Russia

Last Updated 7 September 2020

The Russian Federation is the world’s largest country by land area. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, beset by corruption and cronyism, Russia has struggled in efforts to build a new democratic political system and market economy.

This country is found to be declining under the renewed Putin regime; with numerous new failures to uphold rights and provide accountability, the president has plunged the country into new international crises for the sake of national pride. The role of clericalism as an aspect of social control is expanding. Throughout 2019, the authorities continued to target “nontraditional” religious minorities with fines, detentions, and criminal charges under the pretext of combating extremism.1https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Constitution of the Russian Federation2http://www.constitution.ru/en/10003000-02.htm also promotes the principle of state secularism (neutrality in terms of belief) (Article 14). However, amendments to the Constitution passed into law through presidential decree on 4 July 2020, describes a “belief in God” as a core national value.3https://www.rferl.org/a/30704684.html; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-53255964

The Constitution provides for the separation of powers between a legislative, an executive and a judicial branch, which is independent (Article 10). However, in practice, the power of the state is heavily centred on the role of the president. The constitutional amendment package passed also enables President Putin to reset his term-limit clock to zero, opening the way for him to run for re-election when his current six-year term expires in 2024, and again in 2030.

The Russian government has demonstrated a clear preference towards the Russian Orthodox Church. After the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a large upsurge in religious affiliation.4berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/essays/religious-freedom-in-russia

The President

According to Article 4 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the President is the head of state, guarantor of the Constitution, human and civil rights and freedoms. They take measures in order to protect the sovereignty of the Russian Federation, ensures coordinated functioning of public authorities, and determines the main goals of domestic and foreign policy, while acting as Commander-in-Chief. The president addresses citizenship issues, gives national awards, and grants pardons. Numerous federal ministries, services and agencies work under direct supervision of the President of the Russian Federation.

In spring 2016, the powerful National Guard of the Russian Federation was created and appointed a federal executive body. The members of the National Guard not only have the right to check documents, personal belongings and transport, but to use physical force and firearms against suspects without warning, if delay “threatens somebody’s life and has staggering implications”. The Guard also reports to the President of the Russian Federation. The Guard has subsequently been used in the suppression of protest activities alongside police forces.

The President has a predominant role across the state system, having the right to dissolve the State Duma, and controlling all branches of the government. In fact, Russia has a presidential government with a pronounced imbalance of power, coupled with authoritarian tendencies in the person of Vladamir Putin, who has been President since the year 2000, except between 2008 to 2012 when he was Prime Minister.

Legislative authorities violating secularism

The legislative branch on the federal level consists of the State Duma and the Federation Council. The legislative branch provides the foundation for executive and judicial branches, and creates a framework of society and government.

However, the violation by legislative authorities of the secularism guaranteed in the Constitution, as well as a low level of legal awareness, have given rise to bad law and human rights abuses. Freedom of conscience, religion or belief has been degraded under the Putin regime, usually with the agreement or to the benefit of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). State-run religious organizations (called “traditional”) are often used to legitimize unconstitutional initiatives. Relations between the legislative body of the secular state and religious organizations remain very close. Both parties take part in joint events: for example, Christmas Parliamentary Meetings, held in the premises of the State Duma, and attended by the deputies and ROC representatives.

On 14 December 2016, at the plenary meeting of the State Duma, the deputies unanimously decided to create a new Committee on Development of Civil Society and Civic and Religious Associations, as well as to appoint Sergei Gavrilov a chairman of the Committee.

On 26 January 2017, in the course of Christmas Parliamentary Meetings, the same committee, in cooperation with Synodal Department for Media and Public Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, held a roundtable meeting on the topic “Religion. Society. State.” While First Deputy Chairman of the Committee, Ivan Suharev, pointed out the necessity of regulating activities of “pseudo-religious” organizations and associations, the Chairman Sergei Gavrilov emphasized “joint constructive activities” between the government and “traditional” Russian churches.

