Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Critics continue to identify several aspects of the 1997 Law on the grounds that it provided a legal basis for actions restricting religious freedom. In particular, they criticized the provisions requiring organizations to reregister, establishing procedures for their dissolution, and allowing the Government to ban religious organizations. Critics also cited provisions that not only limit the rights of religious "groups" but also require that religious groups exist for fifteen years before they can qualify for "organization" status. Although the situation was somewhat better for groups that were registered before 1997, new groups were sometimes hindered in their ability to practice their faith. The federal government has attempted to apply the 1997 Law in a liberal fashion, and critics directed most of their allegations of restrictive practices at local officials. Implementation of the 1997 Law varied widely, depending on the attitude of local offices of the MOJ (responsible for registration, dissolution, and bans).
In February 2004 the Procuracy of Moscow's Northern Circuit banned the local organization of Jehovah's Witnesses on the grounds that it was a "threat to society," a basis for banning under the 1997 Law. Unlike dissolution, which involves only the loss of juridical status, a ban prohibits all of the activities of a religious community. In June 2004 a ban on all organized activity by Moscow's 10,000 members of Jehovah's Witnesses took effect, marking one of the first times that such a ban had been implemented under the 1997 Law. Jehovah's Witnesses appealed the ruling, and although the judge admitted that members did not incite violent religious hatred, he accused the organization of "forcing families to disintegrate, violating the equal rights of parents in the upbringing of their children, violating the constitution and freedom of conscience, encouraging suicide, and inciting citizens to refuse both military and alternative service." In May 2005 authorities advised the Witnesses by telephone that the Presidium of the Moscow City Court had dismissed a subsequent appeal, although by the end of the reporting period, authorities had not sent official documentation of the dismissal or an explanation of its grounds. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was considering their appeal, which was submitted in 2004. The ban, although applying only to Moscow, has had nationwide ramifications for the 133,000 Jehovah's Witnesses practicing in the country.
After the 2004 Moscow banning decisions, many local congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the country reported that landlords had cancelled rental contracts on their buildings or were threatening to do so. During the reporting period, the Witnesses reported a problem similar to their June 2004 attempts to find a suitably large venue in Sochi, when a landlord denied access to a meeting venue after FSB pressure but later reversed the denial. In Moscow Oblast, which is a separate jurisdiction from the city of Moscow, the Witnesses reported a hotel conference center, a cinema, and a cultural center, each of which previously had been used by congregations of Witnesses, cancelled their leases.
Some landlords outside of the city of Moscow appeared to believe that the Moscow ban obligated them to cancel rental contracts with the Witnesses, as seen by incidents in 2005 in Roshchino (Leningrad Oblast), Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk,
Khabarovsk, and Ufa, where authorities disrupted or prevented assemblies. For example, in March 2005, reportedly under pressure from his superiors, the Director of the Palace of Culture in the village of Roshchino forced a group of Witnesses to change the venue of a religious celebration scheduled in the palace.
In some cases the Witnesses reported that authorities consulted with the ROC to determine whether to approve their requests. The Witnesses report that Father Valeriy of the Arkhangelsk Orthodox Diocese exerted pressure on Archangelsk authorities to prevent the Witnesses from holding a district convention scheduled for August 2005 similar to the Church's influence in Vladimir in 2004, in which venue use depended on approval from a local Russian Orthodox priest.
In April 2005, the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court dismissed the claim filed by the city prosecutor to declare invalid the registration of the local Witnesses' organization's title to the unfinished Kingdom Hall in that city. The Witnesses subsequently finished construction of the building and were able to use it for religious services. In February 2006 an internet agency, Regions.Ru, claimed that a group affiliated with the Yekaterinburg ROC diocese asked the court to ban Jehovah's Witnesses, a "totalitarian cult," because of "their destructive activities." In August 2005 the regional internet agency, UralPolit.Ru, reported that the Yekaterinburg ROC diocese was taking the Jehovah's Witnesses to court, seeking a ban, as "what already happened to them in Moscow." Nevertheless, the Jehovah's Witnesses in Yekaterinburg continued their activities as usual.
In April 2006 the news agency Kurskcity.ru published an article referring to the Moscow ban as an example to be followed and claiming that authorities could ban the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Kursk. The article added that the Kursk City Council would discuss Jehovah's Witnesses harassment of citizens.
The Witnesses won appeals to overturn dissolution orders that lower courts issued as in November 2004, in Primorskiy Kray, and in October 2004, in Tatarstan. Jehovah's Witnesses cited five child custody cases in which courts have reportedly discriminated against their religion and in which the banning played a role. A court in Primorskiy Kray cited the Moscow ban in reversing a lower court's decision to award custody of a child to its mother, a member of Jehovah's Witnesses. In August 2004 the judge in a child custody case reportedly wrote to the Moscow court that ordered the banning of the Witnesses to request a copy of its decision. In November 2004 the father in a child custody case referred to the Moscow banning decision as one of the factors supporting his claim for custody. Some cases were resolved in favor of the Jehovah's Witnesses mother.
In May 2004 the Civil Law Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld the decision of the Bashkortostan Supreme Court, which upheld in March 2004 a previous ruling against the local Church of Scientology Dianetics Center for conducting illegal medical and educational activities and of "harming people." Officials closed down the initial Ufa center, but the Scientologists formed a parallel Dianetics Center, which was operating openly; however, the negative publicity and the local prosecutor's ongoing investigation led to a semi-underground existence.
