church on the embankment would deprive the townspeople of a popular place of recreation, and pointed out that the development in this place was contrary to the previously adopted master plan. They were also outraged that they were not properly notified of the public hearings.

At the beginning a compromise was reached on the development of a church in the Newlyweds Public Garden in Omsk: the diocese had to cut down less trees for the development than originally planned, pay for the felling, and plant a certain number of large trees as compensation. As of the end of the year the site in the garden was fenced off but development had not yet begun – perhaps the diocese decided to abandon the development of the church on these terms.


Some conflicts were resolved in favor of opponents of the development. For example, the Public Municipal Commission of Bryansk approved the amended projects for the improvement of the Energy Workers and Proletarians miniparks, excluding the development of a church in Proletarsky from the project, which local residents have been opposed to since 2016. Landscaping involves only the installation of benches, a fountain and designing a playground.

In Saratov, the conflict over the restoration of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which would require moving the Dynamo stadium to another location, has ended after flaring up periodically since 2003. The diocese agreed to build the cathedral not in a historical place, but on a different site. Metropolitan of Saratov and Volsk Ignatius (Deputatov) stated: The experience of other cities shows that it is far from always advisable to restore a destroyed church in its original place.[7]

The Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg adopted a bill to include a site in the Malinovka park in the list of green areas for common use, as local residents have been protesting for several years against the development of a church there. Now development on this site is prohibited by law, and the area of the park will be increased.

The inhabitants of Nizhny Novgorod as well managed to defend the parkland on Rodionov Street which was supposed to be cut down for the development of the church. After the opponents of the development appealed to the governor and the prosecutor's office, the diocese first agreed to build a chapel instead of the church, then completely abandoned the development in this place. The authorities decided to improve the parkland.


However, in a number of cases, the opinion of the opponents of the development was still ignored. Thus, the residents of Obninsk were unable to challenge the legitimacy of public hearings in 2017, as a result of which a decision was made to build a church in honor of Alexander Nevsky in the Old City. The court recognized that some of the votes against the development were indeed not taken into account, but the hearings in any case are only advisory in nature. The court considered it inexpedient to hold the second hearings. In September, the ceremony of consecrating the foundation of the church took place.

In Ulyanovsk the development of the church of St. Alexander Nevsky in the park opposite the UAZ Palace of Culture has started. Since 2019 such development has been opposed by local residents who are dissatisfied with the cutting down the trees. However, in 2020, the City Duma transferred the territory of the park from the category of public green spaces to the functional zone of community centers with associated residential development. So the diocese received a building permit on this site and has now started development work.

The authorities of Petrozavodsk announced the development of a church on the embankment, which the locals have also opposed since 2019.


As in previous years, not only Orthodox, but also other religious organizations had to deal with protests during the development of places of worship. In most cases, the dissatisfaction of the opponents of the development was caused by the same reasons: the absence of public hearings or their conduct with violations, an inappropriate choice of location, or a desire to see another object in the place intended for a religious building.

For example, as a result of public hearings in the village of Novopushkinsky near Engels, Saratov Region, the authorities did not agree on changing the designation of land plots on Izumrudnaya Street from private subsidiary farm to “religious use” for the subsequent development of a mosque. Only three participants of the hearings spoke out in support of the development, and more than 180 did not approve the idea, fearing “violation of peace and quiet,” and suggested building a mosque in another place that would suit “all residents of numerous nationalities and religions.”

In Kazan, during the year, there were disputes about the development site of a large cathedral mosque, three options were discussed, each of them had supporters and opponents. However, in January 2022, President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov announced that a site for development had already been chosen – on the opposite bank of the Kazanka river from the local Kremlin. This statement caused dissatisfaction of the townspeople: in less than a month, a petition against the development in this place gained almost four thousand signatures. Opponents of the development note that the development of a mosque in this place will require aggregation of the bank of the river and back filling of the very river itself. This will worsen the ecological situation, as well as deprive the townspeople of their favorite vacation spot. Dissatisfaction was also expressed by the residents of nearby houses, who bought apartments in this place, including for the sake of a panoramic view of the Kremlin and the river that the mosque will close.

It seems that in this case the authorities intend to ignore the opinion of local residents. The reaction of one of the co-authors of the Kul-Sharif mosque project, Aivar Sattarov, is indicative. To quote: One should understand that the issue [sic!] about the church development is always made by the sovereign. This way it was at all times – both before the revolution and now. Such decisions are made at the highest level and not by the general public. If you take into account the opinion of the inhabitants then there is no suitable place anywhere in the city.”[8]

As before, protests against the development of mosques often raise xenophobic arguments. For example, in Stupino, near Moscow, after the premises of the former military unit were transferred to the Muslim community for the creation of an Islamic center, opponents of its appearance distributed leaflets in the city. In particular, they said that the emergence of an Islamic center “may have a negative impact on inter-ethnic conflicts,” and would also entail the spread of drugs and the “introduction of Sharia norms.” The protesters were also supported by some deputies of the city council, in particular, Nikolai Kuznetsov, deputy from the Party of Growth, and Boris Degtyarev, member of United Russia. Despite this, local authorities urged the citizens to remain calm and assured that the Islamic center would not harm the life of the city.

Residents of Magnitogorsk were also cutting up rough in social networks about the allocation of land for the development of a mosque on Tevosyan Street. In addition to pointing out the inconsistency with the previous master plan and the lack of sports grounds, schools, kindergartens, modern housing in the city, some users expressed their fear that “soon there will be more mosques in our city than churches” and confidence that a new mosque is only needed for “foreign workers,” and local Muslims have enough of one already operating in Magnitogorsk.


We also add that in Novosibirsk, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints filed a lawsuit against the Department of Development and Architecture in the arbitration court in order to challenge the approval of the town-planning committee’s project according to which the site allocated to the Church back in 2014 now was included in the landscaping zone. This made it impossible to build a religious or administrative building there. However, the lawsuit was dropped a month later because the department provided the religious organization with a new site plan before the hearing began, in which these restrictions were lifted.

And the Perm authorities issued a permit to the Chabad Lubavitch community to build a Jewish community center, which also includes a synagogue. For several years, a xenophobic group led by Roman Yushkov, who was repeatedly prosecuted for inciting hostility, opposed the emergence of this center.