Religious organizations are awarded additional benefits, including exemptions from VAT and from income tax on profits generated from economic activities. Exemptions from property tax are granted to religious organizations that use the property for religious activities.5cof.org/content/russia

Anti-extremism

Under Russian domestic law, provisions pertaining to the criminalisation of “extremist” speech are contained in several legislative acts, including: the Law on Counteraction to Terrorism, the Law on Combating Extremist Activity, the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offences.6https://ehrac.org.uk/news/russias-overuse-and-misuse-of-anti-extremism-laws/

In 2016, President Putin adopted the ‘Yarovaya law’, ostensibly aimed at tightening measures in the fight against terrorism. The law fails to adequately define the term “extremism” thereby enabling the state to prosecute a vast range of nonviolent religious activity.7https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf[; https://www.uscirf.gov/reports-briefs/special-reports/inventing-extremists-the-impact-russian-anti-extremism-policies/ref]

Religious groups are required to obtain official permits. Activities activities such as prayer meetings are prohibited from taking place anywhere except for officially recognized religious buildings.8rferl.org/a/russia-yarovaya-law-religious-freedom-restrictions/27852531.html

In 2019, the Russian government also continued to use its anti-extremism law to prosecute Muslims—particularly adherents of the Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat and readers of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi—and Scientologists for peaceful religious activity.9https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf

In July 2020, Russian lawmakers proposed further changes to anti-extremism legislation with a view to suppressing opposition to the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.10https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-lawmakers-propose-expanded-extremism-law-aimed-at-crimea/30716700.html

Education and children’s rights

The government introduced mandatory classes in Orthodox Christianity in all public schools. In 2013 the president Vladimir Putin has signed a bill into law that makes religious education mandatory in all schools in the country.11themoscowtimes.com/news/article/putin-approves-new-education-law/473783.html

The curriculum includes a course on the fundamentals of religion. A federal law guarantees that religious educational establishments can receive accreditation.12eng.kremlin.ru/news/18002

Family, community and society

LGBTQ+

Constitutional amendments that passed into law on 4 July 2020, reinforce the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance by barring the possibility of same-sex marriage.13https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-53255964 The amendments followed a homophobic advertising campaign launched by Patriot Media Group to sway voters into voting for the constitutional amendments. The advert, set in 2035, showed two gay men in the process of adopting a child. A concerned and upset looking boy asks where his mother is, and the orphanage workers also look on with concern. The new mother, an effeminate male actor wearing eyeliner, gets out of the car. A voice in the background then asks viewers “Is this the Russia you choose?”. The voice then says, “Decide the future of your country and vote for the constitutional amendments”.14independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-putin-homophobic-gay-video-trolls-a9551186.html; pinknews.co.uk/2020/06/03/vladimir-putin-homophobia-advert-gay-parents-propaganda-russia-patriot-media-group/ 

Additionally, Human Rights Watch have raised concerns about a draft bill currently being considered by parliament that would significantly negatively affect the rights LGBTQ+ people.15https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/russia-reject-anti-lgbt-traditional-values-bill

Under Russia’s current laws, transgender individuals can change their legal gender by taking steps that include a psychiatric evaluation and medical procedures. The proposed law provides that a person’s sex on their birth certificate cannot be changed, and that trans people who have changed their birth certificates under the current law would have to change them back to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Human Rights watch stated, “The new law falls into a pattern of the Russian government increasingly using so-called “traditional values” to trample human rights, particularly for LGBT people.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ community have long faced harassment and violence. The adoption of the federal law “against the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” led to a huge spread of homophobic violence. Violating the law is punishable by a range of fines. Homophobic crimes count a high number of murders, grave physical violence. Foreigners who violate the law are subject to fines, up to 15 days in detention and deportation. There are many gangs in Russia who feel empowered to hunt and to bully, attack and even kill gay people.16pinknews.co.uk/2014/02/07/the-25-most-shocking-anti-gay-stories-from-russia-so-far/ In 2019, the law was used to censor LGBTQ+ social media groups.17https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/russia-reject-anti-lgbt-traditional-values-bill

Radical groups justify homophobic attacks by equating homosexuality with pedophilia, and in January 2014 before the begin of Olympic winter games in Sochi President Putin said that “gay people are welcome in Sochi but they should leave children in peace”. Human Rights Watch said: “Such a chilling and wrongheaded message about LGBT people from Russia’s head of state is irresponsible and extremely dangerous.”18hrw.org/news/2014/02/03/russia-sochi-games-highlight-homophobic-violence

Religious tension

Muslims are the second largest religious group in Russia and there are severe tensions between Muslims and Russian Orthodox adherents. Ethnic Muslims account for approximately 25 million of Russia’s population.19http://muslimnews.co.uk/news/russia/russia-muslims-make-30-population-2034/; https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/russia-population

Muslim leaders in Russia say that attempts to build more mosques in Moscow have been rejected or blocked by local officials who fear angering the ethnic Russians in the capital. For many ethnic Russians, the fact of becoming a minority in their country is unthinkable, and nationalist sentiments are dramatically on the rise. Attacks on mosques have been increasing.20sfgate.com/news/article/Russia-has-a-Muslim-dilemma-Ethnic-Russians-2466527.php

Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, ethnic Tatar Muslims have faced considerable persecution, including being denied work, their language, their newspapers, and accused of extremism.21https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/18/crimean-tatars-ethnic-cleansing/ In 2019, the authorities conducted mass arrests of politically active Crimean Tatars, whom they accused of membership in the banned Islamic Party Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). Many face lengthy prison sentences.22https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf

Reports also indicate that the state has sort to impose its own interpretation of what constitutes “traditional” Islam, which is seen as an inherent part of Russian culture. Anything which is not considered “traditional” is reportedly considered “extremist”. 23https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/is-russia-on-the-path-to-marginalising-its-muslim-population-23927

Foreign enemies

In 2012 the Russian government adopted a law that required nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to register as “foreign agents” with ministry of justice if their actions can be defined as political activities and they receive foreign funding. Since the definition of “political activity” is wide, it can also be extended to all activities of advocacy and human rights work.24hrw.org/news/2014/11/20/russia-government-against-rights-groups

Ukraine conflict

In November 2013 a wave of demonstrations in neighbouring Ukraine began, protesters demanding closer European integration, following the suspension of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement with the European Union, in order to seek closer economic relations with Russia. Pro-Russian counter-protests began and the political crisis escalated. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in March 2014. There is ongoing pro-Russian unrest in the eastern part of Ukraine.

On 28 June 2019, occupation authorities seized and closed the Cathedral of Vladimir and Olga in Simferopol, the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in Crimea. Members reported to USCIRF that, since the occupation, the OCU has faced systematic persecution for its perceived ties to Ukrainian nationalism, including the confiscation of church property and the harassment of clergy and congregants. On November 6, 2019, a court in the western Crimean city of Yevpatoriya ordered the destruction of an OCU chapel.25https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf

Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values

The Russian authorities use a range of laws passed since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012  to control over the flow of information online and offline, stifling free expression in Russia.26https://pen-international.org/news/new-report-pen-international-highlights-russias-relentless-crackdown-on-free-expression According to PEN International, “From recently introduced legislation that criminalises legitimate criticism of the government, to state-run media which act as propaganda tools, to libraries targeted for holding ‘extremist materials’, the space for free expression, civil society and dissent is shrinking fast in Russia.”

Media freedom

With few exceptions, Russian authorities or their affiliates own most media outlets, which have effectively become mouth pieces of the state. Independent journalists face huge pressure – legal, physical and economic – not to contradict the official line or provide coverage of critical viewpoints.

Blasphemy

In 2013, President Putin signed a law amending the Federal Penal Code and incorporating a ‘blasphemy’ clause in part as a response to the Pussy Riot case in 2012.27https://time.com/5442791/pussy-riot-russia-poisoning-olga-kyrachyova-veronika-nikulshina/ The President’s Office stated that the law “introduces liability for public action that shows clear and obvious disrespect for society and intent to offend religious believers’ feelings.”28http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/18422

If convicted of offending religious believers, one can be sentenced to fines, corrective work, or imprisonment for up to a year, and up to three years if the crime is committed in a place of worship.

Article 148 of the Penal Code29https://rg.ru/2013/06/30/zashita-site-dok.html states (unofficial translation):

  1. Public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to offend the religious feelings of believers shall be punishable by a fine in an amount of up to three hundred thousand rubles, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of up to two years, or by compulsory works for a term of up to two hundred and forty hours, or by compulsory labor for a term of up to one year, or by imprisonment for the same term.
  2. The acts provided for in the first part of this article, committed in places specially designated for conducting divine services, other religious rites and ceremonies, shall be punishable by a fine in an amount of up to 500 thousand rubles, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of up to three years, or by compulsory works for a term of up to four hundred and eighty hours, or by compulsory labor for a term of up to three years, or by imprisonment for the same term with restriction of liberty for up to one year or without it.

Since the ‘blasphemy’ law was introduced seven years ago, there have been 19 prosecutions under Article 148, 12 of which resulted in a conviction.30https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russias-blasphemy-law/

Research shows that since the ‘blasphemy’ law was introduced in 2013, media and journalists tend to self-censor as they zealously avoid writing about religion due to the clause’s imprecise and unclear wording.31https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/11/blasphemy-law-has-resulted-in-growth-of-religious-censorship-in-russia/

COVID-19 False information

On 1 April 2020, President Putin signed legislation imposing severe punishments for individuals and organisations convicted of spreading false information about the pandemic.32themoscowtimes.com/2020/04/01/russians-risk-fines-jail-time-for-dodging-coronavirus-quarantine-a69818 Free expression groups have raised concerns that the coronavirus pandemic may be used as a method to restrict the media and independent journalists.33article19.org/resources/russia-stop-restrictions-on-media-and-independent-journalists-under-the-cover-of-coronavirus/