There was no progress in the investigation of the January 2004 explosion in a building belonging to a congregation of unregistered Baptists (also called "Initsiativniki") in Tula. Anonymous threats caused the Tula Baptist community to believe the explosion was a terrorist attack, while local law enforcement authorities attributed a gas leak, although a gas company inspection reported no evidence of a gas leak. The authorities have long been suspicious of the Initsiativniki, whose complete refusal to cooperate with the Soviet authorities led to their split in 1961 from the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists.
Some human rights groups and religious minorities accused the Procurator General of encouraging legal action against a number of minority religions and for giving official support to materials that are biased against Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, the LDS Church, and others. There were credible reports that supporters of the ROC within the federal security services and other law enforcement agencies harassed certain minority religious groups, investigated them for purported criminal activity and violations of tax laws, and pressured landlords to renege on contracts. In some cases the security services were thought to have influenced the MOJ to reject registration applications.
Forum 18 reported that the FSB had summoned the leadership of an Old Believers' community in February 2004 to indicate the FSB's preference for a particular candidate for church leadership who lost the election. There were no reports of further FSB contact with the group.
Some religious personnel experienced visa and customs difficulties while entering or leaving the country, although such problems appeared to be decreasing for some groups. Authorities either deported or denied entry to several religious workers with valid visas during the period covered by this report, such as the January 9, 2006, deportation of the founder and legal/spiritual advisor of the Unification Church in Moscow, who may not reapply for a visa for five years, despite having lived in the country since 1990. During the previous reporting period, the Forum 18 news service reported that there were fifty-five cases of foreign religious workers of various religious groups who had been barred since 1998.
In March 2005 the Government denied entry to high-ranking British and Danish Salvation Army officials, Major Robert Garrard and Colonel Karl Lydholm, respectively, who sought to attend a church congress. In explaining its decision to deny entry, the Moscow city branch of the federal MVD cited the provision of law under which foreigners may be denied entry "in the interests of state security."
Visa problems appeared to decrease for some groups during the reporting period. Several groups, including the LDS and Roman Catholic churches, reported that the FSB issued most of their clergy one-year visas. Foreign religious workers without residency permits typically must go abroad once a year to renew their visas, usually back to their countries of origin; some receive multiple-entry visas or are able to extend their stays. Since the enactment of the Law on Foreigners and subsequent amendments that took effect in 2002, some religious workers reported difficulty in obtaining visas with terms longer than three months (even if they had previously held visas with one-year validity). The curtailed validity has led some religious groups to begin shuttling their missionaries in and out of the country every three months, presenting a financial and spiritual hardship for such groups. Missionaries under such restrictions must pay for travel back to their countries of origin, often not knowing if they may return. As a result, many missionary groups must find and maintain two workers for every position if one is to be available for ministry while the other is outside the country applying for a visa renewal.
Foreign clergy are particularly important for the Roman Catholic Church in the country, since there are only a relatively small number of ordained Russian nationals, primarily because the Soviets only allowed two Catholic parishes and no seminaries to function in Soviet times. The first local citizens that the church trained as Catholic priests since the end of the Soviet regime graduated in 1999. At the end of the reporting period, there were approximately 270 Catholic priests working in the country, with only 10 percent of them citizens, and approximately 220 officially registered Catholic parishes.
One of the eight Catholic clergy the Government barred since 1998, Polish Catholic priest Father Janusz Blaut, to whom authorities refused a visa in October 2004 after he worked in North Ossetia for ten years, returned to the republic's capital Vladikavkaz in autumn 2005. Foreign Catholic clergy in the Krasnodar region now hold one-year visas rather than three-month visas that authorities issued from mid-2002 to mid-2004. Another priest denied entry, Polish citizen Father Edward Mackiewicz, in effect, exchanged his Rostov-on-Don parish with that of Father Michal Nickowski in western Ukraine, who, as a Ukrainian citizen, may remain in the country without a visa for up to three months. Officials granted Father Jerzy Steckiewicz, leader of the parish in Kaliningrad, a tourist visa valid only for that region, rather than a religious visa, making it impossible for him to travel in the rest of the country. Otherwise, Catholic authorities reported a decrease in visa problems for priests during the period covered by this report.
Officials annulled the visa of Moscow chief rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt in September 2005, denied a visa to South African Protestant church overseer Hugo Van Niekerk in July 2005, and revoked the visa of German Lutheran bishop Siegfried Springer in April 2005. All subsequently received visas and returned.
As was the case for the previous reporting year, the LDS Church reported few visa problems for their foreign missionaries and that virtually all of them received one-year, multiple-entry visas. The LDS Church occasionally had difficulties in securing residency permits for missionaries but noted this varied from region to region and was not systemic. There were few reports of religious workers of minority religious groups having difficulties registering their visas with the local authorities, as required by law.
In December 2003 the Unification Church reported that it appealed to the ECHR the Government's 2002 denial of a visa to church member Patrick Nolan. This case has not yet been ruled on. In 2003, Nolan lost both a trial court case and an appeal before the Supreme Court. Missionaries with the Swedish Evangelical Church in Krasnodar, the OMS Christian organization, the Christian Church in Kostroma, and the Kostroma "Family of God" Pentecostal Church, to whom officials denied visas in past years, did not return. In some cases, officials denied visa renewals for those living there for up to nine years.
