Religious freedom is a universal human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As President Barack Obama said, “Religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace.”
This year’s International Religious Freedom Report makes clear that freedom of religion is still under threat in many countries. In Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church and other “traditional” religious communities receive preferential treatment, while the government uses extremism charges to target minority religious groups, restricting their rights to assemble, raiding homes and places of worship, and banning religious materials.
Russian authorities detained and charged with “extremism” Jehovah’s Witnesses and adherents of the Islamic theologian Said Nursi. Authorities also searched and seized the property of members of minority religious groups such as Scientologists and Falun Gong.
Religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe."
In May 2012, investigators in Orenburg searched 15 homes and places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also in Orenburg, authorities seized Islamic literature. In July 2012, officials in Vladivostok searched the homes of four Falun Gong members, detained them, and seized Falun Gong literature. Authorities seized Scientology literature in numerous cities.
Russian authorities also restrict religious minorities through denial of official registration with the Ministry of Justice, denial of official building registration and denial of visas to religious workers. The Russian government refused to fully register the Church of Scientology and the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. Moreover, many nontraditional denominations complained they were unable to rent or buy venues for worship from public or private vendors.
According to the International Religious Freedom Report, anti-Semitism remains a significant problem, with anti-Semitic literature and publications widely sold and distributed.
We call on the Russian government to respect freedom of religion and belief in word as well as deed.