Religious Freedom
10/26/2001
2001 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom: Russia (Part 1)
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Although the Constitution also provides for the equality of all religions before the law and for the separation of church and state, in practice the Government does not always respect the provision for equality of religions.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Although the Constitution also provides for the equality of all religions before the law and for the separation of church and state, in practice the Government does not always respect the provision for equality of religions.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Local authorities continued to restrict the rights of some religious minorities in some regions. Despite court decisions which liberalized its interpretation, the complex 1997 "Law on Religion," which replaced a more generous 1990 law, seriously disadvantages religious groups that are new to the country by making it difficult for them to register as religious organizations, and thus obtain the status of juridical person, which includes the right to establish bank accounts, own property, issue invitations to foreign guests, publish literature, and conduct worship services in prisons and state-owned hospitals. However, individuals affiliated with unregistered faiths are entitled to rent facilities where religious services can be held.

The Ministry of Justice reported that as of January 31, 2001, more than 20,215 organizations had sought registration or reregistration, and 2095 of these faced the possibility of "liquidation," i.e. deprivation of juridical status. These included large numbers of Muslim congregations, as well as local congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Salvation Army, the Church of Scientology, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), most of which had officially registered national organizations. There were reports that by May 2001 around 100 organizations had been liquidated. The Ministry of Justice stated that most of these were defunct, but religious minority denominations and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) noted that a number were active and had attempted to reregister. Some of these cases involving active groups were being contested in court as of the end of the period covered by this report.

Contradictions between federal and local law in some regions, and varying interpretations of the law, provide regional officials with pretexts to restrict the activities of religious minorities. Discriminatory practices at the local level are also attributable to the relatively greater susceptibility of local governments to lobbying by majority religions, as well as to discriminatory attitudes that are held widely in society. President Vladimir Putin's articulated desire for greater centralization of power and strengthened rule of law led to some improvements in the area of religious freedom in the regions.

Over the last 2 years there have been indications of a growing convergence between the Russian Orthodox Church and the State. The Church has entered into a number of agreements, some formal, others informal, with government ministries on such matters as guidelines for public education, religious training for government employees and military personnel, and, in certain cases, law enforcement and customs decisions, that appear to give it a preferred position. There is evidence that the Procurator General has encouraged local prosecutors to challenge the registration and reregistration of some non-traditional religious groups. In a number of such cases, local courts have upheld the right of non-traditional groups to register or reregister.

The authorities forcibly hospitalized a Unification Church member in a psychiatric ward for 9 days while they attempted to gather evidence against the group. There were isolated instances in which local officials detained individuals engaged in public discussion of their religious views.

While religious matters are not a source of societal hostility for most citizens, relations between different religious organizations are frequently tense, particularly at the leadership level, and there continue to be instances of religiously motivated violence. Popular attitudes toward Muslims are negative in many regions, and there are manifestations of anti-Semitism as well as societal hostility toward newer, non-Orthodox, religions.

The U.S. Government has continued to engage the Government, a number of religious denominations and groups, NGO's, and others in a steady dialog on religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of about 6.5 million square miles and its population is approximately 147.5 million.

There are no reliable statistics that break down the country's population by denomination. Available information suggests that slightly more than half of all inhabitants consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians, although the vast majority are not regular churchgoers. In an opinion poll conducted in February 2000 and published in the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty on April 26, 2000, 54 percent of the respondents (of an unknown total number) stated that they were Russian Orthodox, 3 percent Muslims, 0.4 percent Catholic, 0.3 percent Jewish, 1 percent "other religions," and 39 percent atheist or agnostic. However, these statistics do not reflect the considerable growth in the numbers of Protestant believers, many of whose congregations are unregistered. By some estimates, Protestants constitute the third largest group of believers after Orthodox Christians and Muslims. An estimated 600,000 to one million Jews remain in Russia (0.5 percent of the total population) following large-scale emigration over the last two decades. The vast majority of Jews, about 80 percent, live in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