While most conscripts seeking exemptions from military service sought medical or student exemptions, the courts provided relief to some on the grounds of religious conviction. The question of conscientious objector status arose most frequently with respect to Jehovah's Witnesses, under the new legal regime which took effect in spring 2004 governing alternative civilian service (ACS). In February 2006 officials from the Federal Services for Labor and Employment and the Department for the Organization and Control of Alternative Civilian Service in Moscow reported that approximately 640 individuals were performing ACS, 70 percent of whom were Jehovah's Witnesses. The Witnesses were aware of 192 Jehovah's
Witnesses performing ACS. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses reported that draft commissioners more willingly appointed them to ACS than in the past, and they did not face the same pressure to unwillingly perform military service as they did previously. Since ACS formation, 197 Witnesses have refused it; there were 37 ongoing cases against Witnesses for avoidance of ACS, and the courts convicted 41 Witnesses of evasion, and either fined them (between 100 dollars and 1,000 dollars or approximately 2,700 rubles and 27,000 rubles, respectively) or sentenced them to perform community service (up to 210 hours). Jehovah's Witnesses were aware of only two criminal cases that authorities had instigated against Witnesses for evasion of military service. At the end of this reporting period, authorities had imprisoned no Witnesses for failure to perform ACS.
In Bashkortostan, the Supreme Court sustained the refusal of exemption for Jehovah's Witness Marsel Faizov due to his criminal background. The ECHR accepted this case in March 2006. The Government filed its observations on June 27, 2006. Faizov had until September 1, 2006, to provide his reply to the Government's observations. However, to Jehovah's Witnesses' knowledge the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan had not reconsidered the case, and it was not clear when it would do so.
Some religious groups reported problems with religious properties. In March 2005 a St. Petersburg court dismissed the Witnesses' suit in litigation since 1999 seeking permission to remodel a building it owned on Pogranichnika Gar'kavogo Street for use as a prayer center. As of the end of the reporting period, the Witnesses reported that they were selling the property and had opened another meeting place.
Although in 2004 authorities in Velikiy Novgorod held a meeting favorable in its public response to Jehovah's Witnesses' request to acquire land to construct a lecture hall, the city denied permission, informing them in April 2005 that the city would not review the denial. During the reporting period, the local authorities continued to dismiss the congregation's repeated requests for information on available plots of land.
Following a March 2004 referendum in Sosnovyy Bor (Leningrad Oblast), local authorities refused to let a Jehovah's Witnesses community use land to construct a place of worship. At the end of the reporting period, the congregation had not been able to obtain permission from the authorities to build a place of worship and was using a privately owned building to hold their meetings. On May 5, 2006, Mayskaya Gorka City Circuit in the Arkhangelsk region held a public meeting to discuss a Jehovah's Witness application for a plot of land to build a place of worship. A large crowd gathered for the hearing, including members of political groups and three local ROC priests. Reports indicate that the atmosphere was hostile, not giving the representatives of the Witnesses the opportunity to reply to all the questions, the majority of which were about religious beliefs rather than plans for the land. The mob chanted "Down with the sect," among other verbal abuses. ROC representatives reportedly made allegations that Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden to speak to their non-Witness relatives and called it a sect that one cannot leave voluntarily and that destroys families. At the conclusion of the meeting, those present voted not to provide Jehovah's Witnesses with a plot of land.
The Jehovah's Witnesses successful attempt to build a Kingdom Hall in Zlatoust in the Chelyabinsk region is an example of federal authorities intervening at the local level through the court system. The local administration provided the Jehovah's Witnesses with a plot of land, but when construction began in June 2005, local residents filed complaints with the authorities, and the prosecutor initiated an administrative case against the Jehovah's Witnesses. Over the next four months, local city officials claimed the building was unlawful since the Witnesses did not adequately inform the public of their intentions, and there was no expert environmental study of the site. Local authorities felt the Jehovah's Witnesses should destroy the building at their own expense. Although the Zlatoust prosecutor served the Jehovah's Witnesses with a warning to cease infringement of the 1997 Law, the Chelyabinsk Regional Arbitration Court decided in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses.
In January 2006 the Chelyabinsk Region Department of State Environmental Control produced a site impact conclusion unsupportive of the Jehovah's Witnesses, prompting them to request a second ecological expert study. In February 2006 the Chelyabinsk Region Directorate of the Federal Service for Control of Nature Management's expert ecological study supported the construction project. Following this change, the arbitration court continued hearing the case. The city administration argued that the Kingdom Hall in Zlatoust should be declared illegal and destroyed and produced a letter from the Chelyabinsk Region Federal Registration Service (FRS) stating that the Jehovah's Witnesses had violated the 1997 Law. The court dismissed the motion as well as the city administration's application to demand demolition at the expense of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The city administration did not appeal the decision.
There was no change in the situation during the reporting period for the LDS Church, whose leaders confirmed press reports that in August 2004 a local Cossack group organized a protest against plans for the construction of a meetinghouse in Saratov city. Muslim and ROC leaders also spoke out against the construction. Although the church had received construction permits for the project, the city stopped construction, and did not permit it to resume.
According to a May 2005 article in the Perm newspaper Permskiy Obozrevatel, in late 2004 the Pentecostal New Testament Church in Perm purchased the local House of Culture from a private company to house its social and charitable activities. The purchase provoked considerable controversy in the area, reportedly encouraged in part by the local ROC Bishop Irinarkh, a long-time critic of Pentecostals. The case went to an arbitration court, which ultimately recognized the sale as legal and valid but did not issue a ruling that would bind the owner to proceed with the registration. The Pentecostals paid 50 million rubles ($1,851,851) for the House of Culture and were using it for their services, but they were not registered as the owners at the end of the reporting period. According to Pastor Eduard Grabovenko, oblast administration officials had put pressure on the owner to block registration. On May 11, 2006, the New Testament Church filed a suit asking the court to issue an order that would permit property rights registration without the former owner's cooperation.
