Government authorities detained and imprisoned members of minority religions. Government authorities reportedly threatened inmates of one penal colony with inhumane treatment if they did not convert to Christianity. Police conducted raids against the private homes and places of worship of minority religious groups disrupting religious services and confiscating religious publications they deemed to be “extremist.” Authorities acted to dissolve some minority religious groups or revoke their status, refused to register other religious organizations, and imposed a number of restrictions that infringed on the religious practices of minority religious groups, in particular Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and Scientologists, including limiting their ability to obtain land, build places of worship, and obtain restitution of property seized during the Soviet era. Although the Federation of Jewish Communities reported no official acts of anti-Semitism at the federal level, there were increasing reports throughout the year of cases of anti-Semitism by local government officials as well as increased anti-Semitic statements in government-controlled media. The government granted privileges to the ROC that were accorded to no other religious group.
On August 16, families of Muslim inmates in Penal Colony 8, in Labytnangy, Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug – Ugra reported that inmates were held in a barracks and threatened with being set on fire if they did not convert to Christianity. Following a visit to the colony later that month by representatives from the local prosecutor’s office and the Yamalo-Nenets Kray Human Rights ombudsman, the inmates retracted all statements about the conditions of their incarceration and any threats they faced. There was no further information available about the case as of year’s end.
Also in September police in Moscow arrested 30 Muslim worshipers following Friday prayers, alleging the individuals had attacked the police after the police arrested a man coming out of a nearby mosque. The worshipers said they had attempted to free a friend from a police vehicle, saying he had been wrongfully arrested. Two individuals among the worshipers were charged with using violence to threaten an officer’s life, and were imprisoned for two months during the investigation period. On December 10, the Zamoskvoretskiy District Court of Moscow sentenced one of the individuals, Adam Oskanov, to one year in a penal colony. The detention of the other individual, Magomed Tochiyev, was extended until December 24. At year’s end, no information existed on developments in his case.
In October the Kirov District Court of St. Petersburg extended the detention of three Muslims being held on suspicion they had collaborated with the international pan-Islamic political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. The suspects were arrested in June and were accused of collaborating with a terrorist and extremist organization.
In September a court in the Ulyanovsk region found a local Muslim resident guilty under the anti-extremism law of inciting hatred via social media against the lifestyle and traditions of the Russian people. He was sentenced to 300 hours of compulsory labor.
In December the Rostov Regional Court reversed the judgment of the court of first instance in the case of 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses from Taganrog and ordered a retrial. In July the Taganrog City Court had convicted and sentenced seven of the 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses for organizing and attending illegal religious meetings. The judge sentenced four congregation elders to five-and-a-half-year suspended prison terms, but waived any fines, which in some cases would have exceeded 100,000 rubles ($1,704), because the investigation and trial had exceeded the statute of limitations on the length of time to bring a case to trial. The convictions were based on a 2009 decision by the Rostov Regional Court to dissolve the Jehovah’s Witnesses LRO in Taganrog, saying it was an extremist organization. Although the 2009 ruling officially had affected the group only as a legal entity, the Taganrog City Court judge determined that ruling had also banned the religious activity of all Jehovah’s Witnesses in Taganrog and surrounding districts. The remaining nine Jehovah’s Witnesses were acquitted.
The federal government continued to ban Nurjular, which the government defined as a religious association of followers of Sunni Muslim theologian Said Nursi. The federal government based its ban on its assessment that Nursi’s works were extremist and promoted intolerance. Muslim adherents of Nursi (generally referred to as “Nursi readers”) and religious rights advocates continued to state there was no Nurjular organization. In January Andrei Dedkov was detained in Krasnoyarsk on suspicion of organizing Nurjular activities. He was accused of recruiting citizens to participate in an extremist organization and distributing banned literature designed to incite religious strife. As of year’s end, no information existed on whether the case would be brought to court.
In March Nakiya Sharifullina and Laura Khapinova were found guilty of involvement in extremist activities and were fined 100,000 ($1,704) and 50,000 rubles ($852), respectively, for participating in Nurjular. Sharifullina had received a warning from the prosecutor’s office in Naberezhnye Chelny in January for organizing an “underground madrassah” for women to study Nursi's works. The warning stated that she would be prosecuted if she failed to cease illegal activity. The two women requested an appeal of their convictions in April but as of year’s end, no date had been set for a hearing. In August a Tatarstan court rejected the prosecutor's suit to declare an additional 18 Said Nursi books extremist, on the grounds the police had already burned them. Police claimed not to have received a court decision ordering the return of the books to Sharifullina.
In June two women from Krasnoyarsk, Yelena Gerasimova and Tatyana Guzenk, faced criminal trials for their alleged participation in Nurjular and were indicted for alleged extremist activity. No further information was available on this case at year’s end.