Problems with the exploitation of existing buildings

As before, religious organizations have periodically encountered problems exploiting existing buildings, but the number of such conflicts has at least not increased, and may even have slightly decreased compared to 2020.

First of all, this concerns Protestant organizations – here the situation looks much better than a year earlier, when we noted a series of attempts to demolish prayer houses belonging to various Protestant denominations, and many of these attempts were successful. In 2021, we are aware of only two conflicts around Protestant buildings. One case, unfortunately, also ended in demolition: in Samara, by decision of the city department of urban planning, the building of the Presbyterian Church “Good News” in the village of Mekhzavod was demolished as an illegal construction. The reason was that the building stood on two sites at once, exceeded the design height and did not have a kitchen envisaged by the project. However, both sites occupied by the church belonged to the Church, and the religious organization eliminated the violations identified by the department: they removed the cross from the roof, reducing the height of the building, and equipped the kitchen. The inter-church inter-confessional council of the Samara region spoke out in defense of the Church, accusing the department of inciting inter-confessional hatred.

Another conflict known to us is connected with the House of the Gospel belonging to the Union of Churches of Evangelical Baptist Christians in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. After several years of unsuccessful attempts to gain access to the building surrounded by the territory of the Elektroapparat factory, the religious organization filed a lawsuit with the St. Petersburg Arbitration Court to establish an easement (limited use right) to the site on which the building is located. We do not know the outcome of the lawsuit.

On at least two occasions Muslim organizations have experienced problems with the exploitation of buildings. In the Voronezh region, the administration of the Nizhnekarachansky rural settlement of the Gribanovsky district went to court seeking the demolition of a Muslim prayer house as an illegal building. The prayer house, where the community gathers, was attached to a private household. The administration saw in the building “signs of an object of religious worship,” erected without the appropriate permission and transfer of the land plot to another category. In February 2021, the court granted the administration's claim. The community intends to appeal this decision and is ready to change the appearance of the extension.

The administration of Troitsk near Moscow also filed a lawsuit to demolish a residential building used by Muslims for worship. This appeal was preceded by a complaint from local residents who were dissatisfied with the fact that “a lot of cars come to the prayer house” on holidays. However, the immediate reason for the complaint was an incident in November in Novye Vatutinki, neighboring Troitsk, where natives of Azerbaijan with Russian citizenship participated in a fight that arose as a result of a domestic conflict. After that, the residents of Troitsk held a rally demanding “put things in order on the streets.”

Other religious organizations also had difficulty using existing buildings from time to time. The long-term conflict around the Buddhist monastery “Shedrub Ling” on Mount Kachkanar in the Sverdlovsk region continued. In February, the monks left the monastery, which is part of the sanitary zone of the quarry owned by Evraz Group. An agreement was reached with the mining and processing company that the buildings of the monastery would not be demolished, and the community would have the opportunity to return there weekly from Friday to Sunday. However, a few days later it became known that the community had doubts about the preservation of the monastery complex and organized a petition with the collection of signatures for its preservation, since the written agreements referred only to a three-year moratorium on the destruction of the monastery buildings.

The seizure of the remaining property from Jehovah's Witnesses continued. In Tyumen and Aleksin, Tula Region, the courts recognized agreements on the transfer of buildings and land plots to foreign organizations as fictitious and turned the property into state ownership. The prosecutor's office of Prokhladny (Kabardino-Balkaria) filed a similar lawsuit with the court regarding the property of Jehovah's Witnesses in the city of Maisky.

The Arbitration Court of the Krasnoyarsk Territory satisfied the claim of the regional Ministry of Forestry to terminate the agreement with the community of the Church of the Last Testament on the use of the forest area. The plaintiff considered that the community violated the terms of the agreement and used the site not only for religious activities: residential buildings were built on the site, and the territory was littered with waste. And the Krasnoyarsk Regional Court confiscated more than 200 plots from the religious organization, declaring the master plan invalid, in accordance with which the plots belonging to the forest fund were transferred to it.

From time to time, the Orthodox also encountered difficulties with the exploitation of buildings. For example, in Tomsk, the court recognized the St. Nicholas church on the Irkutsk Road as unauthorized development and ordered the diocese to demolish the building. According to the city administration, the diocese built the church on illegally occupied sites, and the building itself did not meet fire safety requirements. Violation of fire safety rules was the reason for the ban on the parish of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God in Novokuznetsk to use the building of the chapel.

However, the few examples of positive decisions known to us, when religious organizations managed to defend the buildings they use, relate specifically to Orthodox organizations. So, in Samara, an Orthodox parish in honor of the martyrs Vera, Nadezhda, Liubov and their mother Sophia managed to confirm the ownership of the building of the baptismal church in the court. The Orthodox parish of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in the village of Zubovo, Belozersky District, obtained through the decision of the court the recognition of ownership of the church built by the community.

Conflicts around the transfer of property to religious organizations

In most cases, the property was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church. For example, in Moscow the church in the estate “Pokrovskoye-Streshnevo” was transferred to the ownership of the Church; the estate is considered an object of cultural heritage of federal significance and has been used by the Russian Orthodox Church since 1992 – the patriarchal homestead is located there.

Property was transferred to religious organizations not only in Moscow, but also in the regions. For example, the authorities of the Astrakhan region handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church the complex of the Annunciation Monastery, which until recently housed the military registration and enlistment office, which has now moved to another building.

Other religious organizations also sometimes managed to get property. As, for example, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God, whose ownership was transferred to the building of the church of Peter and Paul in Veliky Novgorod, used by the Catholic community since the mid-1990s.

It should be noted that what was transferred did not always refer to religious property. So, in Tambov, the building of the former trolleybus substation was transferred to the local diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church for free use, which, after a major renewal is planned to be used for household needs.

In most cases, the transfer took place peacefully. In the event that the transfer affected the interests of other organizations the authorities tried to compensate the loss to the former owners. For example, the authorities of the Kirov region decided to transfer 20 premises in Kirov to the Vyatka diocese (Vyatka was renamed Kirov after his assassination in Stalin's era, the diocese uses the traditional name). For that it would be necessary to resettle the residents of the transferred houses and find premises for the Yunost sports school. It is planned to spend 11.9 million rubles on this from the regional and federal budgets.

Sometimes religious organizations had to go to court to get the property they claimed. In the Tambov region, in this way the Old Believer community managed to obtain the building of the former prayer house in the village of Tekino, Sampursky district, and the land plot on which the building is located.