In late May 2006 a meeting between Perm Governor Oleg Chirkunov and the chairman of the Russian Pentecostal Union Sergey Ryakhovskiy brought no results. However, according to a representative of the Russian Pentecostal Union, the problem of the building was later resolved successfully. In April 2006 the Arbitration Court ruled in favor of the Pentecostal community and ordered the selling party to complete the building sale; however, the Perm Kray Committee on Culture appealed, creating at least a month's postponement of the final decision. As a result of an appeal by some local organizations to return the House of Culture to the administration in exchange for another building, the Pentecostal community agreed, and the problem became one of finding an appropriate new building for them.
In May 2006 the Moscow Arbitration Court decided in favor of the Charismatic Kingdom of God Church, in a suit that the Federal Property Agency filed in December 2005 asking the court to obtain on demand its "illegally occupied" property in the capital. According to the suit, the privatized factory, which sold its former social center and sports hall to the church in December 1997, had no right to do so "since the owner of the building … is the Russian Federation." In its decision the court said that the Government had no ownership rights over the property, that the church possessed a valid state certificate registering its rights to the property, and that the deadline for legal challenges - three years from the point of sale - had in any case long expired.
Contrary to previous reports, the Voronezh Lutheran Community reported it had been discussing with local ROC representatives the return of their church building, although it was expected that this process would take considerable time to complete.
Religious news sources claimed that authorities acting on behalf of the ROC sometimes prevented Orthodox churches not belonging to the ROC, including the True Orthodox, from obtaining or maintaining buildings for worship. In April 2005 the court ordered the Church of St. Olga in Zheleznovodsk, which the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC) first registered in 1944 at the same address, transferred to the authority of the ROC Diocese of Stavropol despite the ROAC congregation's renovation and reconstruction of the building at the same site. Cossacks implemented the decision in April 2006, which forced the ROAC to conduct its Easter service outside while the church building stood empty of parishioners, since the local community belongs to the ROAC, not the ROC. The protesting of the church transfer and informing the international community led to the beating of Metropolitan Valentine (see the Abuse section) as well as threats to the ROAC clergy.
On June 2, 2006, media and Hare Krishna representatives reported that Moscow City authorities approved the allotment of land for the construction of a Krishna temple. Reports indicated that the promise was part of a joint statement by the Mayor of Moscow and the Delhi Chief Minister, who hoped to enhance trade and economic cooperation. Moscow's estimated 10,000 Hare Krishna devotees shared their temple with at least 5,000 Indians, Sri Lankans, Nepalese, and Mauritians of other Hindu denominations. This followed the Moscow authorities' sudden October 7, 2005, withdrawal of permission for the new temple's construction. The Hare Krishna community was left, until the recent accord between the two city governments, using temporary accommodation on the construction site. Having spent more than $74, 074 (two million rubles) on the project and approved an architectural design with considerable difficulty due to its distinctiveness from the surrounding buildings on Leningradskiy Prospekt, the Hare Krishna devotees subsequently turned to Moscow's Arbitration Court. The status of the appeal remained unclear in light of the accord, but while their appeal was being heard, the community cannot be evicted from the site, even though Moscow's land committee ordered it to leave in January 2006. In withdrawing their permission, the city authorities cited paperwork errors involving the terms of land usage.
Already demolished as part of a municipal building program, the Hare Krishna community's previous Moscow temple premises were a gift in 1989 as part of the confession's rehabilitation in the late Soviet period. (In the early 1980s the Soviets incarcerated approximately fifty of its members in prisons and psychiatric institutions.) Authorities offered the current site as compensation for the demolition of the previous temple. They have permission to remain on their current site until ready to move to the new location. The question of architecture remained a concern at any site. On November 30, 2005, Interfax reported that Russian Orthodox Archbishop Nikon (Vasyukov) of Ufa and Sterlitamak asked Mayor Luzhkov not to allow the construction of the temple and used disrespectful language about the Hindu religion.
Rinchenling, a 200-strong community following the Dzogchen tradition within Tibetan Buddhism, lost its Moscow city center premises in 2004 due to a municipal construction project. Unlike the Hare Krishna community, city authorities did not offer them compensation, as there was no provision for it in their 1997 rental contract. In January 2005 Rinchenling also closed its Kunsangar retreat center in Moscow region. The group's Tibetan teacher, Chogyal Namkai Norbu, had told the group to sell the retreat center due to the negative influence of local Orthodox. Rinchenling was planning to set up a retreat center in Ukraine.
The Unification Church reported difficulties in establishing a Eurasian Church Center in Moscow to coordinate church activities in the region. On June 19, 2006, ORT-TV aired a sensational television program, The Order of Moon: A Special Investigative Report, where the Government appeared to be laying the groundwork for actions against the Church. This follows security services' actions against the founder of the Moscow congregation and legal and spiritual advisor, a U.S. citizen living in Moscow since 1990. On December 31, 2005, the main immigration office summoned him and gave him ten days to leave the country, banning his reapplication for five years. The FSB reportedly sent eight men to watch him during the remaining time, preventing him taking the actions necessary to remain in the country and escorting him onto the plane on January 9, 2006. The Church planned to construct the center on property owned by an NGO affiliated with the Reverend Moon. In April 2005 a local prosecutor ordered church officials to turn over for inspection documents relating to the property after the local administration received complaints from local citizens that a "totalitarian sect" was using the building. Eight police officers reportedly visited the property the next day in order to "investigate criminal activity."
