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Human rights arm of Russian presidency objects about other state agencies' attack on sects

by Lev Levinson

Ekspress khronika, 31 Juanuary 1997

(summary by PDS) The Chamber on Rights of the Person of the Political Consultative Council of the Presidency of the Russian Federation, whose president is duma member Valery Borshchev, issued a statement criticizing several actions of parts of the Russian government that the chamber views as illegal, unconstitutional, and infringements upon freedom of religion. Among those actions were the inclusion of police surveillence of non-Orthodox religions as part of a "war on crime," creation of a "specialized service for aid to victims of several religious organizations" by the Russian ministry of health, and official categorization of certain sects as "totalitarian" and "destructive." The chamber proposed investigation of the possibility of restricting news media that are publishing antisectarian material.

The chamber sponsored a round table to discuss a report issued by the Russian ministry of health that addressed the expansion of sectarian activity in Russia. The report stated that there now are 6000 sects in the country.

The human rights newspaper Ekspress khronika, reporting the round table, criticized widespread antisectarian anxiety and applauded the chamber's concerns:

(excerpts) "An inexorable struggle with religious variety is counterproductive. Federal authorities issue documents intended to inflame further religious intolerance. MVD and the ministry of health are keen to defend the 'moral health' of millions (by their calculation) of victims of 'destructive cults.' Psychiatric professor Kondratiev offers hysterical mothers to heal the 'pseudoreligious delerium' of their adult children at the Serbsky institute. All publications, from black-brown to blue, are eager to throw fuel into the bonfire of the flaming antisectarian campaign.

"In such circumstances it is impossible to stop at 'monitoring' the numerous violations of the freedom of religious profession and worldviews. Freedom of conscience requires active defense. The "round table" of the Chamber on Rights of the Person confirms the existence of healthy forces who have sufficient resoluteness to oppose the police and psychiatric traditions of struggle with doctrinal deviance."

Account of "round table":
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Psikiatri i uchastkovie
English translation: Psychiatrists and officers

Concluding document of "round table":
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Iz itogovogo dokumenta
English translation: From the concluding document

Discussion at "round table":
Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Novye religii
English translation: New religions

(posted 10 february 1997)

Russian government figure criticizes American secretary of state for defence of religious freedom

by Andrei Pravdoliubov

Ekspress khronika, 31 January 1997

(summary by PDS) The human rights newspaper Ekspress khronika expressed concern about a recent colloquium sponsored by the Russian government where cooperation between the Orthodox church and the law enforcement agencies of Russia was discussed.

At the meeting an administrator on the staff of President Yeltsin, A. Loginov, complained that American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright persistently raises objections about infringements of religious liberty in Russia in order to put political and economic pressures on Russia in an attempt to manipulate its domestic and foreign policies. (The Moscow patriarchate expressed in the same forum similar views to the effect that " Now, well aware that Russia will stand as long as Christian orthodoxy stands, the West is encouraging religious dissent to undermine the Eastern Christian cause." See Patriarch Warns against Religious Dissent.)

The first deputy of the minister of internal affairs proposed the inclusion of Orthodox content and symbols in the training and maintenance of law enforcement officers. (See earlier report of this: Orthodox church summoned to fight crime. )

The newspaper accused the MVD of trying to restore prerevolutionary circumstances when deviation from official Orthodoxy was treated as a state crime.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Svoboda sovesti
English translation: Freedom of Conscience

(posted 5 February 1997)

Soviet-type persecution of Orthodox


Ekspress khronika, 31 January 1997

"The parish of the Russian Orthodox Free church in Syzran, Samara region, has been forced to enter the catacombs," according to a report from the president of the church council of an Orthodox church indipendent from the Russian Orthodox church, Deacon Vladimir Mukhin, sent to the administrator of parishes of the Russian Orthodox Free Church, Archbishop Valentin of Suzdal. In July 1996 Vladimir Mukhin and his wife Liubov were beaten brutally in front of their children by officers of the Syzran Department of Internal Affairs at the same time that a report about the Mukhins' attack upon police officers was prepared. In October Deacon Mukhin was forcibly confined in a psychiatric hospital and "warned about abnormal activity." Threats of physical reprisals have been sent to members of the Free Church congregation. According to Mukhin, activists of the Free Church "have become victims of corrupt servants of the Syzran deanery of the Moscow patriarchate."

