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President justifies crackdown on NGOs

Nezavisimaia 12 April 2013

Fifty Russian non-commercial organizations have demanded that Vladimir Putin publish data he mentioned in a recent interview.

The issue is about lists of rights advocacy organization that, according to the president, have received almost a billion dollars from abroad. In a recent interview with the German television company ARD, Putin maintained that there are more than 650 non-commercial organizations. . The president cited such a scope in order to justify massive investigations.   (tr. by PDS, posted 12 April 2013)

Related articles on crackdown:

Institute of Modern Russia, 12 April 2013

OK: Why is this series of attacks on NGOs taking place now?

LP: About a month and a half ago, Vladimir Putin spoke at an FSB [Federal Security Service] panel. He said, as if addressing no one in particular, that he couldn’t understand why the law on “foreign agents” had been passed but was not being implemented. And I guess, at this moment, Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika might have thought that it was his moment of glory. Maybe he wanted to distinguish himself, or maybe he was insecure in his office, but as a result we have a horrible story: hundreds of NGOs were raided by prosecutors. It’s an ongoing seizure and destruction of the third sector, with the attack targeting not just NGOs, but even more so NGOs that deal with human rights issues.

Russian Evangelical Alliance, 11 April 2013


Government inspection of non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) has begun to encroach upon religious organisations. Consequently, Anatoly Pchelintsev, the head of Moscow’s “Slavic Legal Centre”, urged in Council sessions that congregations should study legislation precisely and prepare themselves for unannounced inspections. To this end, all relevant laws are to be posted on the RUECB’s website. The barrister noted that no legal requirement exists for congregations to pass on personal information regarding its members to government circles.

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Restraints on commercial activity of church

Interfax-Religiia, 12 April 2013

The Department for Relations of Church and Society of the Moscow patriarchate has sounded the alarm over the situation in the sphere of "Orthodox" trade fairs, at some of which sectarians are operating and selling low quality goods.

"His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Kirill has received collective and individual letters from citizens who are upset by the situation surrounding Orthodox trade fairs which are held in various regions of Russia. It is possible to consider with regret the fact that several Orthodox trade fairs have stopped answering to their name," a declaration from the synodal department, which was delivered of Friday to Interfax-Religiia, says.

Such events are being organized by secular trading companies with which the patriarchate has nothing to do. The number of vendors that represent the church at these trade fairs "has been steadily declining and constitutes, as a rule, no more than 30% of the total number of participants, which however does not prevent the organizers from calling the trade fairs 'Orthodox,'" the document explains.

"At such events, often consumer goods are sold that are of a rather low quality. But much more disturbing is the fact that these trade fairs have become the favorite place for the activity of para-Orthoodox sects, and particularly of the so-called 'Kuzya God' sect," the statement says.

The founder of the sect is Andrei Popov, born in 1977. For a long time he called himself "bishop of Rome," but after being caught in a lie he proclaimed himself a "god," in order to maintain his authority among followers.

"The 'Kuzya God' sect is of a clearly destructive nature, which is confirmed by numerous testimonies of its former adepts. As in the majority of totalitarian sects, it actively uses methods of physical and psychological manipulation of the individual, going as far as beatings," the church said.

The main income of the sect comes from its members' participation in "Orthodox" trade fairs. Posing, as a rule, as representatives of a little-known church or monastery, its adepts suggest that people order all kinds of prayers services and rites. According to data of the synodal department, at just one trade fair, from 30 to 40 stands may belong to the sect, which brings it huge income.

"However, in reality nobody performs prayer services and rites, and Popov takes all the money himself. Moreover, at such trade fairs people are recruited into the sect under the guise of providing help to some church," the statement says.

Its authors emphasize that the patriarchate is actively working to correct the situation that has arisen. In particular, recently a Commission on Coordination of Trade Activity of the Russian Church was created, and the regulations for its commercial activity have been developed, conditions have been established under which a commercial event can be called Orthodox, and the requirements upon organizers and participants in such events have been worked out.

In the future the church plans to continue cooperation on this matter with representatives of government agencies and organizers of Orthodox trade fairs. (tr. by PDS, posted 12 April 2013)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Orthodox nationalists confront Scientologists

Press Service of Scientology Church of Moscow, 11 April 2013

Apparently having gotten false information from antireligious propaganda, which some news media are not averse to, several persons from a certain group, "God's Will," on 8 April appeared outside the building of the Scientology Church of Moscow. They called themselves "Orthodox," and they began to conduct a "prayer service," while disrupting order and quiet around the church building, applying stickers on the building, and pestering passers-by.