According to Forum 18, in January 2006 the Evangelical Christian Missionary Union, which embraces fifty-four registered churches throughout the southern part of the country, reported that the municipal authorities in the town of Tikhoretsk (Krasnodar Kray) had refused to renew a rental contract with its congregation there. The 150-strong Path to God Church had rented its basement premises for the previous seven years and renovated them, according to the Union, but was unable to find alternative premises in the town and thus to meet as a single congregation.
Protestants in Voronezh and elsewhere often suspected local Orthodox clergy to be instrumental in blocking their construction plans. They cited as an example Saratov's construction committee's refusal to grant the Word of Life Pentecostal Church permission to advertise its presence on the outside wall of its own premises. In a letter dated May 4, 2005, chief architect Vladimir Virich confirmed as much, referring to an April 19, 2005, letter from the Saratov diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church and indicating that the Architectural Committee could not agree to the sign because of the letter.
State authorities gave Muslims meeting at Mosque Number 34 on the outskirts of Astrakhan until May 1, 2006, the option to demolish their worship building themselves or face its destruction, after the Astrakhan Oblast Court denied an April 17, 2006, appeal to suspend the demolition of the mosque for three months. At the end of the reporting period, the mosque remained standing. The congregation had already lost a previous March 1 Astrakhan Oblast Court appeal against a January 23, 2006, decision in which Astrakhan's Soviet District Court agreed with the municipal administration that authorities should remove the mosque - a disused silage tower and two-storey annex on the road to the city's airport - as it qualified as "unauthorized construction."
The mosque congregation purchased the 6,450 square-foot site in 1998, and Astrakhan authorities gave them permission to carry out the preliminary construction work of a new mosque building during the first half of 2001. However, the court noted that they did not start until almost four years later, and that the Muslim community's refurbishment and extension of the disused silage tower was not on the construction plan the city's architectural department approved. The court also ruled that they must remove the currently existing construction work for the new mosque, begun in 2005 after the community had collected sufficient funds.
Muslim sources were skeptical about the reasons given for the demolition order. Their situation abruptly changed, they claim, following a visit by President Putin to Astrakhan in August 2005, when he reportedly remarked to the regional governor and mayor that they had not chosen a good place for a mosque. When authorities denied them permission to hold a February 20 demonstration outside Astrakhan's municipal administration building, Muslim activists gathered morse than 1,000 signatures protesting the demolition order. They intended to appeal to the supreme court, although it was not heard before the May 1 deadline. Per the Sova Center, a human rights NGO, the court ruling to demolish the mosque had not been executed as of June 30, 2006.
Citizens in Kaliningrad protested against the construction of a mosque, which the local Muslim community had been requesting since 1993. The ROC was involved in the talks to allow construction. While he claimed not to be against the mosque's construction, the local ROC bishop insisted that a small mosque rather than a large Muslim cultural center should be built in the suburbs, proportional to the small number of Muslims living in Kaliningrad. The Sova Center reported that as of August 17, 2005, the Commission on Economic Policy and Municipal Property of the Kaliningrad City Council allowed the Kaliningrad Muslim organization to use several buildings free of charge. The Muslims planned to open a mosque there.
The NGO Sova Center reported at the end of the reporting period that the Vladimir Muslim community still was not able to obtain public land to build a mosque. In 2004, despite interference from the Vladimir city authorities, the congregation constructed a mosque on private land near a house that community members bought and used as a temporary prayer house. The mosque was called a community house and was used by the local community of Muslims even though it did not have room for all 25,000 members. The authorities had not met the request for a land spot for a mosque, but the negotiations were continuing.
The mayor's office continued to deny authorization to Muslims in the Krasnodar Kray to build a new mosque in the city of Sochi, even though the organization's current rented premises barely accommodated the approximately thirty members who attended Friday prayers. According to Sova, officials allotted land several times but did not authorize construction because of technical problems, or they ultimately sold the land to other people. According to the Krasnodar Kray Department for Relations with Public Associations and Religious Organizations and Monitoring of Migration Processes, authorities can allocate land for a mosque only after a public opinion survey indicates that the proposed location would not cause a "conflict situation."
Restitution of religious property seized by the Communist government remained an issue. Although authorities have returned many properties used for religious services, including churches, synagogues, and mosques, all four traditional religions continued to pursue restitution cases.
The ROC appeared to have had greater success reclaiming prerevolutionary property than other groups, although it still had disputed property claims. The ROC had a number of restitution claims in Yekaterinburg. According to the ROC diocese spokesman, the ROC does not lay claim to the 1905 Square but it would like to see the Orthodox cathedral that once stood there rebuilt. The issue was not discussed because the ROC understood how complicated and costly it would be to pull down the existing structures to make room for a cathedral.
Property claims are a complicated subject, according to the ROC spokesman, since there was no separation between church and state before the revolution. Most of the Orthodox church buildings in Sverdlovsk Oblast that were returned to the ROC were not considered ROC property; the ROC had no property rights to them and is only entitled to use these buildings, so that, at least theoretically, it could be evicted. The ROC fully owned only newly built churches.
In fact, the very historical importance of a building can impede its return to previous owners, as the Government views many prerevolutionary buildings as cultural treasures and runs them as museums, such as the Kremlin cathedrals, St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Cathedral, and most of Novgorod's medieval churches. Since 1995 the Ministry of Culture has determined which historical and cultural monuments religious organizations must share with the state.
The Moscow City Duma passed a law in March 2004 returning approximately $27,500 (approximately 742,500 rubles) to the ROC as retroactive property tax benefits.
