Religious Freedom
2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom: Russia (Part 2)
Part 2 of the U.S. State Departement report on the situation of freedom of religion in Russia.
Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom
Reports of harassment and punishment for religious belief or activity continue. Mormon missionaries throughout the country frequently are detained for brief periods or asked by local police to cease their activities, regardless of whether they were actually in violation of local statutes on picketing. The Word of Life Pentecostal church in Magadan continues to allege that members have been harassed and followed by persons suspected of being local agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB). An unregistered local Baptist congregation in the village of Chernyshevskiy in Sakha-Yakutiya complained that local authorities were harassing it. Church members reported that on May 5, 2000, local police officers and a fire safety inspector raided the apartment where the Church meets and gathered lists of church members. After the Church's pastor protested, he reportedly was brought to the police station for questioning. The local chief confirmed that police officers did visited the apartment as part of a fire-safety investigation but denied that there was any "incident" with church members. He believes the group is illegal because it has not registered (the congregation believes registration leads to unacceptable interference in church affairs), although the religion law does not require all groups to register officially. The group has been harassed before; in June 1999, local Chernyshevskiy police broke up a street-evangelism meeting, confiscated a tent, and detained three Baptists.
Catholic parishioners in Moscow have complained of excessive document checks by authorities, including a document check of attendees at a Sunday Mass. Catholic organizations have complained of excessive attention from authorities including the fire inspector and the Ministry of Interior. In June 2000, police in Tura in central Siberia threatened to arrest local Baptists if they continued to distribute free religious material outside of their place of worship. According to the local police chief, it is a crime for the group to distribute religious material because it is not a registered religious organization and such material may not be distributed outside of places of worship. While the Baptists were distributing Bibles and other religious material, Russian Orthodox parishioners and a local Orthodox priest protested and threatened to call the police. Later the police summoned the Baptists to the police station for questioning.
Human rights activists have claimed in the past that only 15 percent of actual violations of religious freedom are reported, and it still appears that only a small percentage of actual incidents are reported to authorities or independent media. According to various sources, the majority of citizens, especially those living in the regions, are still skeptical about the protection of religious freedom and are reluctant to assert their rights due to fear of retaliation. Federal authorities did not take sufficient action to reverse discriminatory actions taken at the local level or to discipline those officials responsible. Federal authorities and Moscow human rights activists often have limited information about what is happening in the regions.
Some churches and NGO's are taking steps to teach church members how to assert their rights. For example, the Church of Scientology reported that ist Russian members initially accepted without protest verbal harassment and intimidating inquiries by local residents and police. The Church subsequently educated ist members on their rights under the law and worked to establish cooperative relations with local police officers, which led to a decrease in harassment.
In May 1999, assisted by religion law experts Anatoliy Pchelintsev and Vladimir Ryakhosvkiy, former judge Galina Pitkevich filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), claiming that her right to fair trial and her rights to freedom of thought and of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated. Pitkevich, a member of the charismatic church Living Faith, was fired from her job at the Noyabrsk city court of Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region, based on accusations that she used her position to attract new members to her faith. Some human rights groups believe the evidence was fabricated. The ECHR determined that she has not yet exhausted all legal remedies in Russia (a fundamental requirement for an ECHR ruling), but her lawyers are appealing the decision. Pitkevich, now a private lawyer, reportedly faces discrimination from former colleagues. The case of Nataliya Nikishchina, a member of Jehovah's Witnesses who lost custody of her son, allegedly based on religious discrimination, was returned in 1999 to Russian courts by the ECHR. In this case, Russia's Supreme Court overturned all previous rulings and ordered the case be heard again in a new court.