The Ministry of Justice reports that as of the end of January 2001, approximately 18,130 organizations were registered or reregistered, compared with approximately 16,000 in 1987. The number of groups reregistered at that time of the Ministry of Justice report was as follows: Russian Orthodox Church 7,910 groups, Autonomous Russian Orthodox Church 37, Russian Orthodox Church Abroad 20, Ukrainian Orthodox Church 8, Old Believer 171, Roman Catholic 205, Armenian Apostolic 29, Muslim 2,610, Buddhist 110, Jewish 100, Baptist 672, Pentecostal 518, Seventh-Day Adventist 305, Lutheran 167, Apostolic 61, Methodist 53, Presbyterian 107, Anglican 1, Jehovah's Witnesses 203, Salvation Army 4, Mormons 14, Krishna 71, Baha'i 16, Unification Church 2. In addition, 4,739 organizations, which may include both new affiliates of the denominations listed above or new organizations, registered for the first time.

The number of registered religious organizations does not reflect the entire demography of religious believers. For example, as a result of a number of problems related to both intraconfessional disputes and poor administrative procedures on the part of local authorities, an estimated 500 to several thousand Muslim organizations remain unregistered. The registration figures probably also underestimate the number of Pentecostal believers. New Pentecostal organizations are being formed rapidly, and unofficial estimates suggest that there are between 1,500 and 2,000 Pentecostal congregations nationwide, many of which are unregistered. In addition to those listed, the Unification Church has at least 28 other organizations that it is unable to register.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, although the Constitution also provides for the equality of all religions before the law and the separation of church and state, in practice the Government does not always respect the provision for equality of religions.

In 1990, the Soviet Government adopted a law on religious freedom designed to make all religions equal before the law. (After the breakup of the Soviet Union, this law became part of the Russian Federation's legal code.) The 1990 law forbade government interference in religion and established simple registration procedures for religious groups. Registration of religious groups was not required, but groups could obtain a number of advantages by registering, such as the ability to establish official places of worship or benefit from tax exemptions. The 1990 Religion Law helped facilitate a revival of religious activity.

In October 1997, the Duma enacted and then-President Boris Yeltsin signed, a new, restrictive, and potentially discriminatory law on religion. The 1997 Religion Law ostensibly targeted so-called "totalitarian sects" or dangerous religious "cults." However, the intent of some of the law's sponsors appears to have been to discriminate against members of foreign and less well-established religions by making it difficult for them to manifest their beliefs through organized religious institutions.

The 1997 Law on Religion is very complex, with many ambiguous and contradictory provisions. It creates various categories of religious communities with differing levels of legal status and privileges. The law distinguishes between religious "groups" and "organizations," and creates two categories of organizations: "regional" and "centralized." A religious "group" is a congregation of worshipers that is not registered and consequently does not have the legal status of a juridical person--it may not open a bank account, own property, issue invitations to foreign guests, publish literature, or conduct worship services in prisons and state-owned hospitals. A "group" does not enjoy tax benefits and other rights extended to religious organizations, such as the right of its members to proselytize. The law does not purport to abridge the rights of individual members of groups in other respects. For example, a member of a religious group can buy property for the group's use, invite personal guests to engage in religious instruction, and import religious material. Groups are permitted to rent public spaces and hold services. Nonetheless, in practice, groups that are not registered encounter formidable difficulty in achieving these rights.

The 1997 law provided that local congregations that had existed for 15 years were eligible for registration as local "organizations." A "centralized religious organization" can be founded by a confession that has 3 functioning local "organizations" (each of which must have at least 10 members who are citizens) in different regions. A centralized organization has the right to establish affiliated local organizations without adhering to the 15-year rule. In implementing this provision, the Government has extended this definition to include a "registered centralized managing center." Among the law's most controversial provisions are those that limit the rights, activities, and status of religious "groups" existing in the country for less than 15 years and require that religious groups exist for 15 years before they can qualify for "organization" status.