Some religious organizations failed to secure the transfer of property. Thus, the authorities of St. Petersburg refused to transfer to the Russian Evangelical Reformed Church of Moscow the building of the Dutch church on Nevsky Prospekt, and the Hosanna Evangelical Christian Church, which claimed the premises of the Anglican Church on the English Embankment, got a refusal as well. In both cases, the authorities did not see the continuity of the claiming religious organizations with the historical owners of the premises.

In Smolensk, the Catholic community for several years has not been able to transfer the building of the church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The building is an architectural monument of federal significance, but neither the federal Ministry of Culture nor the regional authorities can find funds for its restoration. At the same time, the authorities of the region refuse to transfer the building to the use of the Catholic community, which is ready to take on the restoration work.

The Kirov Catholics once again failed to appeal against the refusal to transfer the church building occupied by the regional philharmonic society. In May, the Arbitration Court of the Volga-Vyatka District refused the Catholic parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to satisfy the complaint against the decision of the court of the previous instance.

A number of conflicts were resolved that began in previous years related to the transfer of property of cultural and educational institutions to the Russian Orthodox Church. As a rule, conflicts were resolved in favor of the Church.

The Arbitration Court of the Ryazan region satisfied the claim of the Ryazan diocese to invalidate the refusal of the city administration to transfer the building of French school No. 6 into the ownership of the church. The decision provoked protests from the townspeople, who held a series of one-man pickets against the transfer of the school building. A petition demanding not to hand over the building gathered more than 35 thousand signatures in two weeks. The Ryazan City Hall appealed this decision to the 20th Arbitration Court of Appeal in Tula. However, in February 2022 City Hall announced the parties' readiness to conclude a settlement agreement and began preparations for the development of a new school building in the city center.

In St. Petersburg, the second floor of the Annunciation church of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, previously occupied by the Museum of Urban Sculpture, was officially transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church. The premises on Nevsky prospekt was given to the museum in exchange.

The Property Relations Committee of St. Petersburg continued to select premises for the sports school, the building of which was transferred to the Spaso-Pargolovsky parish, but the school remained in its former building for all this time.

The authorities of the Perm Territory announced preparations for the development of a new building for the Perm Gallery. The removal of the Gallery from the building of the Transfiguration Cathedral remained the subject of public discussion. In October, the governor of the region, Dmitry Makhonin, announced that the building for the temporary accommodation of the gallery was already ready and the design documentation for the new museum complex, where the gallery should move on a permanent basis, was developed as well as a land plot was selected. The gallery's move to temporary premises began as early as 2022.

There were no new significant conflicts related to the transfer of property. In Chita, a discussion has resumed on the transfer of the Archangel Michael church, in which the Museum of the Decembrists has been operating for many years, to the diocese. The Governor of the Trans-Baikal Territory, Alexander Osipov, publicly supported the idea of resuming worship in this church. The former governor Ravil Geniatullin, representatives of the museum community, students and teachers of Zabaikalsky State University spoke out against this idea. Opponents of the possible transfer noted that the museum would attract much more tourists if it remained in its historical place, and the exhibits might not survive the move. When the discussion heated up, Alexander Osipov accused journalists of fanning the conflict and said that the transfer of the museum building to the church was not yet planned – it is only about finding funding for the redevelopment of the church.

And in Nevinnomyssk, an Orthodox seminary tried to sue the authorities for a building that houses an Orthodox gymnasium school. It is noteworthy that until 1917 an Orthodox gymnasium school also operated in this building. We don't know how the legal battle ended.

Discrimination based on the attitude to religion

Criminal prosecution

Repressions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued. The number of sentences handed down in previously instituted criminal cases under articles 2822 (organization and participation in the activities of an extremist organization) and 2823 of the Criminal Code (financing of extremist activities) significantly increased. During the year, at least 68 such sentences were handed down (25 in 2021) against at least 105 followers. 33 of them were sentenced to a real time (from two to eight years), 63 to suspended sentences and nine to fines (from 200 thousand to 85 thousand rubles).

Let us mention that one of the cruelest sentences is the sentence against Jehovah's Witnesses from Khakassia – Roman and Valentina Baranovsky who are mother and son. In February, the Abakan city court found Roman guilty under Part 1 of Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (organization of the activities of an extremist organization), and his 70-year-old mother – under part 2 of the same article (participation in the activities of an extremist organization). During the investigation an elderly woman suffered a stroke but nevertheless was sentenced to two years in prison, and her son to six years.

As of the end of February 2021, there were at least 83 people in prison camps and pre-trial detention centers. In total according to the Jehovah's Witnesses themselves, since the ban on the centralized and local organizations in 2017, 597 followers have already been subjected to criminal prosecution by the beginning of 2022.

An important difference from previous years was the passing of the first acquittal sentence for a Jehovah's Witness. In November the Pervorechensky District Court of Vladivostok acquitted Dmitry Barmakin, who was charged under Part 1 of Article 2822. However, this verdict did not change the situation as a whole.

During the year, new criminal cases were initiated against Jehovah's Witnesses, albeit in a smaller number than a year earlier[9]. As it was before, the initiation of new cases was accompanied by searches, during which numerous procedural violations were committed, and in a number of cases, violence was used against followers. Thus, for example, during the February searches in Moscow and the Moscow Region, two followers were beaten, their hands were tied, and they were held like that until the end of the search. One of the followers was pushed so that he fell. In October, followers in Irkutsk suffered from the actions of special forces and the National Guard. 31-year-old believer Anatoly Razdabarov was thrown to the floor, kicked in the head and kidneys, lifted by his hands, handcuffed behind his back. His wife Greta was also handcuffed, and 23-year-old Nikolai Merinov was hit in the face with a heavy object so that he lost consciousness, his teeth were broken. His wife Lilia was dragged out of bed by her hair and also beaten. In Votkinsk, security forces conducted raids not only on the homes of followers, but also on their places of work.

Not only Jehovah's Witnesses were subjected to criminal prosecution, but also followers of other religious organizations, mainly representatives of religious minorities.

There are several cases of persecution of followers under part 1 of Article 239 of the Criminal Code (creation of a religious or public association, whose activities are connected with violence against citizens or other harm to their health, as well as the leadership of such an association). In Omsk, a case under this article was initiated against the pastor of the Church of Evangelical Christians “New Creation” Stanislav Moskvitin, who is suspected of exerting psychological pressure on parishioners. During the searches in this case, law enforcement officials disrupted the service.