Lengthy investigations continue regarding a number of so-called "nontraditional" denominations. The Church of Scientology continued to experience registration problems. Originally registered in 1994, the Moscow Church of Scientology has applied 3 times for reregistration under the 1997 law, only to have the applications denied. As of mid-2000, the Church was applying a fourth time. The Moscow general procurator and approximately 70 individuals representing members of the FSB, Federal Tax Police, the local police, and other law enforcement organizations in April 1999 conducted a high-profile, 3-day raid on the Hubbard Humanitarian Center, which is affiliated with the Moscow Church of Scientology. This was the second such raid. It was undertaken in connection with charges by the Procurcacy that the Center was engaging in commercial enterprise without a license and had failed to pay taxes. Although the Center successfully reregistered as a social organization in 1997 in accordance with legal requirements that such organizations reregister by July 1, 1999, a Moscow court subsequently invalidated the reregistration and ordered the Center to be liquidated, a verdict upheld by a higher court. However, by mid-2000 this had not taken place and the center continued to operate as a registered social organization. A separate case based on similar charges was initiated against the Center's director, Gennadiy Kudinov, who is also head of the Church. As of mid-2000, the courts had not determined which Moscow judge should have jurisdiction over the case. While court rulings were based on the law on social organizations, church officials believe that the ruling is part of a broader attack on the Church and ist activities. The Magadan Word of Life Pentecostal Church reports that it still is being investigated on criminal and tax-related charges. The Church of Krishna Conscious, which has experienced rapid growth in recent years and is registered at the federal level, encountered difficulties in some regions, particularly in Krasnodar and other southern regions, as well in the Moscow region, where the authorities repeatedly have denied it permission to acquire land and the building permits for construction of a temple. Ist activities are strongly opposed by elements of the Russian Orthodox Church.
There have been instances of the serious misuse of psychiatry by local officials reminiscent of Soviet-era abuses. The Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia, along with several human rights organizations, has criticized the use of psychiatry in "deprogramming" victims of "totalitarian sects." In such cases, authorities use pseudo-psychological and spiritual techniques to "treat" persons who have been members of new religious groups.
St. Petersburg authorities arbitrarily detained six Scientologists for psychiatric evaluation. In January in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Tretyak, leader of Sentuar (the local branch of the Church of Scientology), was accused by St. Petersburg chief psychiatrist Larisa Rubina of inflicting psychological damage on his coreligionists. On June 17, six members of Sentuar--Mikhail Dvorkin, Igor Zakrayev, Irina Shamarina, Svetlana Kruglova, Svetlana Pastushenkova, and Lyudmila Urzhumtseva--were hospitalized forcibly and underwent 3 weeks of criminal psychiatric investigation by order of Boris Larionov, procurator of the Vyborgskiy district of St. Petersburg. In televised remarks, Rubina reported their July 8 release and declared that the six were mentally competent. Rubina referred to the six as "the accused," despite the fact they were only witnesses in the criminal case against Tretyak.
While they generally have not been inhibited by the authorities in the free practice of their religion, Jews and Muslims continue to encounter prejudice and societal discrimination, and government authorities have been criticized for insufficient action to counter such prejudice (see Section II). Violently anti-Semitic remarks in national venues, such as those made by former Communist Duma Deputy and retired General Albert Makashov in October 1998 and February 1999, have not been repeated. Makashov's remarks, which blamed Jews for the 1998 financial crisis and called for their elimination, caused a public furor, but the Duma's Communists and their allies blocked a November 4, 1998 motion to censure him. Some Jewish groups report that the Communists and a neo-Nazi group, the Russian National Unity (RNE), continue to use anti-Semitism as a political tool to build populist support. However, since the December 1999 Duma elections, the Communist Party's influence and support in the country has somewhat eroded. The RNE, which is active in a few regions, regularly calls for violence against other religious and ethnic groups as well, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims.
Krasnodar region governor Nikolay Kondratenko is well known for making anti-Semitic remarks. The governor's public speeches in the region often contained crude anti-Semitic remarks and stereotypes, and blame Jews and alleged Jewish conspiracies for the country's problems. Although some local residents have downplayed the effect of Kondratenko's open anti-Semitism, it appears that at least some of these persons practice a degree of self-censorship to avoid retaliation by local authorities.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on March 29, 2000, then-President-elect Putin approved an interagency plan to combat extremism and promote religious and ethnic tolerance. Broad in scope, the plan calls for a large number of interagency measures, such as the review of federal and regional legislation regarding extremism, required training for public officials on how to promote ethnic and religious tolerance, and the design of new educational materials for use in public educational institutions. Implementation of the plan, which is to be guided by an interagency commission on combating extremism, has not yet begun. This plan has attracted little public commentary so far. In a March 2000 open letter to members of the U.S. Congress released by the Kremlin press service, President Putin called anti-Semitism "an inadmissible display of aggressive nationalism incompatible with civilized society in Russia."
The federal Government reports that it has moved forward on other promised initiatives against extremism and anti-Semitism. In May 1999, the Moscow city duma adopted a law forbidding the distribution and display of Nazi symbols, and the Moscow regional duma passed similar legislation in June 1999. However, on September 2, 1999, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper reported that then-Moscow oblast governor Anatoliy Tyazhlov refused to sign the law, stating that the draft law threatened not only artistic and academic freedom of expression, but also freedom of religion, as swastikas are displayed by some religious groups. Regional duma members are working to redraft the law.