Some regional officials used contradictions between federal and local laws and varying interpretations of the law to restrict the activities of minority religious groups. In October authorities in Sochi fined the leader of the religious group Christian Community, Alex Kolyasnikov, 30,000 rubles ($511) for hosting an unauthorized meeting in a public cafe. Kolyasnikov was found guilty of “violating the established order for organizing and/or holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets” under the law limiting the places in which prayer and public religious observance may be conducted without prior approval, despite Kolyasnikov’s compliance with the part of the law allowing religious groups to rent public spaces for their activities. Prosecutors alleged that by holding the meeting, Kolyasnikov was violating fire and food safety codes for the cafe. Kolyasnikov’s lawyers said there was no evidence to support this allegation.
Throughout the year, authorities attempted to dissolve a number of minority religious associations on grounds that they were conducting extremist activity.
In March the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by St. Petersburg’s Harvest Pentecostal Church against its dissolution. The appeal followed the November 2013 St. Petersburg City Court decision to dissolve the church for engaging in educational activities without a license. The prosecutor’s office brought the case to the court following an inspection for extremist activity. Protestant church-supported drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers in the Rostov-on-Don and Chelyabinsk regions also faced similar investigations and threats of closure.
In April the Samara Regional Prosecutor’s Office filed an application to revoke the Jehovah’s Witnesses LRO there on grounds of “extremist activity.” In the lead-up to the regional court hearing, the prosecutor’s office suspended the LRO’s activities and temporarily seized its property. Following this, the MOJ immediately added the LRO to its list of religious associations whose activities had been suspended for extremist activity. In May the regional court ruled in favor of the prosecution and ordered the dissolution of the LRO. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision in a November 12 hearing.
On October 2, the ECHR ruled the 2006 refusal to register the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg violated Articles 9 and 11 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The St. Petersburg district court had refused the registration, stating the group had not been in existence for the required 15 years.
On October 22, the Moscow city court suspended hearings on the dissolution of the Church of Scientology of Moscow. Among other issues, the MOJ had required the church to reregister its 1994 religious charter, while at the same time stating the government did not recognize the religious nature of the organization’s activities. The church said it had already attempted to reregister 11 times and had been denied every time.
The government remained out of compliance with a 2009 ECHR ruling that the requirement for a religious group to have existed in a community for at least 15 years in order to be registered as an LRO violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ provisions on the freedoms of religion and association. The MOJ admitted the requirement did not conform to the European convention and submitted a draft law to eliminate the requirement. The State Duma approved the first of three readings of the bill in early October. As of year’s end, the Duma had made no further progress on the bill.
On February 11, the judicial board of the Vladimir Regional Court considered, then dismissed an appeal by the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC) against the seizure of its 800-year-old saints’ relics. In January 2013, the ROAC won its appeal of an arbitration court’s decision to award the relics to the Federal Property Management Agency in Suzdal on the grounds that the general courts, and not the arbitration court, had jurisdiction. Despite this judgment, the court ordered the relics seized in order to “ensure the safety of the property.”
In November a regional court in Vladimir ruled that a video on the case of the relics published by the online outlet Credo Portal was extremist. In October authorities in Vladimir had filed a lawsuit against Aleksandr Soldatov, founder of the independent religious website, who had produced a video showing police interrupting a church service to take possession of the relics while pushing Metropolitan Theodore away from the relics in the middle of a prayer. The ROAC said it was subject to systematic discrimination by authorities because of its refusal to acknowledge the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Authorities implemented measures restricting religious clothing in educational settings. On September 10, authorities at Moscow’s Pirogov Medical University instituted a new order prohibiting national or religious clothing. Administration officials explained the measure was intended to introduce a uniform clothing standard for all university students. The order also banned clothing that might offend the religious feelings of others.
On September 12, prosecutors in Mordovia, despite objections from the Muslim community, instituted a ban on religious clothing, including headscarves, in schools.
Across the country, police with the support of local authorities conducted raids on minority religious groups, in private homes and places of worship, confiscating and destroying religious literature and other individual property. Religious minorities said local authorities utilized the country’s anti-extremism laws to ban sacred and essential religious texts. As of November 1, the MOJ’s list of extremist materials had grown to 2,500 titles, including 69 Jehovah’s Witnesses items, four Falun Gong items, and seven Scientology items.
On December 3, the Supreme Court banned the official Jehovah’s Witnesses website, reversing an earlier decision by the Tver Regional Court. The ruling pronounced the website to be extremist, required Russian internet service providers to block access to the site, and made accessing the site a criminal offense. According to lawyers for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the ruling marked the first time any country had legally banned the group’s website. The earlier decision in January by the Tver regional court had been favorable to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, overturning the original 2013 decision by a lower court to ban the website.