Highlighted cases

In February 2019, Russian stand-up comedian Aleksandr Dolgopolov made jokes about Jesus, the Virgin Mary, 34https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51222812 the Russian Orthodox Church35https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russias-blasphemy-law/ and President Vladimir Putin’s supporters. A video of his act was uploaded on YouTube. A year later, after watching the video, an individual filed a complaint with the authorities alleging that Dolgopolov had “offended the feelings of religious believers”.36https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russias-blasphemy-law/ In January 2020, the venue where Dolgopolov had performed was asked by the Ministry of Internal Affairs for information about the performance. Dolgopolov received news that the local police had opened an investigation into him under Article 148 of the Penal Code, the country’s ‘blasphemy’ provision. Fearing for his safety, Dolgopolov fled the country but has since returned to Russia.

On 17 August 2012, three members of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years hard labor. Pussy riot is a feminist punk rock group with a freethinking message including being in favour of church-state separation. Their offense was to stage an impromptu protest performance (which was itself disrupted after only a few moments) called “Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The Russian authorities were widely condemned by human rights organizations around the world for overzealous prosecution and harsh sentencing of the Pussy Riot singers. The judge cited what she regarded as Christianity’s dissent from the principles of women’s equality (contra the band’s explicit feminist values) to back the prosecution claim that the performance was motivated by “religious hatred”. After 21 months in prison, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released on December 23, 2013 after the Duma approved an amnesty. On 6 March 2014, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were assaulted and injured by youths in Nizhny Novgorod.

Ruslan Sokolovsky, an atheist blogger, faced a possible seven and a half year prison term for playing Pokémon Go in a church. He was convicted in May 2017 and handed a three and half year suspended sentence. The 22-year-old blogger had been held in pre-trial detention since October 2016, after he released a video of himself playing Pokémon Go in a church in Yekaterinburg, central Russia, that August. In the video he explains that a recent news report in Russia highlighted the apparent risks of playing the popular augmented reality video game in churches. However, in the video Sokolovsky discusses his disbelief that such actions would be prosecuted, and decides to test it by filming himself. He said of the threat of prosecution, “for me this is total bullshit, because who can ever be offended by you walking around a church with your smartphone?”[ref]theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/11/pokemon-go-russian-youtuber-convicted-playing-church-ruslan-sokolovsky

Testimonies

“The public perception of atheism has been transformed in Russia, from the dominant ideology of the Soviet Union, into something that is considered indecent for intellectual people. The common perception is that humanism is wrong, dangerous or anti-spiritual.”
— Anonymous Russian humanist

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf
2. http://www.constitution.ru/en/10003000-02.htm
3. https://www.rferl.org/a/30704684.html; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-53255964
4. berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/essays/religious-freedom-in-russia
5. cof.org/content/russia
6. https://ehrac.org.uk/news/russias-overuse-and-misuse-of-anti-extremism-laws/
7. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf[; https://www.uscirf.gov/reports-briefs/special-reports/inventing-extremists-the-impact-russian-anti-extremism-policies/ref]

Religious groups are required to obtain official permits. Activities activities such as prayer meetings are prohibited from taking place anywhere except for officially recognized religious buildings.[ref]rferl.org/a/russia-yarovaya-law-religious-freedom-restrictions/27852531.html

8. rferl.org/a/russia-yarovaya-law-religious-freedom-restrictions/27852531.html

In 2019, the Russian government also continued to use its anti-extremism law to prosecute Muslims—particularly adherents of the Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat and readers of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi—and Scientologists for peaceful religious activity.[ref]https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf

9. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf

In July 2020, Russian lawmakers proposed further changes to anti-extremism legislation with a view to suppressing opposition to the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.[ref]https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-lawmakers-propose-expanded-extremism-law-aimed-at-crimea/30716700.html

10. https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-lawmakers-propose-expanded-extremism-law-aimed-at-crimea/30716700.html

Education and children’s rights

The government introduced mandatory classes in Orthodox Christianity in all public schools. In 2013 the president Vladimir Putin has signed a bill into law that makes religious education mandatory in all schools in the country.[ref]themoscowtimes.com/news/article/putin-approves-new-education-law/473783.html

11. themoscowtimes.com/news/article/putin-approves-new-education-law/473783.html

The curriculum includes a course on the fundamentals of religion. A federal law guarantees that religious educational establishments can receive accreditation.[ref]eng.kremlin.ru/news/18002