Forum 18 reported that an Old Believer community in Samara was still struggling to obtain restitution of a prerevolutionary church. Municipal officials told the community that it should first ascertain the position of the ROC on restitution. In April 2006, for the first time in seventy five years, the community celebrated Easter in the church, even though the municipality had not yet officially returned the church to the community.
The Roman Catholic Community reported forty-four disputed properties, most of which they would use for religious services. The Catholic Church was not successful in achieving restitution of the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral in Moscow. The office of an oil company occupied the cathedral, and the Catholic parish met in a former disco hall because it did not expect the company to vacate the premises. According to the Catholic Church, it was making progress towards building a new church in Moscow to replace the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral. In Vologda, Catholic authorities had not succeeded in - and did not anticipate - achieving restitution of a prerevolutionary church that housed a restaurant. In 2005 the local authorities in Tula returned a building to the local Catholic parish.
According to a March 2004 statement from the Council of Muslim Religious Organizations in Stavropol City, the region's arbitration court finally refused to hear a case set to decide the issue of whether or not federal authorities could require Stavropol authorities to return a mosque that had been converted to a city art gallery back to the Muslim community - after seven months of preliminary deliberations - on the grounds that it was "outside its competency." The fact that authorities lack of action forced the local Muslim community to file suit with the court in the first place, explains the statement, because the Stavropol Kray authorities repeatedly refused to acknowledge receipt of a 1999 instruction from the federal Ministries of Culture and State Property demanding the return of the former mosque to local Muslims.
Muslims in Beslan have appealed to the Presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations to return an historic mosque to the Muslim community. The Cathedral Mosque, built in 1906 by the decree of Tsar Nicholas II, was occupied by a vodka-bottling plant and a bottle washing shop, and was soon to be modified to accommodate a car wash. The North Ossetian administration alleged that there was nowhere to move the plant, but the republic's Muslim Council stated that locating a factory in a mosque was illegal and that there were several facilities in the town to accommodate the factory.
The Jewish community was still seeking the return of a number of synagogues and cultural and religious artifacts. The FJC reported that federal officials had been cooperative in the community's efforts to seek restitution of former synagogues, as had some regional officials, although some Jews asserted that the Russian Federation has returned only a small portion of the total properties the Soviets confiscated under Soviet rule. In December 2004 the mayor of Sochi gave the Jewish community a parcel of land on which to construct a synagogue and community center to replace the small structure in use. According to the chief rabbi of Sochi Arye Edelcopf, the community was collecting money for the construction of the synagogue which was to begin within a few months. Chabad Lubavitch still sought return of the Schneerson Collection, revered religious books and documents of the Lubavitcher rebbes.
Some local governments prevented religious groups from using venues suitable for large gatherings such as cinemas and government facilities. In Arkhangelsk, Jehovah's Witnesses originally signed a contract to use premises, from August 5-7, 2005, belonging to the Rossiya Physical Education and Sports Trade Union Society for a large congress, but received notice from the society's director three days before the congress was to take place that the building would not be available due to an incomplete sewage system. Failing to win an arbitration court challenge to this unilateral cancellation of the contract, the Jehovah's Witnesses then signed two further contracts with smaller venues, but the director of one cancelled the agreement later the same day.
On August 3, 2005, two days before the Jehovah's Witnesses' congress, Arkhangelsk-based weekly newspaper Pravda Severo-Zapada ran an article detailing last year's court ban on the Moscow community of Jehovah's Witnesses and likening the organization to Aum Sinrikyo, the Japanese religious group convicted of releasing nerve gas into Tokyo's underground system in 1995. The newspaper labeled the ideology totalitarian and called for an investigation by the FSB.
When the Jehovah's Witnesses' congress commenced on August 5, 2005 at the third venue, the Solombala Arts Center, the police demanded that all 714 delegates leave the building because of an alleged terrorist threat. Subsequently, a fire inspector drew up an official order closing the building. As a result, the Witnesses reduced the three-day program to a partial one-day session held on August 5, 2005. Jehovah's Witnesses filed a complaint with the prosecutor's office to open a criminal case against those responsible for the breakup of the convention; however, the prosecutor's office dismissed the complaint.
Officials also significantly disrupted two other Jehovah's Witnesses' regional congresses during the reporting period in the southern Urals city of Orenburg, where a conference was scheduled for August 12-14, 2005 and in Kokhma (Ivanovo region) for a July 22-24, 2005 congress in Rekord Stadium.
A Jehovah's Witnesses' convention planned for July 8-10, 2005 in Yekaterinburg with the participation of more than 5,000 Witnesses did not take place because of the reported July 4, 2005 intervention of an Orthodox priest who wrote a letter to the owner of the stadium demanding that the convention not proceed. On July 7 the director of the stadium claimed repair work should proceed instead and canceled the contract. Jehovah's Witnesses attempted to resolve the crisis by contacting officials, including filing a claim with the Yekaterinburg Prosecutor's Office to initiate a criminal case against the priest for disrupting the lawful activity of a religious organization. On August 31, Jehovah's Witnesses sent an inquiry on the results of the investigation to the prosecutor's office, which on September 14, 2005, replied that the investigation was still ongoing. Nevertheless, the Witnesses' Easter observances in Yekaterinburg on April 12, 2006, proceeded without official or community disruption for the first time in many years.
The Church of Scientology reported that it sometimes had difficulties getting permits for large events in Moscow.