In Ryazan, a case under the same part of the same article was initiated against the leader of a group of Evangelical Christians, Svetlana Kolyshkina. The Group is not part of any centralized organization. The prosecution alleges that Kolyshkina caused moral harm to the victim G. by committing psychological violence. At the same time G. herself did not mention the violence and claimed that she attended the meetings of the group voluntarily. This court case is also notable for the fact that psychiatric examinations were carried out in relation to Kolyshkina and her religious teachings, based on video recordings of the service. In November, the court changed Kolyshkina's preventive measure from house arrest to a written undertaking not to leave.

Against the leaders of the Church of the Last Testament, Sergey Torop (Vissarion), Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov, accused under the same article since 2020, a new criminal case was opened – under articles 111 and 112 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (deliberate infliction of severe and moderate bodily harm). The reason for initiating a new case was the psychological violence that they allegedly used against their adherents in the 1990s and early 2000s and which led to mental disorders.

Let us add that in February, Vedernikov, who is held in a pre-trial detention center, complained about torture: he told his solicitor that two cellmates tortured him, demanding to confess and cooperate with the investigation. In March, Human Rights Ombudsman in the Krasnoyarsk Territory Mark Denisov urged law enforcement agencies to “ensure the safety of three persons under investigation and protect them from the use of unauthorized methods of obtaining testimony in a criminal case” and “to prevent the criminal prosecution of Sergei Torop, Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov from transforming into harassment on religious grounds of five thousand inhabitants of several taiga villages of the region”[10].

Restriction on missionary activity

The number of administrative cases under Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation (violation of legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and religious associations) has again decreased compared to the previous year, but followers are still actively persecuted for “illegal” missionary work. According to the data of the Judicial Department under the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation for the first half of 2020 (data for the second were not yet available at the time of writing the report), 153 cases under this article were considered (for the same period of 2020 it was 201). 92 persons were punished, including 56 individuals, 33 legal entities and three officials (in 2020 – 132, 90, 39 and three, respectively).

Fines continue to be the most commonly used punishment for this offense: they were imposed in 89 cases (in 2020 – in 180), in nine cases written warnings were issued. Sometimes an additional punishment was added to the main one: in five cases, confiscation was imposed in this capacity, in one – administrative expulsion from the country.[11]

Most often, Protestant Churches were held accountable for “illegal” missionary work: according to the Institute of the Rule of Law, there were at least 116 such cases. Muslims, who were surpassed by Protestants a year earlier in this anti-rating, were prosecuted at least 12 times.[12]

For example, in Prokhladny (Kabardino-Balkaria) in November, the Adventist community was fined 30 thousand rubles under Part 3 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (religious organization conducting activities without indicating its official full name, including the release or distribution of literature with incomplete or deliberately false labeling as part of missionary activities). According to Church pastor Timofei Boronin, it was a book “of a general Christian direction about physical and emotional health. Such literature was indeed purchased by Seventh-day Adventist Christians but for the last ten years it has not been used”. The pastor noted that one of the witnesses claimed that the books were distributed on Tuesday and Wednesday, while services in the prayer house are held exclusively on Saturdays, and none of the parishioners fits the description of the distributor of literature given by the second witness.

Soon after, Nina Boronina, the owner of a gift shop in Prokhladny, was fined thosand rubles under the same article for distributing the same book, although the books were not for sale: the saleswoman read them herself and gave them as a present to some customers.

In Belgorod, baptist A. Sheremet, a person with Type 3 disabilities who does not belong to any religious organization, was fined five thousand rubles for the distribution of Bibles in a shopping center, under Part 4 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (carrying out missionary activities in violation of the requirements of legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and religious associations). His friends organized an exhibition of religious literature at the Sputnik shopping center, and he himself told those who wondered about the Bible and gave this book as a gift.

Vitaly Glebov, a minister of the Church of Evangelical Baptist Christians in Obninsk, was fined for the same amount under the same article. The opening of an administrative case against him was preceded by the presence of strangers at a Bible study meeting he was holding, after which an FSB officer came to visit Glebov.

Foreign followers have been prosecuted several times for illegal missionary work. So, for example, in Bryansk, according to Part 5 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation (implementation of missionary activity in violation of the requirements of the legislation on freedom of conscience, committed by a foreign citizen), a citizen of Belarus, a member of the Church of Christians Dmitry Okovitov, was fined 30 thousand rubles; and in Kabardino-Balkaria for the same amount and under the same article – Baptist pastor Pavel Gerashchenko, a citizen of Ukraine. US citizen C. Shepherd was also found guilty in Astrakhan under the same article, but, in addition to a similar fine, the court ordered him to be deported from the country. And a British citizen, a member of the society of Evangelical Baptist Christians, who was preparing an international conference of Evangelical Christians in the Altai Republic, was fined in March under part 1.1 of Article 18.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (violation of the rules of temporary stay by a foreign citizen) and was deported from Russia.

The former Imam of Ingushetia Isa Khamkhoev was fined three times under Part 4 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for preaching in a mosque in the city of Sunzha, since he is no longer the head or official imam of a registered religious organization and at the same time does not have a permit to conduct missionary activities. In one case, he was released from paying a fine due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Representatives of other religious organizations were also punished for “illegal” missionary work. So, in Yevpatoria, according to part 3 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, the Hava Nagila synagogue of Messianic Jews was fined because of the fact that the videos distributed by the community on the Internet do not bear the official full name of the organization. The amount of the fine was 30 thousand rubles.

In the Rostov region, the head of the Yingliist community of Slavic native faith was brought to justice for illegal missionary work. The pagan festivities organized by him on the banks of the Don river with round dances, a fire and the glorification of god Perun became the reason for a fine of seven thousand rubles under Part 4 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.

It should be noted that often followers were held accountable under other administrative articles for activities outside the religious building. For example, in Chita, a group of Hare Krishnas dancing in the street was detained. They were prosecuted under Article 20.6.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (failure to comply with the rules of conduct in an emergency or the threat of its occurrence). And in Stavropol, three Muslims were found guilty under Part 2 of Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (organization or holding of a public event without submitting a notice of a public event in the prescribed manner) for organizing a prayer meeting in the banquet hall “with the holding of sermons by theologians and the performance of religious chants (nasheeds).”


