Russian parliament takes aim at new religious movements


Sects are real business at expense of parishioners'  money and property

by Tatiana Zykova

Rossiiskaia Gazeta, 19 February 2016


A law is being developed which is supposed to protect Russians from the influence of sects, Rossiiskaia Gazeta was told in the Inter-fractional Deputies Group for Defense of Christian Values. Representatives of all four duma fractions are working on the document.


A session of the groups is scheduled for next week, where a future draft law will be discussed.


This year Rossiiskaia Gazeta has already published a series of articles about the activity of sects and about the kind of harm they cause to the spiritual and psychological health of Russians. And financial also—adds the chairman of the State Duma Committee on Issues of Property, the coordinator of the Inter-fractional Deputies Group for Defense of Christian Values, Sergei Gavrilov.


--[R.G.] Sergei Anatolievich, how many sects do we have so that it is necessary to develop a special law against them?


--[S.G.] According to our estimate, from 300 to 500 sects are active in Russia that involve up to 800,000 persons, mainly youth. The most active sects have centers in the USA and they are being financed from there. That is about a billion dollars. The majority of religious associations have been transformed into full-fledged profit-making business. The sources of financing are cash, through couriers and electronic and cash transfers.


As a rule, the religious activity itself is not being financed, but the so-called evangelistic quasi-social projects. For example, introduction into schools through preparation of textbooks. Often a mass of relevant literature is introduced into the country under the guise of aid to the disabled. It is distributed in underground walkways and near shops. It is distributed through mailboxes.


Numerous financial "pyramids," seizure of money and property—that's the other side of the coin of the activity of sects.


--But people contribute voluntarily. Nobody is forbidden to dispose of their own property. How do you deal with this?


--We should understand that, when falling into a sect, people part with their property in an entirely involuntary way. And one must see this difference.


The methods of work of many sects is constructed on fraud and extortion with the use of psychic and psychological force and coercion. Some of them directly urge citizens to sell their apartments. Or to settle in the woods and seek salvation there. We have now more than three dozen such "eco-settlements," where the right to reside costs about 30,000 dollars.


Judicial practice shows that persons who were victimized by sects (including relatives of those who have fallen into a sect) often turn to courts for reclaiming property—automobiles, household items, apartments, private homes—from illegal possession. And also for finding transactions for alienation or transfer of property rights to be null and void.


In addition, there are numerous criminal cases based on fraud in the conduct of real estate transactions. Existing rules make it difficult to apply to organizations that through coercion encourage citizens to transfer financial assets and other property to the benefit of a sect. We definitely must eliminate this gap.


--But our legislation does not have the concept of a "sect."


--That is so. There is the concept of a "religious group," and a "religious organization." Even when we prohibit in court or by a judge the leaders of misanthropic sects or cults, we call them destructive, totalitarian, and extremist religious groups and organizations.


Such an approach is now outdated. It is even inappropriate to apply the term "religious" to such organizations, because they have an entirely different character.


--And how do you propose to combat all of this?


--We have proposed to the Security Council of the RF, power structures, and the Ministry of Justice to work out together new methods, technologies, and criteria of compliance whereby religious activity and access to work with youth and children are certified. Among the certifying criteria are use of psychotechnical influence of consciousness and attempts to seize property from citizens. And the organizers should be examined for extremism. Foreign financing should be excluded or controlled. That is, each foreign transfer is to be explained and re-examined.


This requires systematic work of the Ministry of Justice and Rosfinmonitoring, the FNS, and the Ministry of Education, under the supervision of the Security Council. It is necessary to train and educate personnel.


--But they all are now not sitting on their hands.


--Absolutely. But for now we are "beating their tails." And we must prevent the growth of sects that threaten the country. Some conceal themselves as clubs or courses for improving intellectual level, or traditional religions.


Some count on elderly single people. Others work with intellectuals. They put psychological pressure on people under the guise of various courses and lectures, "How to make a million fast," "How to become a leader," and  "How to overcome crisis." Many sects work "underground," so they must be exposed and purged. Nowadays even special services are exposing occultic sects years after the beginning of their activity.


And what do we have against their organizers? Small fines of up to 300 thousand and corrective labor. Punishment must be made more harsh.


--And it still is not quite clear how to combat all of this legislatively?


--The changes that deputies are preparing deal with laws about combating money laundering, freedom of conscience, and the criminal code.


New preventive measures propose work with the populace, especially with youth. The draft law indicates that the activity of religious organizations that have been active for less than 25 to 30 years should be under special supervision.


Any valid religious activity should be certified. And people who begin to work as they calculate in the religious services market must understand that from the start they are under strict supervision of the state and will be examined for extremism.


There is no profound assessment of this problem in Russia. We have ordered such a study. And the discussion of the draft law will be conducted with maximum openness.

(tr. by PDS, posted 24 February 2016)


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