The God's Will group is known for its strange actions: hooligan pranks in a museum, prayer service against "Pussy Riot," vandalism in the Yabloko Party office, and others, which you cannot call expressions of love and tolerance. The language chosen by these people of intolerance and hatred is not at all what contemporary Russian society needs. The propaganda of hatred and strife does not comply with the requirements of Russian law and it undermines the foundations of harmony among Russians who are adherents of diverse religions.

We recall that the Scientology Church of Moscow has been providing aid to the residents of Moscow for 19 years now and it has a large number of parishioners.

Russian Scientologists enlighten young people about the harm of drugs and they participate in disaster relief (helping victims after the flood in Krymsk, helping victims in the roof collapse of Basman market, etc.).

Today the Scientology Church of Moscow is open seven days a week from 10:00 in the morning to 10:00 in the evening, and every person who is interested in or seeking spirituality may visit the  church and create his own opinion about it. In the church is a public information center and on its stands one may find everything about the church and its activity. The book exhibit on the first floor will possibly open for you new knowledge about yourself and your surroundings.  (tr. by PDS, posted 11 April 2013)

Russian original posted on, 11 April 2013

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Defenders of believers' feelings law speak out

Interfax-Religiia, 11 April 2013

The law protecting believers' feelings, approved recently on first reading, needs to be adopted as quickly as possible, thinks Alexander Shchipkov, a member of the Council of Public Television of Russia and Orthodox rights advocate and publicist. "The deputies made the decision against a background of alarming incidents. These are both acts of vandalism to objects of worship and the recent beating of the rector of the church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in the village of Pervomaisk, as the result of which the 52-year-old received a serious concussion," A. Shchipkov says in an article published on the Interfax-Religiia website.

He recalled that recently the Russian Constitutional Court adopted a decree which permits performing public worship services outside of houses of worship.  The right to free conduct of religious services is recognized also in a whole series of articles of Russian legislation. However, according to A. Shchipkov, "today nobody will give a guarantee that your processions of the cross, prayer service, or requiem will not be equated with street disorders by an arbitrary decision of bureaucrats and stopped by the police."

"Neither believers nor local or federal authorities have an interest in such excesses and tossing of the situation. The 'bolshevization' of society can be prevented by only one means—legal and legislative. Only thus is it possible to regulate relations between those who hold diverse views and convictions," the article says.

Its author thinks that Russian society is under constant threat of the transformation of ideological differences from civilized discussion to political confrontation. "At the start we observed the 'innocent' but very offensive jokes against Orthodox believers in popular TV programs and then we read offensive poems of famous writers against the sash of the Mother of God, and soon some people entered a church and blasphemed Christ there, and it all culminated in chopping up icons and dousing them in acid and sawing down veneration crosses," A. Shchipkov stated.

In his opinion, the snowball is picking up speed and growing in size and "will continue to fly further; already priests are being beaten up, already religious rituals are being likened to political actions."

A. Shchipkov thinks that the existence of a new law will be a natural restraint for those who are inclined toward illegal actions, "and then the intervention of police another time will likely not be needed." "This is why a new federal law combating offense to religious convictions and feelings of citizens is extremely necessary for us in the very near future," he concluded. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 April 2013)

Interfax-Religiia, 11 April 2013

Sacred symbols, including religious ones, need protection on the part of the law. This opinion was expressed by the vice-president of the International Foundation of Slavic Literacy and Culture, the senior adviser of the duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Stepan Medvedko.

In an interview, the host of the program "Time of confidence," broadcast on radio "Komsomolskaia Pravda," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, emphasized that symbols and values for which people are prepared to give their lives include not only religious objects but also such concepts as "the eternal flame, memory of the deceased, reputation, honor, and holy war." Father Vsevolod also expressed concern that the "concept of 'sacred' has gone out of our lives."

The guest on the program, S. Medvedko, stated that with the new draft law "the government is giving a rather serious signal.  In the sphere of citizen-law relations and the sphere of relations of two subjects it has taken the problem to a higher level—the protection by the state of the interests of the individual and of the social group."

Both speakers agreed that the desecration of a religious object "is incorrectly identified as hooliganism," since "hooliganism simply does not cover the whole complexity of the situation that is connected with the desecration of objects and symbols that are venerated by people.