Recognition of the activities of religious organizations as undesirable

Threatening news was the inclusion of a number of foreign religious organizations in the list of those whose activities are recognized as undesirable on the territory of Russia. On August 23, the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation recognized as undesirable the activities in Russia of four religious organizations of the New Generation Church based in Latvia and Ukraine: 1. The New Generation International Christian Movement (Republic of Latvia) 2. Evangelisko kristiesu baznica Jauna Paaudze (New Generation Evangelical Christian Church, Republic of Latvia) 3. Духовне Управління Євангельських Християн Української Християнської Церкви «Нове Покоління» (The Spiritual Administration of the Evangelical Christians of the Ukrainian New Generation Christian Church) 4. Духовний Навчальний Заклад Міжнародний Біблійний Коледж «Нове Покоління» (The New Generation International Bible College, Ukraine).

On 24 September 2021 activities of two American organizations of the Church of Scientology, the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises International (USA) and the Church of Spiritual Technology (L. Ron Hubbard Library, USA) were declared undesirable in Russia by the Prosecutor General's Office.

According to its statement, the activities of all these organizations pose a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation, but what this threat consists of was not explained. Recognition of the activities of any organization as undesirable means that this organization will not be able to create its branches on the territory of Russia and must stop the activities of existing ones. To say even more, any cooperation with it becomes an administrative offense and, in some cases, a criminal offense.

The inclusion of the New Generation on the list of undesirable foreign organizations has already had practical consequences. In December, armed officers from the FSB, Center E (The Centre for Combating Extremism, a unit within the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Russia), and the prosecutor's office stormed a conference in Ramenskoye, near Moscow, attended by Protestant clergy, including representatives of Russia's New Generation Churches. The participants of the conference, including women, were laid on the floor, the musician of the worship group was beaten. Armed security forces also broke into the room where the children were. More than 60 people drew up protocols under Article 20.33 (participation in the activities of a foreign or international non-governmental organization, in respect of which a decision has been made to recognize its activities as undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation). It is noteworthy that the protocols indicated the International Movement of Christian Churches New Generation as the organizer of the conference, while in reality the organizer was the Russian organization – the Centralized Religious Organization of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals), also titled New Generation.

In addition, in December, a Ukrainian citizen who had lived in the Krasnodar Territory since 2019 was denied a residence permit because, according to the FSB, he belongs to the New Generation Church and “actively spreads the ideas” of this Church. The believer himself denies any connection with the New Generation and claims that he belongs to a religious group of Evangelical Christians, which is part of one of the Russian Protestant unions.

Representatives of the Church of Scientology have not yet felt the consequences of the inclusion of foreign organizations of this Church in the list of undesirable entities.

Other forms of discrimination

We are aware of one case of the liquidation of a religious organization: in Kurgan, they liquidated an Orthodox parish in honor of the Holy Trinity, which was not under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Reverend of the parish was Archbishop Varukh (Tishchenkov), who changed several Orthodox jurisdictions and then moved “to an independent position.” The Kurgan Regional Court, followed by the Court of Appeal, came to the conclusion that the religious organization misled Orthodox followers about its ecclesiastical jurisdiction and thereby encroached on their constitutional freedom of religion.


The pressure on religious educational institutions continued, albeit on a smaller scale. Roskomnadzor has canceled the license for educational activities of the Theological Institute of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria, located in the village of Kolbino near St. Petersburg. In addition, the license of the Theological Seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the village of Novosaratovka in Vsevolozhsk District was suspended.

And at the end of September, even before the above-mentioned amendments to the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” came into force, the Department of National Policy and Interregional Relations of the city of Moscow sent a letter to religious organizations asking them to provide data on clergy and employees of religious organizations who were trained abroad. Although the law does not specify which state body is authorized to request such information.

As in previous years, there were facts of police interference in the activities of Muslim organizations. In March, during an inspection of a mosque on Basovskaya Street in Moscow, police officers blocked the exit from the mosque and did not let the crowd out for several hours, checking documents and personal belongings. In August, in several mosques in Moscow and the Moscow region, law enforcement officers staged a large-scale check of the documents of those who had gathered for Friday prayers. Near the Moscow cathedral mosque, the documents of those gathered for prayer were checked by OMON fighters. In Kotelniki, 140 people were detained and taken to the police station. If Russian citizens were released immediately after checking their documents, then foreign citizens were released only after DNA samples were collected.

The actions of the police caused outrage among followers – many Muslim leaders expressed dissatisfaction with this form of verification. Perhaps this prompted the leadership of the law enforcement agencies responsible for carrying out such actions to change their behavior. During the regular inspection that followed the incident in Kotelniki in Kolomna, near Moscow, there were no disruptions to worship and unjustified detentions. The chairman of the Fatikha community, Idris Khatikov, described the actions of law enforcement officers during the inspection as an example of grace. According to him, the inspection took place at the end of the service and after the chairman of the community gave his consent to its holding.

In October, inmates of CF (correctional facility) No. 2 in the Kurgan region complained about the staff of the facility. According to the prisoners, in August the CF’s officers confiscated their religious belongings, in particular, they threw the Koran on the floor and trampled on it.

As in previous years, non-state discrimination also took place. The few examples of such discrimination known to us concerned Muslims. In July, a resident of the Moscow district of Khamovniki drove a Muslim who was performing namaz from a playground. She demanded not to perform a “religious rite” because “in our country it is not welcome.” A passer-by interceded for the believer.

In November, a passenger on the Moscow underground drew attention to a Muslim who was praying in the underpass: he began filming the man praying on his phone and demanding police response. However, the police officers said that it was not prohibited by the rules for using the tube, and there was nothing illegal in the actions of the believer.

Positive Decisions

In some cases, religious organizations and their followers managed to defend their rights including in the court hearings.

On several occasions, followers have been able to challenge prosecutions for “illegal” missionary work. For example, in April, the Uzlovskaya City Court of the Tula Region overturned the decision of the Magistrate's Court, which fined the defendants under Part 4 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses as members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Presbyter Sergei Rudnev and his assistant Zhanna Kuzina, for five thousand rubles each. And in February, the case against the pastor of this Church, Vadim Zhelik, who was accused under part 3 of the same article, was dismissed.