Federal and Dagestani authorities stepped up their pressure on what they label as the republic's "Wahhabi" Muslim community. After an incursion on August 7 by Chechen-backed Islamist guerrillas, Dagestan President Magomedali Magomedov declared that his government would take a harder line against "Wahhabism." In September Dagestan's parliament passed legislation that outlawed "Wahhabi" groups and other organizations it considered extremist. The Keston News Service reports that government and religious officials in several Dagestani districts have wrecked conservative Islamic mosques, suppressed religious broadcasts, and harassed local conservative Islamic communities. According to press reports, federal and Dagestani forces have followed up their initial counterinsurgency efforts with attacks on Muslim villages that they consider to be "Wahhabi" and that refuse to register their religious communities and turn in their weapons.
On February 3, 1999, Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov declared Shari'a (Islamic law) to be in effect in the republic of Chechnya. Maskhadov signed several decrees stipulating that all local legislation be brought into line with the Koran and Shari'a regulations. Maskhadov ordered the Chechen legislature and the Council of Muftis to draft a constitution based on Shari'a within 1 month. The legislature also was stripped of ist legislative functions and, on February 10, 1999, was replaced with a 34-member Shura that has responsibility for "consulting" with the republic's president. The Shura includes several prominent opposition leaders. According to one expert, the Shura created in Chechnya is not a traditional Muslim Shura run by religious men, but instead is a council of military men. The Shura is not known to have functioned since the beginning of the federal Government's military campaign in Chechnya in late 1999.
Apart from the 3-week detention and involuntary psychiatric evaluation of six members of the Church of Scientology, there were no other reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
Forced Religious Conversions of Minor U.S. Citizens
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
Relations between different religious groups are frequently tense, and there continue to be instances of religiously motivated violence.
Many Russians firmly believe that at least nominal adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church is at the heart of what it means to be Russian, and Russian Orthodoxy is considered in conservative nationalist circles as the de facto official religion of the country.
There is no large-scale movement to promote interfaith dialog, although on the local level different religious groups successfully collaborate on charity projects and participate in interfaith dialog. In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church, and Russian Pentecostal and Baptist organizations also have been reluctant to support ecumenism. Traditionally, the Russian Orthodox Church has pursued interfaith dialog with other Christians on the international level.
Muslims, who constitute approximately 10 percent of the population, continue to encounter societal discrimination and antagonism in some areas where they are a minority. According to press reports, on October 17, 1999, protesters in Volgograd successfully pressured the World Congress of Tatars to postpone a ceremony to lay a cornerstone for a new mosque. Chief Mufti Ravil Gainutdin reportedly stated that construction would be suspended until an agreement could be reached with local residents.
Over the last 4 years, there were many instances of violence in the north Caucasus, some of which had religious motivations. There was only one new report of violence against non-Muslim religious workers in Chechnya, apparently because very few or no workers remain. However, on August 14, 1999, a deacon of the Groznyy Baptist Church was kidnaped and held for ransom in Groznyy and another church member was kidnaped earlier that month. The threat of hostage taking, primarily for ransom, continues to be extremely high in the North Caucuses. There were no reports of developments in the case of religious affairs official Abuzar Sumbulatov, who, according to the Keston Institute in Groznyy, was kidnaped in 1999. No ransom was demanded, and Sumbulatov, known for his tolerant views on religion, is presumed dead. Kidnapings of Russian Orthodox and Baptist clergy in Chechnya and bordering areas in 1998 and 1999, according to Keston, suggested that Christians were being targeted specifically. The Russian Baptist Union advised ist members in 1998 to leave Chechnya.
Following large-scale emigration over the last 2 decades, between 600,000 and 700,000 Jews remain in Russia (0.5 percent of the total population). While Jewish emigration rates are significantly lower than there were during the late Soviet period, the number of Jews leaving Russia for economic reasons and fear of persecution more than doubled in 1999, from 13,019 to 29,534, according to the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency. The vast majority of Jews (80 percent) live in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Jews continue to encounter societal discrimination, and government authorities have been criticized for insufficient action to counter it. However, in August 1999, the Ministry of Press, Television, Radio Broadcasting, and Mass Communications issued a warning to a city-owned television station in St. Petersburg for broadcasting anti-Semitic material in violation of the mass media law's prohibition on inciting racial violence or hatred. That same month, the St. Petersburg Commissioner for Human Rights, Mikhail Chulaki, publicly criticized the program that broadcast the anti-Semitic material.
