The United States is deeply concerned over a recent decision by a Russian court to uphold the designation of the Khakassia regional branch of Falun Gong as an extremist organization and to criminalize the peaceful practice of Falun Gong members for their spiritual beliefs.
In a statement, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “Russian authorities harass, fine, and imprison Falun Gong practitioners for such simple acts as meditating and possessing spiritual texts.” He called on Russia to “respect the right of freedom of religion or belief for all, including Falun Gong practitioners and members of other religious minority groups in Russia simply seeking to exercise their beliefs peacefully.”
Russia first passed an extremist law aimed at terrorism 19 years ago. Since then, other provisions have been added, and increasingly the Federal Law on Countering Extremism and other laws have been invoked against religious minorities, including Falun Gong, Jehovah Witnesses, and others.
The State Department’s most recent report on religious freedom in Russia noted
that under the extremist law, “government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “’extremist activity.
"The State Department said that in 2020, “Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations reported [that] authorities continued to investigate, detain, imprison, torture, and and/or physically abuse persons or seize their property because of their religious faith.” Among the reported abuses was the detention of hundreds of Jehovah Witnesses and the physical abuse of some of them.
Russia’s extremist law has also been used against secular targets. As Spokesperson Price pointed out, “Earlier this year, another Russian court designated three organizations affiliated with imprisoned opposition figure Alexsey Navalny as ‘extremist,’ further demonstrating Russia’s arbitrary and expansive application of this label.”
Spokesperson Price said the decision by the court to uphold the extremist designation for Falun Gong “is another example of Russian authorities labeling peaceful groups as ‘extremist,’ ‘terrorist,’ or ‘undesirable’ solely to stigmatize their supporters, justify abuses against them, and restrict their peaceful religious and civic activities.”
“We urge the Russian government,” he declared, “to end its practice of misusing the ‘extremist’ designation as a way to restrict human rights and fundamental freedoms.”