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Sviashchnosluzhiteli RPSTs podvergaiutsia (posted 4 February 1997)

American think tank warns about infringement of religious rights

Ekspress khronika, 31 January 1997

"If Russia is to be integrated into the European and world community in the future then it must fulfill international and domestic obligations of freedom of conscience and religious confession, cease a policy of discrimination against religious minorities, and exist as a state of law." This is said in an open letter by the president of the Rutherford Institute (Charlottesville, Virginia), John Whitehead, which was sent on 13 January to President B. Yeltsin. The author of the letter called attention to the discriminatory character of local laws adopted by more than twenty regions of the Russian federation and aimed at the restriction of freedom of religious activity. He also expressed concern about the adoption by the State Duma on 15 December 1996 of a resolution "Concerning the Dangerous Effects of Several Religious Organizations upon the Health of Society, Family, and Citizens of Russia." In particular, the resolution contains a suggestion to create "within the government of the Russian Federation on the basis of traditional religious confessions an official interconfessional expert commission for offical assessment of the dangers of religious organization, religious confessions, religious educational and research programs," and also to establish "for maintenance of legality a special structural subdivision that deals with problems of criminality of totalitarian sects." Mr. Whitehead warns the head of the Russian state of the possibility of substantial violations of the rights of persons on the basis of the illegal decisions in the sphere of religion which he cited, as well as a number of other cases. The Rutherford Institute is an international legal and educational organization specializing in programs connection with the preservation of religious freedom, human life, and the autonomy of the family.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Institut rezerforda protiv diskriminatsii

(posted 4 February 1997)

US state department assesses religion freedom in FSU

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996
30 January 1997

The American Department of State's survey of human rights included evaluation of the experiences of religious persons. In regard to former soviet republics, the reports painted a generally positive picture, with a few references to isolated problems.

In Armenia, where the Armenian Apostolic church is granted privileged status by, one non-Apostolic group was denied registration because of its pacifism. In Azerbaijan, non-Orthodox Christian groups have complained of official harassment.

The situations in Belarus and Estonia seem to be generally free for religious practice. In Latvia, the Jehovah's Witnesses are the only group mentioned as experiencing official restriction. In Lithuania it is the Lubavich Jewish congregations who meet stubborn resistance from the state in their attempt to be recognized as a legitimate form of Judaism. Authorities in Moldova refused to recognize the Salvation Army because it did not have Moldovan national leadership and a group of Orthodox churches that have refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarchate. In Georgia, non-Orthodox religions have complained about discrimination. The Georgian Orthodox church, wary of proselytism, has sought to hinder evangelical missionaries and the Salvation Army. In one instance, the Orthodox Church urged the police to question foreign Christian missionaries. The Catholic Church also complains of continuing delays in the return of churches closed during the soviet period and later given to the Georgian Orthodox church. A prominent Armenian church in Tbilisi remains closed.

In Central Asia, no substantial cases of enfringement of religious rights in Kazakhstan were reported, and only a few incidents were mentioned from the Kyrgyz republic, including problems faced by Baptists in Naryn oblast who were denied registration by state agencies and suffered a police raid of their services. Adherents of Bahai complain of the only reported problems in Tajikstan. In Uzbekistan, some Muslim clerics have been arrested because they reject the leadership of the state-appointed Muslim authorities.

About one-fourth of Russia's 89 regional governments have passed restrictive laws and decrees that violate the provisions of the 1990 Law on Religion by limiting or restricting the activities of religious groups or by requiring registration. In Ukraine leaders of the White Brotherhood sect were sentenced to jail terms resulting from an altercation with police.

Armenian and Moldovan laws forbid proselytizing, while a new law in Azerbaijan imposed that prohibition on foreigners. Foreign missionaries in Belarus, Latvia, and Ukraine must be invited by legally registered national religious organizations and work within the confines of those organizations. Except for Azerbaijan, Muslim republics seem more hospitable for evangelization than non-Muslim ones.

Freedom of Religion

(posted 31 January 1997)

Orthodox church summoned to fight crime

The MVD and the Russian Orthodox church are preparing a joint repulse of "satanism." Nikita Mikhalkov called policemen not to take the laws seriously. Vladimir Zhirinovsky told them to fire to their last bullet.

Segodnia, 22 January 1997 (excerpts)

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) of the Russian Federation, apparently despairing of halting the criminal on the physical and technological front, has seriously turned to "a spiritual and moral approach to the struggle with crime." It was to this burning issue that yesterday's meeting of Christmas Readings (Rozhdestvensky chtenie) titled "Fatherland--Spirituality--Legality" was devoted, which assembled under the aegis of the academy of MVD the law enforcement agency, hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox church, and representatives of the patriotic wing of the intelligentsia and political activists. . . .