The Caucasian Knot website reported in March 2006 that law enforcement officials in Kabardino-Balkaria continued to monitor children in schools who displayed observant Muslim customs, after the phrase "Jihad is freedom" appeared on the wall in a Nalchik school. Reportedly they kept lists of students who said Muslim prayers, had Muslim middle names, or who sent clips with Islamic themes through their mobile phones.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
On October 13, 2005, following ROAC complaints about the awarding of St. Olga's Church to the ROC, three armed men broke into the home of Metropolitan Valentine of Suzdal and Vladimir, the head of the ROAC. The attack was obviously well planned and timed to take advantage of a short period when he was alone. The attackers knocked him unconscious and beat him severely, particularly on his feet, from which they removed the bandages to inflict more harm because of his diabetic condition. The men rolled him up in a rug to be carried out of the house, but the unexpected arrival of another cleric surprised the attackers and they dropped the Metropolitan. He spent six months in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained and the amputation of part of his foot. The FSB reportedly interrogated and threatened several ROAC clergy and members following this incident.
In April 2005, a group of masked paramilitary troops stormed the Work of Faith Church in Izhevsk, Udmurtia, during an evening worship service, led worshippers outside and searched them without a search warrant; the troops threatened some of the women with rape and detained forty-six persons some for as long as twenty four hours. In response to several complaints (and international attention), local authorities conducted an investigation of the Izhevsk incident. They said their investigation uncovered that the police had committed some procedural irregularities while the detainees were in custody, that officials had given a warning to the district police chief because of the irregularities, had reprimanded two other police officials, and opened a criminal investigation into the allegation that the police beat one of the detainees. Officials dropped administrative charges against most, if not all, of the detainees.
On the evening of April 12, 2006, the Lyublino Police Department of Moscow disrupted a religious meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses. The commemoration of the death of Christ, also known as the Lord's Evening Meal, is the most important religious observance for Jehovah's Witnesses. The chief of the Lyublino Police Department, Yevgeniy Kulikov, ordered the congregation to disperse. According to Jehovah's Witnesses, police detained fourteen male leaders of the congregation, taking their passports. Armed officers of the Special Police Forces (OMON) took them to the Lyublino police station where police interrogated them for up to four hours before releasing them at one-thirty a.m. Police refused to provide them with written reasons for their detention and reportedly not only physically assaulted their attorney when he went to the police station to assist them but also threatened him at knife-point not to file a complaint. Both the police and Jehovah's Witnesses filed complaints with the prosecutor's office. The Jehovah's Witnesses also filed a court action, and officials set the hearing for May 2006. After several adjournments, on June 15, 2006, the judge finally ruled that the detention of the plaintiffs was unlawful, but dismissed the remainder of the claim, failing to find unlawful the fact that police had disrupted the religious service. The decision referred to the absence of the permission of the authorities to carry out the meeting, in accordance with the Federal Law on Assemblies, Rallies, Processions, Demonstrations, and Pickets. Jehovah's Witnesses filed an appeal on June 30 with the Moscow City Court because the law does not apply to religious groups or associations.
Of the 23 different locations in Moscow used by some 17,000 of Jehovah's Witnesses to commemorate the death of Christ, the Lyublino District was the only place where the observance was disrupted by police intervention. Similar services were held throughout the country without interference. In 2005 the total number who attended services was approximately 267,000.
In early April 2006 persons repeatedly vandalized the Kingdom Hall and its surrounding property in Kamyshin in the Volgograd region. Police did not take any action, saying that the acts did not constitute a crime. In November 2005, unidentified persons fired thirty shots into the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Voskresensk, but hit no one. Police opened a criminal case but closed it on January 31, 2006, because they could not identify the perpetrators.
In August 2004, the Khabarovsk newspaper Amurskiy Meridian reported that in March of that year police in Khabarovsk detained and beat Sergey Sofrin, a local Jewish businessman, repeatedly insulting him with religious epithets. At the end of the reporting period, contacts at the newspaper reported that although officials conducted an investigation of the incident, they had not disciplined the police involved yet.
Authorities periodically arrested suspected members of the banned Islamic political movement, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), on the grounds that they conducted extremist and terrorist activities. In April 2006 a Moscow court convicted Sardorbek Siddikov and sentenced him to one year in jail for membership in HT. On September 8, 2005, the city court of Nizhnevartovsk, gave a four-year suspended prison term to Eduard Khusainov, who was believed to have headed the local HT group. Officials reportedly found extremist propaganda in his apartment. Khusainov was charged with organizing the activities of an extremist organization and with "involving others in committing terrorist crimes or otherwise abetting such crimes."
On October 3, 2005, the Tobolsk Court found nine members of the local HT branch guilty on all charges of extremism brought against them. Three of the accused--local leaders Marat Saybatalov, Dmitriy Petrichenko, and Rail Valitov--were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five and one-half to six years. Other members were sentenced to various terms from twelve months to five and one-half years.