Implementation of the 1997 law has been a source of concern for many religious minorities, especially those based outside the country. Groups that did not manage to register under the old law or groups that are new to the country are severely hindered in their ability to practice their faith. However, for those that were registered before the passage of the 1997 law, the situation is somewhat better. The Constitutional Court's November 1999 ruling effectively "grandfathered in" a number of religious organizations that were registered at the time the 1997 law was passed but could not prove 15 years of operation in Russia.

In practice the registration process, which involves simultaneous registration at both the federal and local levels, has proven to be onerous for a number of confessions, because it requires considerable time, effort, and legal expense. International and well-funded domestic religious organizations, in particular, began the reregistration process soon after publication of the regulations governing reregistration. However, other religious groups faced significant problems in registration and reregistration, and local officials refused to register some groups.

Officials of the Presidential Administration, the regions, and localities have established consultative mechanisms to facilitate government interaction with religious communities and to monitor application of the Law on Religion. Groups interact with a special governmental interministerial commission on religion, which includes representatives from law enforcement bodies, on matters involving implementation of the laws and similar questions. On broader policy questions, religious groups interact with a special department within the Presidential Administration's Directorate for Domestic Policy. Nevertheless, as a result of the lack of specific guidance on how to apply the 1997 law correctly and the shortage of knowledgeable local officials, registering before the December 31, 2000, deadline was a significant obstacle for a number of religious bodies, which are either subject to liquidation or have been liquidated.

According to Ministry of Justice figures published in May 2001, approximately 18,130 organizations were reregistered or registered anew, while 2,095 (10 percent of 20,215) organizations are subject to liquidation (elimination of legal status as a juridical person). This represents an increase of over 1200 organizations officially registered since the 1997 religion law went into effect. Ministry of Justice officials estimate that as of May 2001, nearly 100 organizations have been liquidated through court proceedings. The majority of such organizations may exist on paper only. However, some of them appear to have been liquidated after repeated attempts to register with the local branch of the Ministry of Justice failed.

Religious groups also can work through a Presidential Council on Cooperation with Religious Organizations, composed of members of the Presidential Administration, secular academics who are specialists on religious affairs, and representatives of religious denominations making up the majority of believers in the country. In March 2000, the Government announced that the Council had been reorganized, reduced in size, and its membership changed. All government officials who previously held positions on the Council, other than those representing the Presidential Administration, lost their seats. Religious denominations also lost several seats, and in some cases groups that had previously had several representatives were reduced to only one. This reorganization was criticized by some groups. For example, longtime Council member Rabbi Adolf Shayevich of the Moscow Choral Synagogue lost his seat to his rival Rabbi Berel Lazar of the Moscow Lubavitch community, who has tended not to criticize the Russian Government under Putin; this led to allegations of government favoritism and politically motivated interference in the affairs of the Jewish community. Other groups such as Pentecostals, which have several large umbrella organizations, were allowed only one representative as well. Some NGO's have alleged that the prominent role of members of the Presidential Administration in the Council's activities gives the Council a greater influence with the Ministry of Justice on registering some religious groups than those implied in its mandated advisory role.

Religious groups also can interact with the authorities through the offices of the new Plenipotentiary Presidential District Representatives (PolPreds) of the seven newly formed districts of the Russian Federation. In the administrative structures of at least some of the Polpreds, offices have been designated to deal with social and religious issues. There is also a department of religious affairs in each regional administration and in many municipal administrations. However, it is at the regional and municipal level that religious minorities often encounter the greatest problems.

The office of Russian Federation Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov set up a department dedicated to religious freedom issues. This department receives numerous complaints from individuals and groups about infringement of religious freedom. Mironov has criticized the 1997 Religion Law publicly on many occasions and recommended changes to bring it into accordance with international standards and with the Constitution. He also lobbied President Putin unsuccessfully to extend the deadline for reregistration. Nevertheless, some argue that these efforts come too late for organizations facing liquidation, since the deadline for reregistration expired December 31, 2000.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Among the Law on Religion's most controversial provisions are those that limit the rights, activities, and status of religious "groups" existing in the country for less than 15 years and require that religious groups exist for 15 years before they can qualify for "organization" status. These articles may violate the Constitution's provision of equality before the law of all religious confessions.