In July the prosecutor’s office in Vladivostok carried out an inspection of the Church of Evangelical Baptist Christians that resulted in a 19,800-ruble ($337) fine for fire safety violations and a 15-day detention for the church’s pastor. Church members said authorities had been searching for extremist literature and cited the church for safety violations when they could find no evidence of any material that could be classified as extremist.
In August authorities in Primorye raided a mosque in Arzenyev and confiscated what they deemed to be extremist literature, including a book by Imam Muhyi-d-din Abu Zakayia entitled Gardens of the Righteous, which belonged to the “Islam” Muslim religious organization. This book had been put on the federal list of extremist materials by a verdict of the Leninsky District Court of the city of Orenburg in March 2012. The head of the religious organization was fined 2,000 rubles ($34) for this administrative violation.
In August Russian special forces raided the premises of the Moscow-based Muslim Enlightenment Educational Foundation and House of Prayer, confiscating publications and detaining worshipers. The foundation’s leadership stated that 108 pieces of print and electronic materials seized by agents containing texts such as Essence of Islamic Jihad had been planted there by authorities and had no connection with the activities or beliefs of the organization.
On September 11, Jehovah's Witness Aleksandr Yevdoshenko filed a second appeal against his June 27 conviction in Krasnoyarsk for mass distribution of extremist literature. The prosecutor’s office in Krasnoyarsk brought charges against Yevdoshenko after nationalist Rodina Party official Ivan Nagovitsyn reported to the police that he had received a copy of the banned flyer What does the Bible really teach? while allegedly attending a worship service. Nagovitsyn, the chair of the Krasnoyarsk Rodina Party’s Committee for Rehabilitating Victims of Sects, claimed on the party’s website that his committee was “not only engaged with the collection and analysis of information on sects in our region, but is also entering into a fight with them.”
On September 22, the Artinsky District Court in Sverdlovsk Region found an imam in the village of Ust-Manchazh guilty of disseminating extremist material. The court fined him and confiscated and destroyed the pamphlet in question, entitled Fortress of the Muslim, which in 2012 had been added to the federal list of extremist materials. The Muslim community in the region said the book was simply a collection of prayers, with no elements of extremism.
In October the district prosecutor’s office in Yekaterinburg initiated criminal proceedings against a mosque following a search of its premises for the dissemination of extremist materials. Materials deemed extremist included brochures, books, films, and audio recordings currently on the federal list of extremist materials.
In February Chelyabinsk law enforcement officials inspected a Protestant-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in the village of Smolino, removed its beneficiaries, seized religious materials, and threatened criminal charges. According to a March 6 report on the website of the Interior Ministry for the Urals, the police and local Federal Security Service (FSB) were “continuing a set of measures aimed at collecting evidence and documenting the illegal activity of participants of the Exodus Church.”
In August regional prosecutors shuttered the Muhammad the Great Prophet Muslim Scientific and Cultural Center in Khabarovsk following a search by regional FSB and Federal Migration Service officers. According to the authorities, the center was not a cultural entity but was teaching religion and conducting religious ceremonies without having registered as a religious entity with the MOJ.
On September 25, representatives from the St. Petersburg police anti-corruption unit and counter-extremism center searched the local offices of the Church of Scientology as part of a fraud investigation of St. Petersburg’s Olimp Construction Company, which reportedly had financial ties to the Scientologists. The criminal investigation against Olimp began in early September.
Officials continued to prevent religious organizations from obtaining land and denied construction permits for houses of worship. In some cases, authorities also announced plans to demolish places of worship.
On January 22, Mufti Askarbii Kardanov of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Adygea and Krasnodar regions said lack of funding was the biggest obstacle to the construction of mosques across the region, including in Tuapse, Adler, and Novorossiysk. At the same time, the Krasnodar region government allotted more than 525 million rubles ($8.9 million) from its budget for the construction of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Image of Christ at the Olympic Village.
Officials established dedicated prayer rooms for Muslim athletes during the February Sochi Olympics in the absence of any mosques in the city, although it had an estimated population of 20,000 Muslims. Despite discussions in the lead-up to the Olympics about the construction of a mosque, none materialized.
In July the senior spokesperson for Russia’s Council of Muftis, Gulnur Gaziyeva, urged Moscow authorities to build more mosques in the city, which had four mosques for an estimated population of two million Muslims. Gaziyeva stated more mosques would prevent the overcrowding of city streets on major holidays. He suggested 10 mosques be built in the city, one for each administrative district. The Moscow city government opposed the proposal.
In August the Muslim community in Kaliningrad, citing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, appealed to President Putin to reconsider a ban on the construction of a mosque in the south of the city. The appeal came following April district court and June regional court decisions prohibiting the building of a mosque.
