Rights advocates express alarm about religious persecution


by Irina Borogan

SOVA Center for News and Analysis, 7 April 2016


Especially for the SOVA Center, Irina Borogan, deputy chief editor of the website "Agentura," commented on the recent arrests in Moscow and St. Petersburg of yoga enthusiasts on suspicion of cooperation with Aum Shinrikyo.


This is obviously a case of individual insanity; I cannot call this action anything else. The tendency to conduct special operations involving law enforcement agencies with regard to religious organization that in our country are considered "nontraditional," so to speak, began approximately six years ago, when government programs for the struggle with extremism were adopted.


At that time, law enforcement agencies received permission to act against religious associations, and a demonstrative operation was conducted, for example, against Jehovah's Witnesses in the suburbs of Moscow. The operation was conducted by the Moscow suburban Chief Directorate of Internal Affairs, involving various of its subdivisions, including the "E" Center. Jehovah's Witnesses were subject to wiretaps for a long time, after which several of their meetings were broken up, but, by and large, these criminal cases did not end in anything. Nothing was found on them, except for religious Jehovist literature—possibly at the time not under prohibition—that is, this was repression in its pure form. It was strange that such mighty forces were involved in persecution, but the target actually was Jehovah's Witnesses. Since that time they have regularly been subjected to repression and special operations have been conducted, although there has not been a single criminal case going any farther than possession of religious literature.


And there still was not anything like now, when searches were conducted in homes and completely innocent people were accused of belonging to an organization that is banned in practically the whole world.


It is not so easy to get permission for a search. Every day a bunch of all sorts of operational information comes in to law enforcement agencies and it is necessary to get a court warrant for a search, and the court, in order to grant this warrant, must have confirmed information. Once all the detainees were released, it means nothing had been confirmed. That is, the information was not confirmed, but nevertheless the court still sanctioned it. The result is that innocent yoga enthusiasts were ascribed to Aum Shinrikyo without any evidence, which is rather serious.


Apparently now the mechanism for the launch of an operation is so simple that proof is not required. Earlier—7 or 8 years ago—such a thing was done only with respect to so-called "Islamists," who were treated that way regularly—they were arrested, searched, and then everyone was released. As a rule, they did not protest against such actions, since they are people without rights. Now Jehovah's Witnesses have a large staff of lawyers and therefore every incident of illegal search or breakup of meetings is protested in courts, and often they win these cases. However the practice of repression against them has not ceased. Now other movements are being connected to them.


Obviously this is a new wave of repressions against "nontraditional" religious groups against a backdrop of growing difficulties for the state. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 April 2016)

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