The cases of a Khakasiya Pentecostal church and the Yaroslavl Jehovah's Witnesses formed the basis of a constitutional challenge to the Law on Religion filed with the Constitutional Court in May 1998 by the Institute for Religion and Law, an NGO. The petitioners claimed that the provision of the law requiring religious organizations to prove 15 years of existence in the country in order to register is unconstitutional. In a November 1999 hearing, the Constitutional Court upheld the 15-year provision, but also ruled that religious organizations registered before the passage of the 1997 law need not meet the 15-year requirement in order to registered.

However, this ruling does not enable independent churches with less than 15 years in the country to register as religious organizations unless they were registered before the passage of the law or affiliate themselves with existing centralized organizations. The Institute for Religion and Law and other NGO's note that this is a significant restriction for small independent religious communities and foreign-based "new religions," such as the Church of Scientology. Also, some domestic human rights activists are concerned by language in the ruling that cites 1993 and 1996 decisions in the European Court of Human Rights regarding religious sects, and upholds the right of the Government to place certain limits on the activity of religious groups in the interests of national security. The Security Council adopted a National Security Concept in the spring of 2000 that includes a specific warning on the allegedly negative impact of foreign missionary activity.

Despite the Federal Government's efforts to implement the 1997 Religion Law liberally and to provide assurances that religious freedom would be observed, restrictions continue at the local level. The vagueness of the law and regulations, the contradictions between federal and local law, and varying interpretations provide regional officials with a pretext for restricting the activities of religious minorities. Discriminatory practices at the local level are partly attributable to the decentralization of power that occurred during the Yeltsin era. They are also due to the relatively greater susceptibility of local governments to lobbying by majority religions and discriminatory attitudes that are held widely in society. However, under the Putin Administration, the Government has attempted to rectify this situation to some degree by introducing measures to strengthen the center in its relations with the regions. As part of this effort, President Putin divided the country into seven districts overseen by the Polpreds and introduced a federal register to ensure that local legislation conforms to the Federation's Constitution and federal laws.

Since 1994, 33 of the country's 89 regional governments have passed laws and decrees intended to restrict the activities of religious groups. In May 2001, the Ministry of Justice reported that these 33 regions passed 50 regional laws and other legislative bills relating to freedom of religion. The Ministry determined that 35 of these were unconstitutional or not in conformity with federal legislation. The Federal Government was not able to challenge effectively the unconstitutionality of these restrictions before the advent of the Putin administration, although under President Yeltsin it sent warnings to 30 regions regarding the unconstitutionality of local laws concerning religion. In 2000 and the first half of 2001, regional administrations have been required to register local laws, a procedure that ensures that they are in accordance with federal legislation. This process of centralization and coordination of authority was continuing as of the end of the period covered by this report. As of the end of May 2001, 6 of the 35 laws were rescinded, and 8 were brought into conformance with federal law. The Federal Government is able to work through the Procurator, Minister of Justice, Presidential Administration, and the courts to force regions to comply with federal law. The Government also has become more active in preventing or reversing discriminatory actions taken at the local level by more actively disseminating information to the regions and, when necessary, reprimanding the officials at fault. For example, the Presidential Academy of State Service has actively worked with religious freedom advocates such as the Slavic Center for Law and Justice to train regional and municipal officials in properly implementing the law.

Implementation of the 1997 law has been a source of concern by many religious minorities, especially those based outside the country. Groups that did not manage to register under the old law or groups that are new to the country are severely hindered in their ability to practice their faith. However, for those that were registered before passage of the 1997 law, the situation is somewhat better. The Constitutional Court's November 1999 ruling effectively "grandfathered in" a number of religious organizations that were registered at the time the 1997 law was passed but could not prove 15 years of operation in Russia. For example, in the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, the 15 year rule no longer prevented the registration of newly created local Jehovah's Witnesses religious organizations, nor reregistration of organizations which were registered at the time of implementation of the 1997 law, but which were less than 15 years old.