Anti-Semitic themes continue to figure prominently in hundreds of extremist publications in Krasondar and Samara regions, among others. However, traditionally anti-Semitic publications with a large distribution, such as the newspaper Zavtra, while still pursuing anti-Semitic themes, such as portraying Russian Oligarchs as exclusively Jewish, appear to be more careful than in the past about using crude anti-Semitic language. Some Jewish groups believe that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) uses anti-Semitism as a political tool to build populist support, which is seen by many to be decreasing.
Observers in the country and abroad are assessing whether anti-Semitic rhetoric represents a sustained pattern of intensified anti-Semitism. There were several reports of major crimes or acts of intimidation linked to anti-Semitic groups or motives in the early months of the period covered by this report. However, the number of anti-Semitic incidents reportedly decreased beginning in the fall of 1999. Observers differ as to whether these incidents represent an increase in violence, but human rights proponents agree that anti-Semitism remains a very serious societal problem and that the Government and civil society must continue to build institutions to protect the rights of religious minorities.
On July 13, 1999, Jewish Cultural Center director Leopold Kaymovskiy was wounded severely in a knife attack in his office at the Moscow Choral Synagogue. Kaymovskiy's attacker, 20-year-old Nikita Krivchun, said that he acted alone and that he considered Jews "evil." Krivchun was charged with attempted murder for reasons of national, racial, or religious hatred, and subsequently was declared mentally incompetent and placed in a psychiatric institution. Initial press reports quoted statements by Krivchun implying that he belonged to an anti-Semitic group, but investigators did not uncover evidence of such a connection and made no other arrests. On July 25, 1999, a bomb was found in the Bolshaya Bronnaya Lubavitcher synagogue. The bomb was removed by synagogue workers and later detonated by the FSB, causing some damage to the synagogue. Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov criticized the bombing and attended a July 29, 1999 service at the synagogue. The FSB is investigating the bomb as a terrorist act, but has made no arrests in the case. Vandals desecrated six Jewish graves in Tomsk on August 2, 1999. Also, on August 2, 1999, then-President Yeltsin told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that the Government would prosecute anti-Semitic crimes and proposed Israeli-Russian cooperation in combating anti-Semitism. No progress was reported in investigations of two May 1999 bombings near the Moscow Choral Synagogue, the May 1998 bombing of the Marina Roshcha Synagogue in Moscow, the vandalism of synagogues in Novosibirsk and in Birobidjan in early 1999, or the May 1998 desecration of 149 Jewish graves in Irkutsk. There was a more positive outcome to the June 5, 2000 incident in which some 40 gravestones in the Jewish part of a cemetery in Nizhnii Novgorod were destroyed. The teenage vandals were quickly captured by local police, and they and their parents were required to work with their children to help clean up the cemetery.
The ultranationalist and anti-Semitic Russian National Unity (RNE) paramilitary organization, led by Aleksandr Barkashov, claims to have extended ist presence beyond ist southern Russian stronghold since 1998. However, the party has remained a fairly marginal political force in regional and national politics. Although reliable figures on ist membership are not available, in what is most likely an exaggeration, the RNE claims a membership of 50,000 persons in 24 federation chapters. At least one RNE member has been elected to a local administration (in Saratov) and, according to press accounts, the RNE has representatives in regional governments in Kostroma and Vladimir, Tver and Samara oblasts provide resources for RNE youth groups, and, in Voronezh, RNE members patrol the streets with local militias. According to press sources, these joint street patrols failed in Kostroma and Yekaterinburg, where RNE members turned them into opportunities for petty crime, causing local authorities to cancel the programs. RNE "uniformed" members were visible in 1999 at political and cultural public gatherings, but their day-to-day visibility on the streets and in public areas of Moscow has not been obvious since a march in January 1999.
The increased visibility of the RNE and other extremists across the country prompted government efforts to address the problem of extremism more forcefully in 1998 and 1999. Moscow authorities banned the RNE from convening a congress in December 1998, citing the RNE's lack of credentials as a legally registered public organization at the time. (The Ministry of Justice twice denied the RNE's registration.) The RNE subsequently managed to register, but then was stripped of ist registration by a Moscow court in April 1999. However, some observers called the municipal prosecutor's case weak and motivated only by the desire of city authorities to ban the organization. Although an interagency plan to combat extremism and promote tolerance was signed by President Putin on March 29, 2000, many elements of the plan need further definition, and implementation of most of ist concrete measures has yet to begin. Ist potential impact cannot yet be gauged.