In October members of the Muslim community in Belorechensky (Stavropol) stated they faced difficulties securing legal representation to contest a decision taken by local authorities in 2013 to demolish several mosques already under construction. In the absence of an attorney to represent them and in recognition of the passing of the deadline to file an official complaint against the demolition, the community sought the assistance of local mufti Mukhammad Haji Rakhimov in late October. As of year’s end, there was no further information available on the status of the case.
In May the Krishna community lost its court case challenging the Moscow Property Department’s unilateral termination of the lease for the land on which the community had planned to build a temple. The city government originally had approved a plan for the Krishna community to build a new temple on a plot of land in the sparsely populated outskirts of the city, after forcibly evicting the group from its centrally located temple in July 2013. Despite objections from both the federal and local human rights ombudsmen, the mayor’s office, saying it had the right to terminate the contract unilaterally and unconditionally, withdrew permission after the Krishna community had already spent 70 million rubles ($1.2 million) on the planning and construction of the new temple. The Krishna community was appealing the decision.
In June a Kaliningrad regional court upheld a March decision suspending the construction of a synagogue. The centrally located site had been leased to the Jewish community until 2016 to enable the reconstruction of a 19th century synagogue destroyed by Nazis in 1938. Although city authorities had not yet granted permission to build, construction work was begun in January 2013 and continued until the district court ruled work had to halt until a permit was issued. As of year’s end, city authorities still had not issued a building permit, citing a discrepancy between two sets of plans regarding the number of stories for the structure. The city’s Jewish community was pursuing its case over the suspension of construction with the Kaliningrad Regional Arbitration Court.
Restitution of religious property continued to be a challenge for several religious organizations.
In May Old Believers in Yekaterinburg appealed to the regional mayor for restitution of their church, which had been seized during the Soviet period. Despite a promise to include the property in a June auction during which worshipers could repurchase it, officials removed the church from the auction list just before the auction occurred.
On May 21, a court refused Lutherans in Vyborg restitution of their former parish house, which they hoped to use as the pastor's accommodation and a Sunday school. The court ruled the intended purpose was not “religious” as required under the Law on the Transfer of Religious Property to Religious Organizations.
While neither the constitution nor the law accorded explicit privileges or advantages to the ROC, in practice the government cooperated more closely with the ROC than with other religious organizations.
The ROC continued to have a number of formal and informal agreements with government ministries giving it greater access than other religious organizations to public institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, police, and the military forces. The government also provided the Russian Orthodox patriarch with security guards and access to official vehicles, a privilege accorded no other religious organization. In June the ROC signed a cooperation agreement with the FSB’s Border Control Department allowing Orthodox clergy greater access to members of the border organization to provide “spiritual support” to border guards during recruiting and training.
Ella Pamfilova was appointed Human Rights Ombudsman in March. The ombudsman’s office received hundreds of complaints from religious organizations, mostly concerning anti-extremist legislation, allocation of land for construction of religious buildings, and evaluation of religious literature. While the previous Human Rights Ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, had frequently interceded on behalf of complainants, Pamfilova had not made any public statements regarding religion-based cases, or religious freedom in general by the end of the year.
The Slavic Center for Law and Justice and minority religious leaders continued to assert that local and municipal government officials and Orthodox religious organizations continued to use mass media and public demonstrations to foment opposition to minority religious groups, characterizing them as threats to physical, mental, and spiritual health and saying they threatened national security.
The Federation of Jewish Communities stated there were no official acts of anti-Semitism at the federal level. There were increasing reports, however, of anti-Semitic statements by local government officials and in the state-controlled media. In March St. Petersburg United Russia Party city councilman Vitaly Milonov, during a speech before the city’s legislative council, stated that Jews “vilify any saint; it is in their tradition of 2,000 years, beginning with the appeals to crucify the Savior and ending with accusations of anti-Semitism against St. John of Kronstadt.”
In March Evelina Zakamskaya, a news anchor of Rossiya24, one of Russia’s largest state-controlled television channels, agreed with the arguments of nationalist author Aleksander Prokhanov, who stated that Jewish organizations in Ukraine that supported that country’s new government “were ushering in a second Holocaust with their own hands... just as they ushered in the first one.”
On May 21, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in Orenburg filed a criminal case against a user of a Russian social media site (VKontakte) for inciting hatred and hostility toward Jews on his personal site. The user referenced the book Igo Zhidovskoe (The Yiddish Yoke), which authorities stated contained language that conveyed a hostile attitude toward members of the Jewish community.
In another case involving VKontakte, authorities in Bashkortostan filed a criminal case June 10 against an individual accused of publishing anti-Semitic leaflets on his personal page that incited hatred and violence against Jews.