In practice the registration process, which involves simultaneous registration at both the federal and local levels, has proven onerous for a number of confessions; it requires considerable time, effort, and legal expense. International and well-funded domestic religious organizations, in particular, began the reregistration process soon after publication of the regulations governing reregistration. Russian Pentecostal groups, which have a solid and growing network of churches throughout the country, sought guidance from the Ministry of Justice on reregistration as early as November 1997. However, a large number of Pentecostal parishes (by some estimates up to 500) remain unregistered. This is partially because some congregations refuse to register out of philosophical convictions. In many other cases, local officials, sometimes prejudiced by close relations with local Russian Orthodox officials, have refused to register Pentecostal and other non-Orthodox organizations.

According to NGO and media reports and government officials, registration of Muslim religious organizations proceeded slowly, leaving many local religious organizations unable to reregister before the December 31, 2000, deadline. The process was complicated by irregularities in registration in some Muslim regions like Bashkortostan and Dagestan, which required federal intervention. An intraconfessional conflict between rival Muslim groups exacerbated the situation. A struggle between the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims in European Russia and Siberia, based in Ufa and led by Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin, and the Moscow-based Russian Council of Muftis, led by Chief Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, appears to have hindered reregistration efforts by Muslim organizations. According to the Ministry of Justice, only 2,610 Muslim organizations had reregistered by May 2001, a decrease of nearly 400 registered organizations compared to 1997. The mutual accusations of "Wahhabism" by the two groups have complicated matters, since this pejorative label (as used in Russia) may have had a detrimental affect on reregistration in certain regions and has made local ethnic Russians more wary of Muslim religious organizations. (The word "Wahhabi" refers to a Sunni branch of Islam that has become a pejorative term in Russia because of persistent allegations that "Wahhabi extremism" is to blame for terrorist attacks linked to the war in Chechnya.) Recognizing the scope of the problem, federal officials have directed that local branches of the Ministry of Justice refrain from liquidating Muslim organizations until the problem can be resolved. The implication is that those organizations that did not manage to reregister are expected to be able to do so even though the deadline passed several months ago. However, according to an April 11, 2000, report by Keston News Service, Kabardino-Balkariya authorities have liquidated 37 Muslim organizations that failed to submit documents for reregistration. Keston News Service also reported in April that the Kabardino-Balkaria regional parliament had passed a law banning extremist religious activities that was aimed primarily at "Wahhabism." A similar ban exists in Dagestan.

On November 24, 2000, Keston news service reported that the Federal Security Service (FSB) provided information to local newspapers in Kostroma to discredit the pastor of a local Pentecostal Church involved in litigation over its impending liquidation. Despite the fact that the articles appeared before the court process began, the Church won its court case.

The Church of Scientology has experienced many problems with both registration and harassment from the authorities.

It was registered as a religious organization only in Moscow in 1994. Despite repeated attempts to reregister this organization in Moscow, the Moscow office of the Ministry of Justice reconsidered reregistering the organization only after many refusals and a December 2000 court ruling. However, the Ministry, having consulted with the Procurator, decided to challenge the court's decision. As a result, the Church is still not reregistered and faces liquidation.

In its preamble (which government officials insist has no legal standing), the 1997 Religion Law recognizes the "special contribution of Orthodoxy to the history of Russia and to the establishment and development of Russia's spirituality and culture." It accords "respect" to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and certain other religions as an inseparable part of the country's historical heritage. Many citizens firmly believe that at least nominal adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church is at the heart of what it means to be Russian. This belief appears to have manifested itself in a church-state relationship that is detrimental to non-Orthodox denominations.