Krasnodar region governor Kondratenko regularly engages in anti-Semitic remarks (see Section I). A report issued in October 1997 by the human rights group Memorial criticized Krasnodar government officials for "encouraging radical nationalist groups," including the Cossacks, and "indirectly inciting them to violence" against ethnic minority groups in the area. Local government authorities have sanctioned patrols by Cossack paramilitary groups in the name of law enforcement. Such groups are not publicly accountable, and their activities have resulted in human rights abuses.
After his 1996 election, Kondratenko appointed Cossack "hetman" Vladimir Gromov as deputy governor of the region. In April 1997, Kondratenko and Gromov issued a resolution making Cossack groups subordinate to the regional rather than the federal Government, according to the Center for Human Rights Advocacy. According to media reports of statements by radical Cossack chieftain Ivan Bezguly, he has 44,000 Cossacks at his disposal ostensibly to enforce "law and order." Estimates of the total number of Cossacks in Krasnodar are as high as 300,000. The Cossacks' tactics appear designed to brutalize and intimidate the area's ethnic minorities and to bring about the group's stated goal of cleansing the area of all non-Slavic Russians. A 1999 joint report by Antifascist Youth Action, the Union of Societies of Soviet Jews, and the Moscow Helsinki Group states that Cossacks closely monitor local officials to ensure loyalty to Kondratenko. The extent or effectiveness of federal investigations of racial or ethnic provocations in Krasnodar is unknown. Nonetheless, the effect of Putin's regional reforms on such regions remains to be seen.
Despite legal registration, members of some religions, including some Protestant groups, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, continued to face discrimination in their ability to rent premises and conduct group activities (see Section I).
Occasionally opposition to the activities of religious groups came from other religious groups. For example, in July 1999, the Russian Orthodox Church diocese in Vladivostok asked the Primorskiy Kray prosecutor to examine the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and an offshoot group of Hare Krishnas. The diocese reportedly argued that the three groups were violating the religion law by using deceptive methods to recruit converts. Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church also have criticized publicly the Catholic Church for proselytizing in regions where residents have been traditionally Orthodox. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II charged in June 2000 that the Catholic Church was attempting to expand ist influence into Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. From time to time, the Russian Orthodox Church has criticized the press for what it called "antichurch publications," but stopped short of imposing any church sanctions against particular authors or editors. However, the Church appealed to authors of what it considered inaccurate accounts of church history to "realize the sinfulness of their evil deeds." Religious groups frequently complain of biased accounts in local press outlets. While the overall scope of the problem is difficult to gauge, both regional and national newspapers have published sensational, biased, or libelous articles criticizing nontraditional religions, such as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostals, the Church of Christ, and the Church of Scientology. According to Jehovah's Witnesses, a local Chelyabinsk television station broadcast prime time news reports in late 1999, accusing Jehovah's Witnesses of being an illegal organization of mentally ill persons who abuse children and possess nuclear and chemical weapons. Jehovah's Witnesses filed a libel suit, which was under way as of mid-2000. The defendants rejected an out-of-court settlement that would have permitted Jehovah's Witnesses a televised response to the programs. The court itself rejected a similar request by Jehovah's Witnesses.
As foreign or so-called nontraditional religions in the country continue to grow, many Russians, influenced by negative reports in the mass media and public criticism by Russian Orthodox Church officials and other influential figures, continue to exhibit hostility toward these "foreign sects." These sentiments apparently sparked occasional harassment and even physical attacks. For example, according to press reports, in August 1999, between 10 and 15 youths burst into a Moscow Hare Krishna temple, beat followers, and inflicted a severe head laceration on 1 person that require hospitalization. Mormons and Pentecostals have reported instances in which they may have been followed, harassed, and, in at least one case, physically struck. For example, on August 21, 1999, an anonymous bomb threat led to the evacuation of 15,000 persons attending a Jehovah's Witnesses convention in Moscow's Olympic Stadium (see Section I). There are believed to be more cases of such harassment than are reported. In several instances during 1999, local press outlets accused Scientologists, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses of espionage, brainwashing, and other activities that they believed to be harmful to citizens. A political commentator for the ORT network alleged in a November 1999 broadcast that Moscow mayor Luzhkov is a Scientologist as part of the station's effort to reduce Luzhkov's party's chances in the December 1999 Duma elections.