The vice-president of the Foundation of Slavic Literacy and Culture noted that "legislation in Germany and France provides substantial prison terms for such actions, which are not viewed as administrative violations of the law. For example, with regard to the FEMEN group, the office of the prosecutor initiated a criminal case and in the near future, possibly, there will be a trial for a protest in the Paris cathedral of Notre Dame. "If these women are found guilty, they face a very substantial term, up to eight years in prison," S. Medvedko said.

At the end of the interview he expressed confidence that in the majority, society supports the legislative initiative, since "it understands the necessity of preserving spiritual pillars and support for traditional spiritual values and traditional religious institutions. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 April 2013)

Interfax-Religiia, 11 April 2013

The Kremlin supports the idea of a law protecting believers' feelings. It is absolutely necessary for Russia, but its implementation is complicated, the press secretary of the president of the Russian federation, Dmitry Peskov, thinks. "The Kremlin supports the idea of the law. As regards the phrasing, everything is the work of lawyers," he said. Peskov noted that the traditional religions of Russia have many of their own customs.

"This is a law that is very difficult to implement, but it is absolutely necessary in our multinational, multi-confessional country," he declared.

Reporters asked about what kind of punishment should follow for someone who desecrated some holy place without knowing that it is sacred.

"I am not able to comment on details of the implementation of the law. That is a question of judicial practice, how it will be implemented in actuality," D. Peskov said. In his opinion, one should not stretch one law too far, but should proceed from its goal. In this case the goal is protecting believers' feelings. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 April 2013)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Initial adoption of believers' feelings bill prompts dissent

Interfax-Religiia, 10 April 2013

The draft law providing prison terms for hurting believers' feelings and desecrating sacred things will lead to an outburst of militant atheism, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation thinks. "The introduction of such criminal liability will not add to the authority of the church,. This law is against the church," a member of the CPRF fraction, Yury Sinelshchikov, declared during discussion of the bill on first reading. In his opinion, adoption of the law and the appearance of criminal cases based on it "will lead to an outburst of militant atheism, while in its most aggressive forms it will engender enmity between believers and unbelievers and exacerbate inter-religious strife," Yu. Sinelshchikov suggests.

He thinks that there are no reasons for the adoption of the law, and the crimes to which it pertains are already punished by currently existing legislation. In addition, he thinks many of the terms used in the law do not have legal definition.

In the best case, it will lead to lengthy linguistic, theological, historical, and other expert analyses and red tape during investigation, while in the worst case it will trigger "various abuses by officials in criminal justice, corrupt phenomena, and reprisals against inconvenient persons," the member of the CPRF fraction noted.

In his turn, the deputy director of the "A Just Russia" fraction, Mikhail Emelianov, noted that members of "A Just Russia" do not have a united position regarding the bill and therefore these will vote in accordance with their convictions, freely.

Representatives of "United Russia" supported the bill.

In his turn, one of the sponsors of the draft law, the head of the duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organization, Yaroslav Nilov (LDPR fraction), stated that the document will be improved for second reading taking account of comments received. "I would like to express the hope that everything will be fine for us. This bill will work in the interests of our citizens. We will believe and faith will save," Ya. Nilov noted. He also answered the question of how this bill protects the feelings of atheists. According to Ya. Nilov, this document protects, inter alia, worldview symbols which may be honored by atheists. He also advised every atheist to see the film "Life of Pi." "It's a very good film that shows how in inhumane conditions only by faith can one save one's self and survive," he said.

Three hundred thirty deputies voted for the bill, seven opposed it, and one abstained.

Meanwhile the Yabloko party expressed a protest against the adoption of the bill on first reading. "These amendments grossly violate the constitution of the Russian federation, article 28 of which guarantees freedom of religious confession, including the right to profess individually or jointly with others any religion or not to profess any religion, as well as the right to disseminate religious or other convictions and to act in accordance with them," the party's statement says. In the opinion of the statement's authors, thereby "the rights of persons not professing any religion are grossly infringed." The party produced data from the Ministry of Justice according to which on 1 January 2012 more than 60 religious denominations representing officially registered associations are operating in the country. Among them are shamanism and pagan confessions "whose rituals in and of themselves are offensive for Christians and Muslims." (tr. by PDS, posted 10 April 2013)

Leader of "For human rights" movement, Lev Ponomarev, thinks this law superfluous
by Maksim Mitchenkov
Kommersant, 9 April 2013

The State Duma will consider the draft law on protection of believers' feelings on first reading. The leader of the "For human rights" movement, Lev Ponomarev, discussed the situation with announcer Maksim Mitchenkov.