Under the 1997 Religion Law, representative offices of foreign religious organizations are required to register with state authorities. They are barred from conducting liturgical services and other religious activity unless they have acquired the status of a group or organization. Although the law officially requires all foreign religious organizations to register, in practice foreign religious representatives' offices (those not registered under law) have opened without registering or have been accredited to a registered religious organization. However, those offices cannot carry out religious activities and do not have the status of a religious "organization."

The Russian Orthodox Church has made special arrangements with government agencies to conduct religious education and to provide spiritual counseling. Although other denominations, such as Protestant groups, have been granted access to military personnel, it is on a much more limited basis than that accorded to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church has signed agreements with the Ministries of Education, Defense, Health, Interior, and the Tax Ministry over the last year. The details of these agreements are far from transparent, but from the information available the Church appears to be accorded preferential treatment over other denominations by these ministries.

Deputy Minister of Education Chepurnykh sent out a letter July 12, 2000, to all institutions of higher education warning of the threat from certain Western religious groups termed "extremist and destructive" and accusing the West of trying to undermine citizens by introducing "Western values" into education. Among the "cults" mentioned in the letter are Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, and the Mormons. The arguments in the letter echo statements made by Church officials including Patriarch Aleksiy II, who was reported on a December 20, 2000, television program as saying that the Russian Orthodox Church was concerned by the flood of various "cults" into Russia and by "pseudomissionaries." The Patriarch declared that, "certain forces want Satanists and other cults on our land, who employ psychotropic methods of hypnosis and steal the souls of our fellow countrymen." When the contents of the Ministry of Education letter became public, numerous minority denominations and NGO's protested. The Keston Institute on November 17, 2000 reported that its correspondent received mixed responses from Ministry of Education officials. One official reportedly said that the Deputy Minister's letter contained "incorrect formulations," while another official vigorously defended it and claimed that foreign "cults" were behind a wave of ritual killings in schools and that "something had to be done about it."

During a December 26, 2000, press conference, Lev Levinson, a Moscow Atheist Society representative and legislative aide to Duma deputy Sergey Kovalev, complained that the principle of secular education, guaranteed in the Constitution, has eroded. Levinson complained that in Belgorod school children take Bible study as a compulsory subject. Levinson said that even more troubling to him was that bureaucrats improperly transfer funds to the Orthodox Church. He cited as an example the cases of Moscow municipal authorities in Novo Kosinskaya and Ivanovskaya districts who reportedly contributed about $1,379 (40,000 rubles) toward construction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Public statements by government officials and anecdotal evidence from religious minority groups suggest that the Russian Orthodox Church, in some cases may enjoy a status that approaches official. For example, religious minority groups based abroad have complained that customs officials at times have forwarded religious literature to the Russian Orthodox Church before approving its entry into the country. On October 6, 2000, NTV reported that then-Minister of Interior Rushaylo told a group that he was worried about the spread of various religious "cults" in Russia. He said that his ministry works closely with the Russian Orthodox Church in the interest of spiritual education and strengthening the moral fiber of Ministry of Interior personnel. Rushaylo admitted that relations with the Orthodox Church were much better than with Muslims, most likely because of the absence of a clear hierarchical structure in the organizations of the latter.

On October 17, 2000, NTV reported that the PolPred for the Urals region, Petr Latyshev, called for "strategic coordination" between the Russian Orthodox Church and the State on the basis of the Constitution and laws. Latyshev added that while all "traditional religious denominations" enjoy equal rights before the law, "we should admit that in our state Orthodoxy was and remains the foundation. We will resist any foreign spiritual expansion, taking every measure to help Orthodoxy without infringing on the rights of traditional religions." The Web site, "strana.ru," reported on December 18, 2000, that Latyshev had signed agreements, the first between a PolPred and the Church, with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy in Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg, Tobolsk, and Kurgan. In addition, the Southern regional PolPred, Viktor Kazantsev, has espoused publicly positions reflecting discrimination against certain non-Orthodox denominations. For example, the Stavropol newspaper Verst reported April 10, 2001 that Kazantsev asked the Russian Orthodox Church for help in fighting so-called "cults." In the article, Kazantsev complained that Mormons are taking over the Volgograd region, as are Krishnas in Cherkessya, Satanists and Pagan cults in Dagestan, Protestants in Kalmykiya, and Jehovah's Witnesses in Krasnodar and Stavropol. Kazantsev said, "We need to recognize without giving offense that the Russian State is primarily Orthodox, and we should behave accordingly." At the request of the Church, Kazantsev offered to help institute a course in public schools on Orthodoxy by the next school year.