In Ulyanovsk, the magistrate’s court did not see an offense in the actions of a believer in one of the Evangelical Churches, accused under Part 4 of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, and dismissed the case.

In Arkhangelsk, the magistrate’s court, due to the absence of an offense, terminated the proceedings under Part 2 of Article 20.35 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (violation of the requirements for anti-terrorist security of objects (territories) of religious organizations or obstruction of the activity of a person in fulfilling the assigned obligation to fulfill or ensure the requirements for anti-terrorist protection of objects (territories) of religious organizations) in relation to the Church of Seventh-day Adventist Christians. The reason for initiating the case was the incident with a dummy explosive device thrown into the church on 22 May.

The Moscow Theological Seminary of Evangelical Christian Baptists, which a year earlier, at the request of Rosobrnadzor, was deprived of a license for educational activities, managed to obtain a new license.


Some organizations managed to achieve a positive decision in the European Court of Human Rights. Thus, in September, the ECHR ruled in the case of Vladimir Kuropyatnik, a member of the Church of Scientology, who challenged the illegal detention in 2010 and the inclusion of his name in the Surveillance Database to track people allegedly involved in extremist activities. The Court ordered the Russian Federation to pay the applicant five thousand euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage caused by unlawful detentions and inclusion in the database of possible extremists, and three thousand euros in respect of legal costs.

In December, the ECHR upheld the complaint of the Center for Societies for Krishna Consciousness in Russia and lawyer Mikhail Frolov about the inability of the Russian authorities to protect Hare Krishnas from defamation. In particular, he mentioned the project “Beware of sects!” organized by the authorities of Ulyanovsk in 2008, during which an “anti-sectarian” brochure was distributed, and the ban by the Moscow authorities on the street action of Hare Krishnas. The court decided to recover from the Russian Federation seven and a half euros in favor of each of the applicants as compensation for non-pecuniary damage.

In addition, the ECHR communicated the complaint of St. Petersburg Scientologists, who are accused under a number of criminal articles, about the measure of restraint chosen for them: for Sahib Aliyev and Anastasia Terentyeva – a ban on certain actions, for Galina Shurinova and Konstantsiya Yesaulkova – travel restrictions, for Ivan Matsitsky – detention.

Protecting the Feelings of Believers

Protection from above

Compared to the previous year we know of eight sentences (one in 2020) under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 148 of the Criminal Code (public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to offend the religious feelings of believers).

The most severe sentence under this article – 10 months in prison – was handed down to blogger Ruslan Bobiev and his girlfriend Anastasia Chistova, who published a video with imitation of oral sex against the backdrop of St. Basil's Cathedral, while the girl was wearing a jacket with the inscription “police”.

In other cases, convicts under this article were assigned either fines or compulsory work. For example, Alexei Savkov, a resident of the Oryol region, was fined 75 thousand rubles for posting on VKontakte an offensive comment about the Annunciation. Igor Gladkov, a resident of Penza, was fined 20 thousand rubles for comments and posts in which he compared the pectoral cross with a “murder weapon”, spoke negatively about the Church, clergy and followers. A resident of the Penza region, Pavel Pischulin, was sentenced to 180 hours of compulsory labor for a number of negative statements about Christianity and the Church. Vitaly Miroshnikov, a resident of Chita, was sentenced by a court to 120 hours of compulsory labor for a video posted on a social network in which he himself lights a cigarette from a church candle. We consider all the sentences mentioned to be unlawful.

In addition, the Baltic Fleet servicemen Rasul Saikhanov and Jamaldin Magomedov, who “washed their feet” in the holy spring, were convicted under the same article. They were sentenced to fines of 100 thousand and 200 thousand rubles, respectively. An 18-year-old resident of the Arkhangelsk region and a 16-year-old resident of the village of Umba in Murmansk region, who a year earlier made offensive inscriptions on an Orthodox church and ruined an icon, were fined 15 thousand rubles and a warning and transfer under the supervision of a legal representative, respectively.

In another case, the sentence was passed under Article 148 in combination with other charges. A resident of Cherepovets was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with probation for two years under Part 1 of Article 148 and part 2 of Article 280 of the Criminal Code (public calls for the implementation of extremist activities, committed using the media and the Internet).

Insulting religious feelings was also prosecuted administratively. Two residents of the Tula region under Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (deliberate public desecration of objects of religious veneration, signs or emblems of ideological symbols and accoutrements) were fined 30 thousand rubles each for caricature images of icons.

During the year, several new cases were opened under Article 148 of the Criminal Code. One of these cases was initiated against a resident of Buryatia, who, while intoxicated, climbed onto the roof of the cathedral and urinated there. The remaining cases (at least four) were opened for the publication of photographic and video materials, in which people were depicted looking inappropriately, according to law enforcement officials, against the background of religious objects. The initiators of opening cases were the law enforcement agencies themselves: as a rule, there were no complaints from believers who considered themselves offended by these publications.

It is noteworthy that the increased criminal prosecution for such offenses seemed redundant even to representatives of religious organizations. For example, the head of the communications sector of the St. Petersburg diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, Natalya Rodomanova, commenting on the outrageous photo of two young people against the backdrop of the Savior on Spilled Blood with trousers and shorts lowered, said that the diocese is not going to react: We can't be bothered to react to every blogger's prank. It’s somehow not very smart actually”.[13]

Vakhtang Kipshidze, Deputy Chairman of the Synodal Department for Church Relations with Society and the Media, commenting on one of the new cases, said that he thinks that the task of Article 148 of the Criminal Code “is not that as many people as possible receive indictment terms, but that as few people as possible try to sow discord in our society on religious grounds.” [14]

We add that the Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Science and Higher Education Oleg Smolin proposed to drastically reform the composition of parts 1 and 2 of Article 148. First, he believes that public works will suffice as a punishment for deliberate insults to religious feelings. Secondly, in his opinion, the situation is not normal, in which according to the Constitution, followers and atheists are equal in our country. But according to the law, it turns out that only the feelings of believers can be offended. Smolin believes that offending the feelings of believers is possible only in the church, or where other ritual actions are performed.”[15]


Let us note a few more examples of protection of religious feelings “from above.” The Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg satisfied the claim of the prosecutor's office of the Admiralteysky district of the city in defense of an indefinite circle of persons and banned the distribution in Russia of a video published on YouTube, in which musician Marilyn Manson tears pages from the Bible. The prosecutor's office, and after it the court, regarded the singer's actions as a deliberate insult to the religious feelings of believers and an expression of “obvious disrespect for society.”

