Freedom of religion or belief in Russia

29 02 2012

HRWF (28.02.2012) – Human Rights Without Frontiers presents you an overview of incidents having taken place in Russia in the second semester of 2011. The full overview covering the 12 months can be found on the homepage of our website

By Flint Timmins for Human Rights Without Frontiers

5 July

The Supreme Court of Russia overturned the 24 February ban on the Grace Church of Khabarovsk; however, the Khabarovsk Regional Court has initiated new procedures against the church’s leaders and membership. The Grace Church was accused of failing to maintain proper financial records as well as employing preaching methods, such as saying prayers loudly, speaking in “tongues,” and faith “healings,” that “changed the psychological state” of its members.

18 July

A Baptist conscientious objector was held in a psychiatric hospital since 1 July for observation following his refusal to take up arms. Igor Shlak, a 20-year-old Baptist, refused to serve in his military unit, desiring instead to perform alternative service. Six months before being called into the military, Shlak submitted written requests to the Tyumen and Nizhnetavdinsk Districts Military Enlistment Office in central Russia. He was told that he had not been selected for alternative service.

8 August

In the city of Chelyabinsk police raided the home of Muslim Nursi reader Gulnaz Valeyeva, claiming to have thwarted a suicide bomber plot. The home is used by local Muslim women for prayer. Police confiscated over 500 pamphlets and other religious material as well as instructions for preparing explosives. Local Muslims claim the instructions were planted by the raiding police.

8 August

The home of Nursi reader Farida Ulmaskulova was raided by police officers while she was conducting a religious education class for Muslim girls between the ages of 11 and 17 in the village of Aznalino, Safakuleev district, Kurgan region. Police confiscated religious texts, course materials, and DVDs. The girls were detained and questioned, being released in the evening.

25 August

Police officers and government officials carried out 19 simultaneous searches on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes in the Sea of Azov city of Taganrog. Church leaders say that such search raids are designed to intimidate and subdue the religion.

7 September

  • Ustina Chernishoff of Brazil was found in a community of Russian Old Believers on the banks of the Yenisei River in Siberia. Chernishoff, 23, was reported to Interpol as missing by her mother in Brazil after Chernishoff stopped sending letters. Chernishoff moved to the community with her father and brother in 2006 and spent much of her time making copies of religious texts. The Old Believers are Orthodox Christians who broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th Century.
  • Nursi reader Rashid Abdulov was sentenced to one year of compulsory labor for extremism. The Ulyanovsk Prosecutor’s Office stated that they felt the sentence was too light, preferring instead a 4-year sentence in a labor camp. Abdulov, a citizen of Azerbaijan, was first detained in January by the Russian secret service on charges of spreading Nursi teachings.
  • In the Chuvash Republic of western Russia, three Jehovah’s Witnesses were taken into custody while police searched their and other Witnesses’ homes. The police seized Bibles, personal computers, legal documents, and personal valuables. In the Chuvash cities of Cheboksary, Novocheboksarsk, and Kanash, Jehovah’s Witness worship services were interrupted by police and members were searched and fingerprinted.

9 September

In the region of Belgorod, the Federal Migration Service raided the Friday prayers of the local Muslim community Peace and Creation. Masked police interrupted the prayers and detained over 150 men. The men were searched, had their cell phones confiscated, and were taken to various police stations. The police said that the raid was aimed at “uncovering illegal migrants” and other migration violations, though only six of the detained were found to be illegal migrants. Local Muslims believe the raid was a response to a local television news report on the Muslim’s celebration of Ramadan, which boasted over 1000 attendees.

19 September

The Yoshkar-Ola City Court ordered five internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to two Jehovah’s Witness websites. Prosecutor Andrei Nazarov argued that the sites contain some works that are currently on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, prompting the court to ban access to the sites. A third site,, was also blocked even though it was not mentioned in the official ruling.

20 September

The Lenin District Court rejected the appeal of Nursi reader Ziyautdin Dapayev’s three-year prison sentence. Dapayev, 29, was sentenced under “extremism” for possessing banned religious literature written by Muslim theologian Said Nursi. Dapayev was accused of being “deliberately engaged in attracting residents of Dagestan to study and spread the teaching of Said Nursi.” Over 1,800 books, pamphlets, and other materials were taken from Dapayev’s home and turned over to the Muslim Board of Dagestan, a city along the Caspian Sea, with the instruction that the literature be destroyed.

2 October

In a letter presented at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, the Brussels-based human rights NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers called on the Russian government to: revise Article 14 of the Law on Freedom of conscience and association; end the misuse of Article 282 of the Criminal Code in harassing religious groups; end the harassment against Jehovah’s Witnesses and Nursi readers; dissolve the Ministry of Justice’s Expert Council for conducting State-Religious Studies; and to fully implement the decisions of the European Court concerning freedom of religion. 