According to Sova, police broke up an HT group in Chelyabinsk in March 2005 and detained one of its members, Rinat Galiullin. The criminal case against Rinat Galiullin was initiated on March 15, 2005. He was arrested and tried in September-November 2005. The court passed a verdict of a one-year suspended sentence. Also, Galiullin won a suit against a local newspaper for spreading information alleging that he had been plotting a riot, stockpiled weapons, and encouraged people to sign a contract with Al Qaeda. The HT group, to which Galiullin allegedly belonged, was not found. Sova also reported that since December 2004, the authorities in Tatarstan initiated criminal cases on charges of extremism and terrorism against alleged members of radical organizations, including HT and Islamic Jamaat. According to Sova, the Islamic Jamaat case was being heard in court in Tatarstan. Authorities charged twenty-three persons. The preliminary investigation was over, and five young men were being tried in court. Later, a trial for other members will take place. Among the charges are murder and planning hostile activities. In the authorities' case against the seven alleged HT members, the investigation cleared one of them, but the other six remain untried. In May 2005 authorities also brought to trial for alleged HT membership the two individuals who police in Izhevsk detained in December 2004. In June 2005, they were convicted each to one year of parole. At the end of the reporting period, the courts had convicted forty-six Muslims, twenty-nine of whom were in prison, for membership in Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
On March 31, 2006, Adygeia militia reportedly detained Muslims on their way to Friday prayer at the mosque in the nearby village of New Adygeia. According to news service IA Regnum, before the start of midday prayers, Special Forces of the Adygeia MVD blocked all entrances and exits to the village. The action was carried out by the local MVD office for fighting organized crime together with a group from the FSB. Muslims in Adygeia suspected that Special Forces had a list of Muslims planning to pray in this mosque that included their license plates. One resident reported that only Muslims were stopped in their vehicles by road blocks and apprehended; those who tried to leave their cars were intimidated, and none of them were able to attend prayer. Another source reported that Special Forces threatened to break the legs of those who tried to leave their cars and walk to the mosque.
In Dagestan in March 2006, journalists reported that soldiers desecrated a copy of the Qur'an while searching the house of a killed militant.
The NGO Memorial reported government harassment of Muslims in Adygeia starting in summer 2005. Hostile actions reported included seizing religious literature from citizens. In one example from December 29, 2005, authorities claimed that the seizure of six books from one young Muslim was connected to the proceedings against former imam of the Adygeia mosque Nedzhmedin Abazia for "propaganda on the inferiority of citizens signaled by their relations with Hinduism, Christianity, and non-Wahabbist forms of Islam." Authorities questioned approximately ten persons in Adygeia in connection with this case.
On October 22, 2005, in Maykop, Adygeia Republic, police officers allegedly assaulted and apprehended a group of young Muslims, including the Maykop mosque's imam, as they were leaving a mosque. The imam reported that masked policemen dragged the group to minibuses and took them to the Interior Ministry's Anti-Organized Crime Department, where policemen beat and questioned them about why there were wearing beards and observing Islamic norms of hygiene. After a night in prison, officials took them before a judge who ordered their immediate release.
On October 13, 2005, gunman attacked police and military facilities in Nalchik, the capital of the southern republic of Kabardino-Balkaria in the North Caucasus. The attack appeared to have been the result of a combination of pressure by local authorities on independent mosques (closure of thirty-nine of forty-six local mosques), rampant corruption, and attempts by Chechen separatists to expand their war against the Government. It was known that nearly all of the several hundred militants killed during the violence were young untrained Muslims protesting the local Ministry of Internal Affairs' closure of mosques. Government officials said they arrested more than sixty persons on suspicion of participating in the October raids on Nalchik. Human rights groups, in turn, claimed the number of detainees was higher and that most of them were not responsible for the unrest. Some sources believed that several hundred fighters were killed and that the authorities had not returned to families the corpses of these fighters.
Human rights groups claimed that following the 2004 hostage-taking in Beslan, police stepped up activity in the North Caucasus. Authorities allegedly have charged with extremism increasing numbers of Muslims, both Russian citizens and citizens of the predominately Muslim states bordering Russia. Memorial described twenty-three cases involving more than eighty individuals charged with extremism as "trumped-up." Of these, the NGO Memorial reported, eighteen resulted in verdicts, only one of which was an acquittal. Some observers said that police harassment of Muslim clerics and alleged militants in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya, including torture and the closure of all but one of Nalchik's mosques during the reporting period, were part of the reason for the October 13, 2005 rebel attack on Nalchik.
According to the Sova Center, on April 19, 2005, nine female students were arrested during their regular reading of the Qur'an in a classroom at Kabardino-Balkariya State University. Authorities told the students when arresting them that wearing the hijab and group studying of the Qur'an violated university statutes. Police brought them to Nalchik city militia headquarters, searched, interrogated, and detained them for about eight hours. The same source claimed that police had detained some Muslims in Moscow mosques prior to the March 2004 elections.
There were occasional reports of short-term police detentions of non-Muslim believers on religious grounds, but such incidents were generally resolved quickly. For example, local police frequently detained missionaries for brief periods throughout the country or asked them to cease their activities, such as displaying signboards, regardless of whether they were actually in violation of local statutes on picketing. During the reporting period, the Jehovah's Witnesses in particular reported approximately fifty-five recorded incidents, twenty one of which took place in Moscow, in which authorities briefly detained their members or other citizens while conducting lawful preaching activities.
After months of demonstrations, arrests, court hearings, and time spent in jail in June 2005, Pastor Purshaga and members of Emmanuel Pentecostal Church in Moscow District won the right to rent land to use for a prayer house and church office building. At the end of the reporting period, authorities had not decided about another piece of land at issue.
In September 2004, an Initsiativniki prayer house in Lyubuchany, Chekhov District, Moscow Oblast, burned down. In the summer preceding the fire, security agencies, including local police and FSB officers, intimidated several thousand participants at an open-air gathering sponsored by the church. Press reports claimed that eyewitnesses placed some of the same law enforcement personnel at the church site in September minutes before the fire broke out. Although the official investigation attributed the fire to arson, authorities had charged no one in the incident by the end of the reporting period.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country; however, there were increasing NGO reports of short-term detentions, especially in the North Caucasus...