Sergei Gavrilov, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on the Development of Civil Society, Issues of Public and Religious Associations, appealed to the Prosecutor General's Office with a request to check the video clip “New Wave” by Morgenstern and DJ Smash for signs of insulting religious feelings. Gavrilov saw the insult in the fact that the clip was published on the eve of Easter according to the Gregorian calendar, the participants use costumes “stylized as Catholic cassocks”, and the clip takes place in a building similar to a catholic church.


It is also worth mentioning a commercial dispute in which the theme of insulting religious feelings was used. Two wine companies, Wine Style LLC and Aleksandrovy Pogreba LLC, argued about the right to the SAINT VINCENT trademark. Wine Style managed to deprive a competitor of the right to a trademark, convincing the court that the use of the saint's name in the wine trademark offends the feelings of believers. As in the cases described above, the process did not include the opinions of followers who would be offended by the use of this name for alcoholic products. Well-known religious scholars and sociologists involved in the process did not see signs of insulting religious feelings either. However, the head of the Legal Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, Abbess Xenia (Chernega), speaking on the side of Wine Style, said that the Church’s position “is not that wine named after a saint can offend someone, but that you can’t make the name of a saint an object of commercial circulation.”[16] At the same time, the company that won the dispute did not itself refuse to sell the mentioned wine.

Protection from below

Unlike defenders from the “high level,” public defenders of religious feelings were inactive throughout the year, despite the easing of quarantine restrictions. From time to time they publicly expressed dissatisfaction with this or that phenomenon in social or cultural life, however, as a year earlier, they did not resort to forceful methods.

The only exception known to us was a minor incident in St. Petersburg: in August, during an autograph session of journalist Alexander Nevzorov at the Helvetia Hotel, one of those who came up for an autograph slapped the journalist with the words “enough insulting the Orthodox faith.” The guard pulled the attacker away and handed him over to the summoned officers of the National Guard. Nevzorov himself did not write a statement to the police and asked to release the detainee. The autograph session continued after the incident.

All other public protests against insulting religious feelings known to us were expressed by the Orthodox. As a rule, those who complained about insulting religious feelings appealed to various authorities. For example, a resident of Krasnoyarsk complained to the police about a performance staged by local artist Maria Gasanova on 2 May, Easter Day. She posted on her Instagram a series of photographs showing a man in white robes talking to passers-by on the Yenisei embankment and handing out fruits to them. The applicant considered this artistic action an attempt to “parody the Lord”. It is true though he made a reservation that he did not want the authors and participants of the performance to receive a term: in his opinion, they “should repent, get some kind of lesson, maybe work on the construction of the church.”

Noteworthy is the reaction to this incident of the Metropolitan of Krasnoyarsk and Achinsk Panteleimon (Kutovoy). According to him, the action was blasphemous, and its authors were driven by the desire to “promote” themselves. However, he did not see the need to insist on holding “some kind of show trial,” since “there are also questions regarding the motives of the one who complained.”

The organization “Sorok sorokov” (Forty forties, a number alluding to a multitude of churches in historical Moscow) appealed to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation with a request to initiate a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 148 of the Criminal Code against the head of Navalny's headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod, Maria Chistyakova. The reason was the post she published with the image of the Virgin in her undergarment, which the authors of the statement considered “disrespectful actions against God and shrines.” Arguing their point of view, the applicants referred to the Church documents, as well as amendments to the Constitution, which mention the “ideals and faith in God” transmitted by the ancestors.

In some cases, authorities took the side of the complainants. So, for example, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, in response to a complaint from the same “Sorok Sorokov,” who considered the fragment of Paul Verhoeven's film “Temptation” offensive, refused to issue a permit for the distribution of this film in Russia. Orthodox considered offensive the scene in which a dildo was made from the statue of the Mother of God.

In St. Petersburg, a concert was canceled at which 10 poems by Shostakovich were to be performed based on verse by revolutionary poets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The concert was supposed to take place in the church of the Savior on Spilled Blood as part of the Arts Square festival. Officially, the concert was canceled “due to technical reasons”, but the cancellation was preceded by a number of publications, including on the Tsargrad TV channel, the authors of which appealed to “Russian Orthodox people, monarchists, conservatives, traditionalists” with a call to prevent “this disgrace”, because “only church music can be performed in the church.”

And in Moscow, according to part 1 of Article 6.17 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation (violation of the established requirements for the distribution among children of information products containing information harmful to their health and (or) development) fines were issued for Rotex, the organizer of the educational exhibition of the German pathologist Günther von Hagens “Body Worlds” and its CEO Dmitry Protsenko. The inspection, the initiation of proceedings and the trial were preceded by a protest against the holding of this exhibition by a number of public organizations, including the Russian Orthodox Church and the Communists of Russia. However, Church representatives then preferred not to reduce the protest to an insult to religious feelings, emphasizing that the reaction to this event “goes beyond the feelings of believers or non-believers and rather lies in the cultural plane.” According to Vladimir Legoyda, chairman of the synodal department for relations between the Church, society and the media, posthumous treatment of the human body cannot be the subject of an exclusively commercial contract”, and “education of doctors who save lives is not the same as entertaining a bored public with the contemplation of corpses.”[17]

Lack of protection against attacks and defamation

Violence and vandalism

Acts of religiously motivated violence, like a year earlier, are unknown to us as well. Although, of course, in some cases, we simply may not have information about the motive for the crime. It is worth mentioning, for example, the explosion on the territory of the Vvedensky Vladychny female convent in Serpukhov, which was arranged by Vladislav Struzhenkov, a former pupil of the gymnasium school operating at the monastery. The investigation believes that he could have had a conflict with other pupils and teachers. A case was initiated against him under Part 3 of Article 30, part 3 of Article 105 (attempted murder) and Article 2231 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illicit trafficking of explosives). Struzhenkov himself was taken into custody.

The level of religiously motivated vandalism has also decreased compared to the previous year: we are aware of 12 such cases against 18 in 2020.

More often than others, Orthodox objects were attacked by vandals – at least in four cases (compared to at least eight a year earlier). No less than two of these cases were caused by conflicts with the local population. In St. Petersburg, as mentioned above, unknown people set fire to a change house at the construction site of a church in the village of Metallostroy.