By all signs, the leadership of the Orthodox church was favorably inclined to accept the offers by the MVD of attempts at close relations: the statement of Patriarch Alexis II to "the servants of order," which was read by Bishop Savva of Krasnogorsk, declared that "without reference to genuine Orthodoxy it is impossible to heal the wounds which society has endured." The representative of the Russian Orthodox church generally agreed with the police evaluation of the criminalization of contemporary Russia--"vice has captured the minds and spirits of our fellowcitizens"--and promised "to adopt adequate forms of joint service to state and society. . . ."

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): MVD I Russkaia Pravoslavnaia Tserkov
English translation: MVD and Russian Orthodox church

RFE/RL analysis: Orthodoxies, Old and New

For related material consult sources under the "Government-church cooperation" link in the Subject Index.

(posted 28 January 1997)

Christian Democrats picket Jehovah's Witnesses

by M. Bogdanova

Ekspress khronika 24 January 1997

St. Petersburg. Representatives of the organization "Young Christian Democrats" (MKhD) conducted a street demonstration against the activity of the religious association of "Jehovah's Witnesses" on 22 January in front of the building of the House of the Friendship of Peoples. The demonstration coincided with the presentation of a new edition of the Bible in Russian (printed in Italy on order of the administrative center of Jehovah's Witnesses) which was being conducted at the time inside the House of the Friendship of Peoples. Participants in the demonstration displayed placards with such slogans as "If you have joined the sect you have forgotten your family," and "Distributing Lucifer's Bible." The MKhD claims not to have anything against an edition of the Bible. But the organization is displeased that "a totalitarian sect that engages in criminal activity and causes harm to the health of Petersburgers has the right to publish books." "Young Christian Democrats" demand prohibiting of the activity of "Jehovah's Witnesses."

In addition to representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization, participants in the presentation of the new edition of the Bible included scholars from St. Petersburg State University, the Institute of Eastern Studies, the Herzen Pedagogical University, and the State Museum of the History of Religion. They stated that the text of the edition had been displayed in 1993 in issues of the "Orthodox Review" from the years 1860-1867, which is held by the Department of Rare Books of the Russian National Library. The scholars noted that the publication of a previously unknown translation of the Bible is an important event in the cultural life of St. Petersburg.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Aktsiia molodykh khristianskikh demokratov

For related material consult sources under the "Jehovah's Witnesses" link in the Subject Index.

(posted 28 January 1997)

American Helsinki watch groups protests restrictions on religious liberty in Uzbekistan

by Karen S. Lord, Counsel for Freedom of Religion, Congressional Fellow

CSCE Digest, December 1996, p. 9

The commission in the United State Congress that has monitored compliance with the agreement signed at Helsinki in 1975, which produced the Council (formerly Organization) on Security and Cooperation in Europe, sent a letter to President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan based on reports about a variety of apparent violations of the rights of minority religious groups.

Commission urges Uzbekistan

(posted 27 January 1997)

Can religious identity in army be promoted?

by Evgeny Poliakov

Military Review, no. 2, 1997, Nezavisimaia gazeta, 18 January 1997

The "Military Review" supplement of the Nezavisimaia gazeta published an article that touched on several aspects of relations between religions and the military. While the State Duma is trying to resolve the controversial "conscientious objector" issue, an Orthodox priest who directs a center that works with people who have become followers of some of the many sects that have proliferated in Russia is trying to promote religious influence within the military. This article provides some interesting reflections of the current situation.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Krishnaitskie polki I protestantskie divisii
English translation: Krishnaite corps

For related material consult sources under the "Conscientious Objectors" link in the Subject Index.

(posted 22 January 1997)

Famous icon painter punished

Christian News Service, January 1997

Moscow -- Russia's best known Orthodox icon painter was suspended from the priesthood shortly before Christmas for showing "excessive sympathy for Catholicism."

Orthodox Archbishop Eusebius Savvin of Pskov said he imposed the measure on Archimandrite Zianon Teodor, prior of the Miroski Monastery, under Orthodox regulations forbidding common prayers with heretical bishops, priests and deacons. Two monks at the Archimandrite's icon school were also forbidden to wear habits and receive sacraments pending acts of penance.