The document introduces prison terms of up to five years and large fines for offending religious feelings of citizens and desecration of sacred things. In particular, for public desecration of religious literature or worldview symbols, the offender will have to pay up to 50 thousand rubles. Members of all four parliamentary parties were sponsors of this bill.

--If one considers this bill from the point of view of protection of human rights, how does it fit into this framework?

--I believe that this law is superfluous. There already exist standards which prohibit desecration of places of worship and that law has worked in the past. But hurting believers' feelings—that is a very flexible, very elastic thing and we have already seen how believers who do not attend an exhibit have been offended. Simply after watching an exhibit on the Internet in the Sakharov Center, believers' feelings were offended, although it was not filmed in the exhibit. Those believers who might be offended by these works of art were advised not to enter the premises. So they viewed it on the Internet and were offended. So now believers are in an aggressive phase and perhaps that is natural after soviet times and all the rest. And if we face the fact that some conflicts appear on the streets between believers and those who supposedly are offending them, then it is the believers who display the aggression. In any case, it is they who beat the others and not the other way around. So here, most likely, it is necessary to adopt some law for unbelievers so that believers would not offend them. Or at least it is necessary to raise the question.

--How will this bill be interpreted nevertheless? "Desecration of sacred thing" and "offending religious feelings" are still not judicial concepts. How will I apply this law?

--Yes, completely correct. It will be a reign of taste, as it were. I should say that the State Duma is not called "Printer" for nothing. I will not say that that is my assessment: such a rabid printer that they punch out one law after the other which violates human rights. In our country there are unbelievers and there are secular people. And if a secular person approaches a believer and says, "There is no god," and he thinks that he has been offended? It cannot be ruled out that this law will begin to apply even in the case when he says:  "I was offended; my feelings were hurt by this person who said that there is no god." Or he writes on a t-shirt that there is no god. So this is a very dangerous law. It enflames domestic conflict, civil confrontation within society, and it is superfluous; I absolutely insist on it. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 April 2013)

Russian original posted on site, 10 April 2013

by Alisa Shtykina, 10 April 2013

Three years of prison for public offense of religious feelings, five years for desecration of objects of religious worship. The State Duma, by overwhelming majority, approved on first reading a law protecting believers' feelings. Only seven person voted "no," much fewer than the number of deputies in the CPRF fraction who actively attacked this draft law but did not vote against its adoption.

By 330 "yes" votes the State Duma adopted on first reading the bill protecting believers' feelings. The draft, which appeared in September 2012, proposes establishing criminal liability for "public offense of religious convictions and feelings of citizens, demeaning of worship services and other religious rituals and ceremonies of religious associations professing religions that constitute an integral part of the historic heritage of the peoples of Russia." If the law takes effect, such violations of the law will be punished by incarceration for a term up to three years, compulsory labor (up to 200 hours) or a fine up to 300,000 rubles. For desecration of objects and items of religious veneration and places designated for performing worship services and other religious rituals and ceremonies one may receive up to five years incarceration, a fine of 100 to 500 thousand rubles, or compulsory labor (up to 400 hours).

The bill was presented by one of its authors, the head of the duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Yaroslav Nilov (LDPR). "Last year went into Russian and world history as a year of overt antisocial, blasphemous challenges against our society. If we do not provide a legislative instrument, so that competent agencies will be able to respond in a timely fashion to antisocial attacks, then the street will bring order. And this has already begun," the deputy said in arguing for the need for adopting this law.

Another speaker, the vice-chairman of the Committee on Civil, Criminal, Arbitration, and Procedural Legislation, Alexander Remezkov (United Russia), expressed doubt about "the rationality of establishing criminal liability for offending religious feelings specifically in article 25 of the Criminal Code, when there already are articles directed to protecting freedom of conscience, art. 148 and 282. In the event of its adoption, proposed article 243.1 will create a conflict with these and other articles of the Criminal Code—167, 214, 243, and 244," he warned. In addition, the bill contains terms "that have no legal confirmation" (worship service, religious associations constituting an integral part of the historic heritage of the peoples of Russia). "This can create legal ambiguity in matters of qualification of crimes and permit broad interpretation," Remezkov concluded, but on the whole he approved the bill.