In an August 1999 conference on spirituality at Moscow State University, Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Patriarchate's public relations department, voiced the view that international human rights standards do not apply to Russia, because they are based on Western standards, which do not take into account Eastern tradition.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Mission has been active in encouraging respect for religious freedom. Throughout the period covered by this report, the Embassy in Moscow and the Consulates General in Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg, and Vladivostok were active in investigating reports of violations of religious freedom, including anti-Semitic incidents. Working-level U.S. Government officials engage a broad range of government officials, representatives of religious groups, and human rights activists on a daily basis. These contacts include: representatives of over 20 religious confessions; the Institute for Religion and Law; the Slavic Law and Justice Center; the Esther Legal Information Center; lawyers representing religious groups; journalists; academics; former and current government officials; and mainstream human rights activists long known for their commitment to religious freedom, such as Moscow Helsinki Group Chairman Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Father Gleb Yakunin, and former Duma Deputy Valeriy Borshchev.
The Embassy's political section uses a team approach to track religious issues, which involves the human rights officer, the rule-of-law officer, and the civil society officer (all of whose duties include religious affairs). This strategy allows the Embassy to offer a broad range of reporting and provide continuous coverage, even if one of the officers is absent. The Embassy's consular section, officers from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and representatives of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) regularly cooperate with the political section to gather information on religious freedom in the country. Embassy personnel of all sections and agencies travelling to the regions are encouraged to inquire into the local religious-freedom situation. Embassy officials at the chief of mission level discuss religious freedom with high-ranking officials in the Presidential Administration, the Government, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs approximately every 6 weeks, raising specific cases of concern. Federal officials have responded by investigating those cases and keeping embassy staff informed on issues they have raised. The Ambassador publicly criticized the attack on Jewish leader Leopold Kaymovskiy and the attempted bombing of the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue, calling on the Government to investigate these crimes vigorously. Embassy representatives maintained close contact with Jewish leaders throughout the aftermath of these two crises. After the attempted bombing, the Embassy's regional security officer also visited two other Lubavitcher synagogues to advise them on physical security. The Embassy closely followed and reported on the progress of the amendment to the 1997 religion law and related Constitutional Court rulings.
The Embassy and consulates also approach local officials at the working-level on individual religious freedom cases. For example, the Embassy played a role in resolving registration problems of two religious groups in Samara and Tatarstan, and is maintaining contact with Tatarstan authorities in an effort to resolve a third case. The Embassy and consulates also repeatedly have investigated and raised with federal and local authorities problems experienced by individual missionaries, including the refusal of Russian visas and registrations. As implementation of the 1997 religion law continues, the Embassy maintains semiweekly contact with working-level officials at the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In May 2000, an Embassy official attended a 4-day religion law seminar hosted by the Russian State Academy for Public Service, consulted with Russian and foreign religion law experts on the seminar results, and met with representatives of religious groups at a subsequent briefing organized by the Esther Legal Information Center.
In Washington as well as in Russia, the U.S. Government urges adherence to international standards of religious liberty in the Russian Federation. Officials in the State Department regularly meet with human rights groups and religious organizations concerned about religious tolerance in Russia. The Office of International Religious Freedom, headed by Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Robert Seiple, has met with numerous visiting Russian officials, as well as with delegations representing various Russian religious groups. The 1997 law on religious freedom has been the subject of numerous high-level communications between representatives of the U.S. and Russian Governments, involving the President, the Vice President, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and other senior U.S. officials. For example, at the U.S.-Russia Summit held in Moscow on June 10-11, 2000, President Clinton discussed religious freedom in Russia in his meetings with President Putin and other government officials. On September 14, 1999, Ambassador-at-Large Stephen Sestanovich, Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States, co-chaired a roundtable meeting with representatives of religious communities at the State Department, together with Senator Gordon Smith, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Robert Seiple, and National Security Council Senior Director Carlos Pascual. On April 13, 2000, Ambassador Sestanovich co-chaired another roundtable discussion on religious freedom in Russia with Senator Smith, Ambassador Seiple, and NSC Senior Director Mark Medish. On May 22, 2000, in compliance with Section 567 of the fiscal year 2000 Foreign Operations Act, the Acting Secretary of State made a determination that the central authorities in Russia did not implement the law on religion in a manner intended to restrict the religious liberty of minority faiths. However, in the report to Congress that accompanied the Acting Secretary's determination, he noted that some local officials have used the 1997 law to restrict citizens' rights.
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
© U.S. Department of State