The Russian "Orthodox Radonez" monthly said all three had been reported to the Moscow Patriarchate after receiving Holy Communion from a group of Italian Catholic priests, who celebrated Mass at the Miroski Monastery chapel August 15, the feast of the Assumption.

The paper added that Fr. Teodor, the equivalent of an abbot, had agreed to abide by the suspension, but in a letter to Archbishop Eusebius dismissed the "unfounded charges" and rejected claims that the Catholic Church had been proved heretical by Orthodox canons.

"As for the so-called additions introduced by the Roman Church, no one has imposed them," he said. "Far from corrupting the essence of the faith, they merely reveal new aspects of the Latin tradition, which long predates the division between Rome and Constantinople." CNS

See the text of Bishop Evsevii's order and other background material. (posted 14 January 1997)

Orthodox missionary congress

Blagovest (Samara), December 1996

Belgorod. In November 1996 the First Congress of Missionaries of the Russian Orthodox church convened in Belgorod. A letter from the Most Holy Patriarch Alexis II was read to the participants.

In his report Bishop Ioann of Belgorod and Starooskol divided the mission into external (attracting non-Orthodox people into the church) and internal (catechesis) aspects. Delegates also heard a member of the State Duma, N.I. Ryzhkov, who noted the unifying role of the church which counteracts those who are destroying Russia. the secretary of the congress, Archpriest Boris Pivovarov, gave a brief excursus on the history of the enlightenment of the peoples of Siberia and Altai. Archbishop Alexander of Kostroma and Galich expressed concern for the religious apathy of youth. He suggested the creation of more Orthodox educational institutions to address this problem. The president of the Khomiakov Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Nontraditional Religions, priest Oleg Steniaev, suggested conducting explanatory work with sectarians in order to draw them into normal parish life. Bishop Arkady of South Sakhalin and the Kuriles noted the active prosyletizing activity of the Roman Catholic church by Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans in Siberia and the Far East, seeking to separate from Russia Sakhalin and the Kurile islands.

The priest Alexis Bogdan of the Pokrovsky cathedral represented the missionary department of Samara diocese of the Russian Orthodox church.

Everyone who took part in the work of the section "Sects and the Health of the Nation" provided example of the profound interference of other governments in the internal life of Russia with the help of totalitarian sects. [tr. by PDS] (posted 13 January 1997)

Muslims in Moscow

On January 10 Muslims in the main mosque in Moscow began the observance of the fast-month of Ramadan.
Picture from ITAR-TASS.

Ingush president honored for peacemaking

Nezavisimaia gazeta, 10 January 1997

Yesterday in Stavropol in the main cathedral of the Stavropol diocese Metropolitan Gedeon of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz awarded Ingushetia president Ruslan Aushev one of the highest honors of the Russian Orthodox church, the order of Saint Daniel the Builder of Moscow, second degree. Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus deemed the president of Ingushetia worthy of this award for his great personal contribution to the achievement of peace in the Caucasus. The president of Ingushetia, speaking at the award ceremony, stated in particular that the leadership of the republic will do everything possible to make Ingushetia a zone of peace and concord.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Tserkov nagradila Ausheva

(posted 10 January 1997)

Bomb threat on Christmas Eve

by Maxim Shevchenko
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 9 January 1997

. . .The earth and universe adored the God who was incarnated in the infant Jesus. The Most Holy Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Alexis II, despite prolonged illness, directed the course of the liturgy at Epiphany cathedral in Elokhov.

As if to confirm the opinion of the Russian classic regarding dissipation in the whole world in the last moments before Christmas, an unclean force manifested itself on this night. Someone phones the cathedral and warned about a bomb inside. And if one recalls the desecration last summer of Minsk churches by Satanic slogans, the murder of monks and priests in recent years, and generally takes account of the pagan sabbath that is having effect unhindered on the defenseless consciousness of the postsoviet population of Russia, then it was not unrealistic to be fearful about the point of this diversion. The total lack of control in such a supremely important sphere of public consciousness as religion leads in the circumstances of contemporary technocratic society to dangerous precedents of mass psychosis and often to obsession.

But it is promised that "the gates of hell will not overcome the church." The church did not react to the demons' attack. Noone knew about the call except the archbishops and security services, which searched all areas of the enormous cathedral. The patriarchal service, attended by Moscow mayer Yuri Luzhkov, proceeded.

Full Russian text (requires KOI-8): Prazdniki

(posted 10 January 1997)