In Tatarstan, a cross was cut down at one of the graves of the cemetery in the village of Aktanysh in the Aktanysh district. At the same time, a relative of the deceased, who spoke about the act of vandalism in local public pages, received a lot of xenophobic comments, and local authorities persuaded her not to restore the cross, referring to the opinion of the head of the district administration. The conflict received a wide public outcry and forced the secular and spiritual leaders of the republic to intervene. Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov issued a stern warning to Engel Fattakhov, the head of the district, and demanded that work be done to restore the grave taking into account the wishes of the deceased's family. Imam of Tatarstan Kamil Samigullin instructed local imams to talk with parishioners about the need to respect the rights of followers during burial, regardless of their religion. Raykhan Galimyanova, deputy head of the district administration, resigned.

In two more cases, vandals inflicted graffiti on Orthodox objects. In the village of Bronnitsa, Novgorod Region, a swastika was painted on the wall of an inactive, collapsing church, and in the village of Bogdanovka, Samara Region, in addition to putting the inscriptions “death to the Urus” and “Allah Akbar” on the chapel and the water spring, the attackers poured diesel fuel into the spring and into the baptismal font.

The same number – at least four acts of vandalism were committed in relation to pagan objects. The pagan temple in Bitza Park in Moscow was attacked by vandals at least twice during the year. In June, a resident of Moscow Ilya Shulikov on his page on VKontakte reported that he had poured urine over this temple. In the photograph, the young man is shown wearing a T-shirt with the imperial tricolor and the inscription “Russian Lives Matter.” In August, vandals painted this temple with paint and left insulting inscriptions. The community does not exclude participation in this act of vandalism of the same Shulikov.

On a sacrificial stone in Kaluga, the vandals depicted an Orthodox cross. This temple also used to be the object of attack – in 2020. And in Veliky Novgorod, unknown people tried to burn the idol of Veles.

Jewish objects suffered at least three times at the hands of vandals. Holocaust memorials were desecrated in Volgograd and Pushkin. In Pushkin, vandals wrote the abbreviation ENO (the far-right group Ethnic National Union) and a slogan calling for violence on the memorial. In Volgograd they scribbled offensive anti-Semitic inscriptions and Nazi symbols. In both cases, the alleged vandals were apprehended and an investigation is underway. And in Moscow, on Hitler's birthday, 20 April, the Shamir synagogue, which had already been attacked by vandals a year earlier, was set on fire. In addition, the vandals painted a swastika on the wall of the building. No one was hurt; the damage to the building is estimated at 100 thousand rubles.

Another act of vandalism known to us was directed against a Protestant object: a resident of the village of Tagda in Buryatia, being in a state of intoxication, set fire to the building of the Church of Christians of the Evangelical faith Christ the Savior. A case was initiated against him under Part 2 of Article 167 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (deliberate destruction or damage to another's property by arson).


Defamation of religious minorities

Probably, the number of defamatory publications about religious minorities in the official media has decreased, but such publications still existed, including on federal channels.

The objects of attacks, as before, often became Scientologists. In December, the NTV channel aired the film “Business Sect” dedicated to the Church of Scientology. The film, like many similar materials, has an “anti-sectarian” orientation, exposes the “destructive nature of Hubbard's ideas” and the “leading staff” of the organization, which is, according to the film's authors, “all criminals and bandits.”

Another federal channel, Ren TV, in a June story about embezzlement during road construction, mentioned Scientologists in a negative context: as follows from the story, the unscrupulous head of the large road development company DSK Autobahn, Alexei Andreev, was accused of having ties with the Church of Scientology and that he “could be the biggest sponsor of the sectarians.” Traditionally, Alexander Dvorkin, a “sect scholar” was involved as an expert.

Defamatory material also surfaced about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In late February – early March, during the program “An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” on the Russia 1TV channel, political scientist Sergei Kurginyan said that the Russian authorities were involved in “placement of Mormons” in the authorities of strategically important regions, in particular, in the administration of South Ossetia. The guest of the program repeated the thesis, popular among the fighters against “sects,” about the connection of the Mormons with the CIA.

[1] Our work in preparing this report was supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On 30 December 2016, SOVA Center was forcibly included by the Ministry of Justice into the register of “non-profit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent.” We do not agree with this decision and will appeal it. The author of the report is one of the founders of SOVA Center.
[2] Olga Sibireva. Freedom of Conscience in Russia: Restrictions and Challenges in 2020 // SOVA Center. 2021. 29 April (
[3] See: Maria Kravchenko, Misuse of anti-extremist legislation in Russia in 2021 // SOVA Center. 2022. 24 February (
[4] Decree of the President of the Russian Federation of 2 July, 2021 No. 400 “On the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation” // Official Internet portal of legal information. 2021. 2 July (
[5] See: Kravchenko, Misuse of anti-extremist legislation in Russia in 2021.
[6] Astrakhan residents sign a petition against the development of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral // Astrakhan FM. 2021. 15 September (
[7] The Diocese made a compromise // Kommersant – Middle Volga. 2021. 6 October (
[8] Olga Yukhnovskaya. “This place is completely useless”: the architect of Kul Sharif opposed the development of a cathedral mosque near the “bowl” // Evening Kazan. 2022. 19 January (
[9] For more information about the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, see: Kravchenko, Misuse of anti-extremist legislation in Russia in 2021.
[10] The Krasnoyarsk Ombudsman urged not to harass members of the Vissarion community on religious grounds // Kommersant. RU. 2021. 18 March (
[11] Summary of the statistical information on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates' courts for the 1st half of 2021 // Website of the Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2021. 18 October (
[12] Moisei Kondrashin, Stanislav KulovReport of the Rule of Law Institute: the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in 2020-2021 // SOVA Center. 2022. 2 February (
[13] The St. Petersburg diocese decided not to notice the photo without pants against the background of the church // Ridus. 2021. 19 November (
[14] Did photos in thongs drive the ROC into a trap? // Rosbalt. 6 November. 2021 (
[15] The State Duma called for the removal of the article on insulting the feelings of believers from the Criminal Code // Govorit Moskva. 2021. 2 November (
[16] Xenia Chernega. The dispute between winemakers and the feelings of believers // Arguments and Facts. 2022. 15 February (
[17] The Russian Orthodox Church called the exhibition “Body World” shocking content // RIA Novosti. 2021. 13 March (