Yesterday the State Duma struggled substantially with the regulation, but even despite this there were many questions for speakers from deputies. Primarily communists attacked Nilov, although among the bill's sponsors there are two representatives of CPRF (Sergei Obukhov and Sergei Gavrilov). Anatoly Lokot (CPRF) noted that in various confessions, one and the same phenomenon can be interpreted as holy and as offensive.

"Is there no danger that this bill will lead to conflicts of believers of different confessions? Cannot there be another way that implements secularity?" the communist asked.

"This will not lead to any divisions; the law will operate for all believers in an identical degree, Remezkov disagreed. "And we have courts that will consider all arguments."

Another representative of CPRF, Nikolai Riabov, declared that "it is difficult to imagine a more flawed bill" and he suggested that Nilov add to the law a rule about a ten-year prison term for atheism:  "I am an unbeliever and that probably offends believers' feelings. So ten years, what do you think?" "Atheists are not a religious organization and they have no understanding of a sacred concept like God. With this law we even protect a worldview symbol honored by atheists," Nilov retorted. Nikolai Kolomeitsev accused him generally of blasphemy:  "Without examination, you want to get into serious questions, and I think that you are committing blasphemy in this situation." And Yury Sinelshchikov, speaking for the CPRF fraction, insisted that "there are not any grounds" for adopting this bill because "in all cases guilty persons have been punished in accordance with existing law." "Criminal law has become the chief regulator of relationships in the country. This is typical for an unhealthy society," he declared.

Although Nikolai Levichev is listed among the sponsors of the document in question, the "A Just Russia" fraction was not able to determine its own attitude on the law. "We declare a free vote," Mikhail Emelianov of "A Just Russia" reported. And his colleague in the fraction, Anatoly Greshnevikov, warmly supported the legislative initiative: "Absolutely confused youth do not understand why one can treat authorities and leaders of confessions however they wish, but it is forbidden to touch sacred things."

Besides communists, the only one who doubted the propriety of the proposed measures was Sergei Kuzin of United Russia. He doubted whether it is possible "to punish people criminally," using such concepts as feelings. "Is there anywhere in the legislation a comprehensive definition of the concept of offending feelings?" the deputy asked. Nilov referred him to article 5.26 of the Code of administrative violations of law (violation of legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession, and religious associations)—"There is there offense of religious feelings," and to the Criminal Code, for explanation of the concept of "offending," after which he stated that "feelings are certain emotional experiences, a certain human condition, and if it is changed that is an offense."

Toward the end of the session yet another sponsor of the bill, Mikhail Markelov (United Russia) began frightening the deputies with stories from pre-Petrine Russia, where such crimes faced the death penalty. "In Rus they used one of the most horrible of its forms—burning at the stake. The Old Testament prescribed stoning for a blasphemer and burning everything that he had. Such measures were maintained in Rus and were even provided for in the law code of Alexis Mikhailovich of 1649," the deputy said. "Indeed, colleagues, we have a secular state, but this whole informative historical retrospective is necessary for understanding the scale of the problem in question."

Seven persons voted against this law, and one abstained; the bill satisfied 330 deputies. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 April 2013)


The adoption of the law on offending believers' feelings in its present form will have exceptionally negative consequences for Russia, the director of the Institute of Religion and Law, Roman Lunkin, declared on 10 April. "This law has a repressive character and in its conceptual apparatus it does not fit well into our legal system," the expert noted in an interview with RBK.

The director of the Institute of Religion and Law called attention to the fact that the law loosely interprets the concept "offending religious feelings": "How it will be applied none of the lawyers who have read this draft, and are of sound mind and clear memory, understands. There is a huge scope for voluntarism here; the law can be applied however one wishes and against whomever one wishes."

The religion scholar noted that in its present version, the law protects representatives of religions that constitute "an integral part of the historic heritage of the peoples of Russia," although Russian legislation does not contain a legal definition of "historic heritage," "peoples of Russia," and "integral part."

"Even if the draft law were to indicate that the convictions of representatives of these and other religions are protected, all the same, officials in the prosecutor's office and judges will understand this as the necessity of protecting the feelings of the traditional religions. And then the question arises: will not representatives of other confessions that are in Russia suffer, along with atheists and those people who criticize the Russian Orthodox Church, the religious policy of the government, and Islam.  They criticize, perhaps, not from positions of outright atheism but rather from positions of a secular state and defense of secularity and they demand financial transparency—this also may be considered such an offense," Roman Lunkin noted. (tr. by PDS, posted 10 April 2013)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

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