NTV reported on October 29, 2000, that Minister of Tax Genadiy Bukayev and Patriarch Aleksiy II signed a cooperation agreement between the Tax Ministry and the Church. According to the agreement, "The parties will work together in preparing and conducting seminars and consultations on the most significant questions of taxation of religious organizations and in developing and executing a program in the socio-cultural sphere." On November 28, 2000, Tass news service reported that Rushaylo told a group of representatives from religious groups in Novosibirsk that there was a need to "neutralize sects preaching religious extremism." Rushaylo blamed so-called "Wahhabism" for initiating the conflict in Dagestan and Chechnya and called for "consolidating cooperation between law enforcement bodies and various religious confessions to tackle jointly prevention of religious extremism in Russia."

The Procurator General has been criticized by human rights activists and religious minority denominations for encouraging legal action against some minority religions and recommending, as authoritative, reference materials that are biased against Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and others. In correspondence with the public and government officials from other ministries, the Procurator has recommended literature that is extremely biased and is published by the Russian Orthodox Church. For example, in a letter to the Chelyabinsk Human Rights Ombudsman that came to light during a recent trial, the procurator's office responded to a request for information about Jehovah's Witnesses by recommending a publication by the Missionary Section of the Russian Orthodox Church entitled "New Religious Organizations in Russia of a Destructive and Occult Nature." In addition, the Procurator has distributed a 1999 manual entitled "Activities of Religious Groups. Psychological and Juridical Aspects: Informational Resource Work for Procurator Personnel," to all regional branches of the procuracy. The manual contains biased descriptions of groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, the Unification Church, and Scientology. Also, the manual appears to provide instructions on how to generate criminal cases against these groups, including sample letters from distraught parents of members of these denominations. After Duma deputy Sergey Kovalev lodged a formal complaint to the Procurator General, a copy of an internal expert analysis was forwarded in response. In the opinion of the Procurator's expert panel, "the authors of the manual in no way instigate religious strife," but rather direct procurator personnel to implement the law on freedom of conscience precisely and correctly."

According to Ministry of Justice figures in May 2001, approximately 18,130 organizations were reregistered or registered anew, while 2,095 (10 percent of 20,215) organizations are subject to liquidation (elimination of legal status as a juridical person). This represents an increase of over 1200 organizations officially registered since the 1997 religion law went into effect. Ministry of Justice officials estimate that as of May 2001, nearly 100 organizations have been liquidated through court proceedings. The majority of such organizations may exist on paper only. However, some of them appear to have been liquidated after the failure of repeated attempts to register with the local branch of the Ministry of Justice. The "Victory of Faith" Pentecostal church in Amursk (Khaborovsk region), for example, was liquidated after repeated attempts to reregister. The local branch of the Ministry of Justice issued a January 25 order to initiate liquidation proceedings, indicating that local authorities ignored oral instructions from federal officials to refrain from initiating liquidation proceedings until February. Eleven affiliated churches that fell under the "Victory of Faith" local religious organization were affected by the liquidation. Church officials and religious freedom advocates claim that the head of the Khabarovsk administration Department of Religion engaged in a campaign against the region's Pentecostals, hindering the church's registration efforts and harassing visiting foreign missionaries with frivolous bureaucratic exercises, such as unnecessary document checks and challenges to valid visas, in an attempt to discourage missionaries from staying in the region. As of end of the period covered by this report, it was unclear whether federal officials would intervene.
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
© U.S. Department of State