Russian parliament ineffective in opposing sects


Working group in Federation Council engaged in developing package of draft laws for combating destructive societies

Izvestiia, 18 November 2016


On Thursday, at a round table in the Senate, the vice-chair of the Committee for Constitutional Legislation and State Building, Elena Mizulina, announced the creation of a working group. Mizulina said it is necessary to spell out in legislation the concept defining destructive sects, inasmuch as at present it does not exist in the legislation. Without a formalizing of the concept of "destructive sect" and without a clear legal definition, legislative action will make no sense.


Today about 500 destructive sects are operating in the country, the majority of which feel completely at ease in the regions, although often they conduct an underground form of existence. According to statistics of the Russian Ministry of Justice, in 2015-2016 52 sectarian organizations active in 24 regions in Russia were banned and liquidated on the basis of judicial decisions. Of them, five are international. The list of regions in which such organizations have been identified includes Moscow, Moscow province. St. Petersburg, Vladimir, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, and Krasnoyarsk provinces, Mordovia, Tatarstan, Cheliabinsk, Tula, Adygei, and Kabardino-Balkaria.


"Contemporary sects conceal themselves under various organizations, conducting psyche training and seminars on developing leadership skills, and individual craftsmen describe how to survive if the end of the world happens, or, for example, how to teleport to other planets, preferably with one's property. And very many different people fall into the nets of scammers. Using diverse psychic techniques, sectarians deprive people of their freedom and then of their property also," Mizulina declared.


The senator noted that it is very important to rely on traditional religious organizations in combating sects, since they are powerful allies in combating frauds. In addition, Mizulina promised to discuss with the leadership of the MVD the creation of specialized subdivisions for combating sects. Such services work successfully in a number of countries.


The president of the public organization Russian Association of Centers for Study of Religions and Sects, Alexander Dvorkin,  says sects do not always have a religious nature.


"They may have signs of a healing cult, psychic culture, or multi-level marketing 'pyramids.' Unfortunately, at present such organizations do not fall under the purview of article 239 of the Criminal Code, which is the chief judicial weapon for combating sects.


"In addition, now most often it is members of a sect who bear responsibility and not its leadership, which permits them to go unpunished and to continue their activity. Unfortunately sects are not shut down even after one of their regional affiliates ceases its activity on the basis of a court trial."


The head of the department of religious studies of the Institute of Social and Philosophical Sciences and Mass Communications of Kazan University, Larisa Astakhova, who has often delivered expert analysis of the activity of sects in trials, thinks that it is necessary to distinguish theological judicial expert analysis in a separate article.


In addition, she noted the necessity of introducing the anonymity of such experts in court, inasmuch as she herself has suffered from pressure on the part of Scientologists after a negative expert analysis against them. Astakhova thinks that it is necessary to create an independent religious studies community, which would exclude from its ranks partisan experts who receive financial and other assistance from sectarians.


A senior prosecutor of the Russian prosecutor general's office, Zhanna Nikolaeva, explained for Izvestiia that now the law does not permit holding accountable not only obvious sectarians but also single healers. And they are engaged in the same thing, in essence, as organized sects. And even the victims themselves do not hasten to complain.


"Victims of sectarians often are under the influence of leaders and they do not report to the police. Now the sect of the 'Horde' (prohibited in the RF) has spread in a number of regions, which is the same thing as the pseudo-religious movement 'Ata Zholy' ('The Way of the Ancestors') from Kazakhstan," the prosecutor explained. "The activity of this sect has already been banned in Kurgan and Cheliabinsk provinces and the republic of Bashkortostan. Nevertheless, in two years only 46 reports have been given to the police, and only seven cases have made it to trial.


Article 239 of the Criminal Code does not give the possibility of conducting operational search activity in sects. In this case it is necessary to enforce the law under the article about terrorism and extremism.


Zhanna Nikolaeva noted that an article on sects should provide accountability for refusal to assist law enforcement agencies.


To the question why so few cases make it to court, Zhanna Nikolaeva responded that law enforcers fall into a vicious circle, which is not broken until a victim is forced to receive expert analysis.


"People often do not see the links between their participation in a sect and their loss of work, breakup of a family, or financial ruin. And we cannot send them for expert analysis of their psychological condition without their consent."


A law "On forensic expert activity" has been in the State Duma at the stage of second reading since 2012. In the opinion of the representative of the prosecutor general's office, this bill provides adequate mechanisms for combating sects. It provides for the creation of a register of experts and their certification, which would exclude partisanship of specialists. At the present time, a technical committee on expert analysis has been created and its standardization is ongoing. The law has not been discussed at all in 2016 and its prospects are unclear.


Zhanna Nikolaeva considers the prospect of the adoption of a package of laws on sects rather pessimistically.  "When can it be adopted? I am afraid nobody knows," the senior prosecutor of the prosecutor general's office said. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 November 2016)

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