7 October

  • The Russian Ministry of Justice proposed amendments to Russia’s religious law. The proposed amendments would: require all religious groups to register with the Ministry of Justice, even if the groups do not plan on seeking the status of a legal entity; limit the teaching of religious doctrines to officially registered religious associations; permit religious organizations to publish books and teach children only if the group belongs to a centralized religious association;  and allow the state to reject or revoke religious registration if the “goals and activities” of the group violate Russian law. The proposed law would effectively eliminate the legal distinctions between religious “organizations” and “groups.” Under current law, religious “groups” in Russia are allowed to operate privately and without being registered, allowing small groups of citizens to easily organize themselves in religious groups for the purpose of religious studies and prayer meetings.
  • The Kemerovo diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church protested against the entry of Andrei Matuizhov into the All-Russia National Front (ONF), a wing of Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party. Matuizhov is a former pastor of the “Love of Christ” evangelical church, which was closed by authorities in 2007 for allegedly violating religious laws. Matuizhov then joined the “New Generation” evangelical church, which was accused of extremism. Upon hearing of Matuizhov’s intent to join ONF, the Kemerovo diocese issued a statement to believers to oppose Matuizhov’s inclusion, stating that he might “lobby for ideas that will not serve the strengthening of our society but its moral degradation.”

10 October

In the city of Tomskthe Ministry of Justice sought to place the Hare Krishna text “The Bhagavad-Git As It Is” on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Prosecutors claimed that the book “contains signs of incitement of religious hatred and humiliation of an individual based on gender, race, ethnicity, language, origin or attitude to religion.” The Tomsk Region Ombudsperson of Human Rights, Nelli Krechetova, criticized the accusation, stating that it was an attempt to restrict the religious freedom of Hare Krishnas.

12 October

An Evangelical Christian-Baptist church in Vladivostok, located near the eastern border with China, was vandalized when a small group threw stones at windows.

3 November

Following the appeal of the Gorno-Altaisk Prosecutor’s Office, the Gorno-Altaisk City Court reversed the acquittal of Jehovah’s Witness Aleksandr Kalistratov and found him guilty of inciting religious hatred, sentencing him to 100 hours of community service. Human rights NGO Amnesty International called the decision “an attack against freedom of expression, of opinion, and freedom of confession.” Kalistratov was acquitted of extremism charges under Article 282 of the Criminal Code on 14 April. Kalistratov was accused of distributing copies of religious works banned by the Gorno-Altaisk City Court. Kalistratov was the first Jehovah’s Witness put on trial in post-Soviet Russia.


The sms message system operated by Russia’ Hare Krishna’s was shut down without warning by the Russian communications company NSS. The message system allows the 3,000 subscribers to send daily quotes, announcements, and event notices. It is unknown whether the government was involved in the shutdown.

2 December

Four of the nine Jehovah’s Witnesses works banned by the Salsk court in June were officially placed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Additionally, nine other works were ruled “extremist” by the far eastern Sakhalin region’s Makarov District Court on 18 October. Officials from the religion claim that they were not informed of the Makarov decision until 11 November.

8 December

In a new report on the website, the Jehovah’s Witnesses documented over 1,000 instances of religious intolerance from 2009 to 2011. Religious discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses on the part of Russian officials and the general public has increased severely, consisting of over 120 home raids, 500 instances of interfering with proselyting activity, and 420 detentions or arrests.

12 December

An article on Russian “anti-sect” websites was published, criticizing the bigotry and falsehoods spread by these websites. The criticisms were aimed at Alexander Dvorkin, head of the Ministry of Justice’s and vice-president of the pan-European anti-sect organization FECRIS, and Alexander Kuzmin, Member of the Expert Council for Conducting Religious Studies Expert Analysis and operator of several “anti-sect” websites. The sites contain articles accusing non-Orthodox religions of witchcraft, murder, rape, and other crimes.

22 December

  • The Jehovah’s Witness Aleksandr Kalistratov was acquitted of spreading “enmity and hatred” in the Siberian city of Altaisk. Kalistratov had previously been found guilty of inciting religious hatred and sentenced to 100 hours of community service. He appealed the decision, having once been found innocent at the original trial which took place on 14 April.
  • A Russian court banned several pieces of Falun Gong literature, including its main text “Zhuan Falun.” The human rights NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers suggested that the decision may have come due to pressure from China, which is attempting to stamp out Falun Gong.

28 December

The Tomsk City Court refused to classify the Hare Krishna text “Bhagavad Gita As It Is” as “extremist.” The decision came partially in response to protests in India over the case. Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna called the case an attack on the “very soul of our great civilization.”

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