Sending Office: Honorable Juan Vargas
International Religious Freedom Caucus Briefing
The Growing Threat to Religious Freedom in Russia
December 14th, 2017
12:00 – 2:00 pm
The International Religious Freedom Caucus and the International Religious Freedom Roundtable invite you to attend a joint briefing to discuss the growing threat to religious freedom due to the misuse of anti-extremism and terrorism laws in Russia.
While the Russian Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to practice the religion of their choice, the government is systematically using the 2002 Extremism Law to seize and censor peaceful religious scriptures, arrest and detain members of targeted
minority faiths and initiate proceedings to liquidate and shut down these religious organizations. Further, a package of amendments known as the Yarovaya Law, passed in July 2016 for the purpose of combatting terrorism, significantly enhanced the scope and
penalties of the religion and anti-extremism laws.
Any religious speech or activity not explicitly sanctioned by the authorities now has the potential to be criminalized with punishment such as imprisonment, fines, or even bans on professional employment.
In its 2017 Annual Report, USCIRF reported that at least 53 individuals or organizations had been prosecuted; of which 43 were non-Orthodox Christian groups. Thirty-four convictions have resulted, including substantial fines for activities as varied as conducting
baptisms to advertising prayer groups online to singing Hare Krishna songs.
Earlier this year, the government declared as “extremist” and outlawed the Jehovah’s Witnesses—the first time Russia has banned a centralized religious organization, effectively criminalizing all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activity and clearing the way for the
government to seize their assets and property nationwide. And as the Supreme Court was ruling against the Witnesses, Russia’s Federal Security Bureau was targeting, arresting, detaining and interrogating five Scientologist leaders, alleging crimes related
to “commercial activity” and “extremism.” Further, innocent Muslims were tried on fabricated charges of terrorism and extremism. Meanwhile, even American citizens and NGOs have been treated unfairly in the court of law as well as been deported for their “religious
activities” within the country.
For the first time, USCIRF has determined that Russia merits designation as a “country of particular concern”.
Panelists will assess the status of religious freedom in Russia, as well as the tactics used by the government to oppress religious minorities. We will also ask how the United States can engage more effectively to hold Russia accountable for their human
- Archbishop Andrew & Mr. Alexander Soldatov, Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America
- Anastasiia Aseeva, Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union
- Lauren Homer, Law and Liberty Trust
Member of Congress
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