12. eng.kremlin.ru/news/18002

Family, community and society

LGBTQ+

Constitutional amendments that passed into law on 4 July 2020, reinforce the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance by barring the possibility of same-sex marriage.[ref]https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-53255964

13. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-53255964 The amendments followed a homophobic advertising campaign launched by Patriot Media Group to sway voters into voting for the constitutional amendments. The advert, set in 2035, showed two gay men in the process of adopting a child. A concerned and upset looking boy asks where his mother is, and the orphanage workers also look on with concern. The new mother, an effeminate male actor wearing eyeliner, gets out of the car. A voice in the background then asks viewers “Is this the Russia you choose?”. The voice then says, “Decide the future of your country and vote for the constitutional amendments”.[ref]independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-putin-homophobic-gay-video-trolls-a9551186.html; pinknews.co.uk/2020/06/03/vladimir-putin-homophobia-advert-gay-parents-propaganda-russia-patriot-media-group/
14. independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-putin-homophobic-gay-video-trolls-a9551186.html; pinknews.co.uk/2020/06/03/vladimir-putin-homophobia-advert-gay-parents-propaganda-russia-patriot-media-group/ 

Additionally, Human Rights Watch have raised concerns about a draft bill currently being considered by parliament that would significantly negatively affect the rights LGBTQ+ people.[ref]https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/russia-reject-anti-lgbt-traditional-values-bill

15. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/russia-reject-anti-lgbt-traditional-values-bill

Under Russia’s current laws, transgender individuals can change their legal gender by taking steps that include a psychiatric evaluation and medical procedures. The proposed law provides that a person’s sex on their birth certificate cannot be changed, and that trans people who have changed their birth certificates under the current law would have to change them back to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Human Rights watch stated, “The new law falls into a pattern of the Russian government increasingly using so-called “traditional values” to trample human rights, particularly for LGBT people.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ community have long faced harassment and violence. The adoption of the federal law “against the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” led to a huge spread of homophobic violence. Violating the law is punishable by a range of fines. Homophobic crimes count a high number of murders, grave physical violence. Foreigners who violate the law are subject to fines, up to 15 days in detention and deportation. There are many gangs in Russia who feel empowered to hunt and to bully, attack and even kill gay people.[ref]pinknews.co.uk/2014/02/07/the-25-most-shocking-anti-gay-stories-from-russia-so-far/

16. pinknews.co.uk/2014/02/07/the-25-most-shocking-anti-gay-stories-from-russia-so-far/ In 2019, the law was used to censor LGBTQ+ social media groups.[ref]https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/russia-reject-anti-lgbt-traditional-values-bill
17. https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/06/russia-reject-anti-lgbt-traditional-values-bill

Radical groups justify homophobic attacks by equating homosexuality with pedophilia, and in January 2014 before the begin of Olympic winter games in Sochi President Putin said that “gay people are welcome in Sochi but they should leave children in peace”. Human Rights Watch said: “Such a chilling and wrongheaded message about LGBT people from Russia’s head of state is irresponsible and extremely dangerous.”[ref]hrw.org/news/2014/02/03/russia-sochi-games-highlight-homophobic-violence

18. hrw.org/news/2014/02/03/russia-sochi-games-highlight-homophobic-violence

Religious tension

Muslims are the second largest religious group in Russia and there are severe tensions between Muslims and Russian Orthodox adherents. Ethnic Muslims account for approximately 25 million of Russia’s population.[ref]http://muslimnews.co.uk/news/russia/russia-muslims-make-30-population-2034/; https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/russia-population

19. http://muslimnews.co.uk/news/russia/russia-muslims-make-30-population-2034/; https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/russia-population

Muslim leaders in Russia say that attempts to build more mosques in Moscow have been rejected or blocked by local officials who fear angering the ethnic Russians in the capital. For many ethnic Russians, the fact of becoming a minority in their country is unthinkable, and nationalist sentiments are dramatically on the rise. Attacks on mosques have been increasing.[ref]sfgate.com/news/article/Russia-has-a-Muslim-dilemma-Ethnic-Russians-2466527.php

20. sfgate.com/news/article/Russia-has-a-Muslim-dilemma-Ethnic-Russians-2466527.php

Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, ethnic Tatar Muslims have faced considerable persecution, including being denied work, their language, their newspapers, and accused of extremism.[ref]https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/18/crimean-tatars-ethnic-cleansing/

21. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/18/crimean-tatars-ethnic-cleansing/ In 2019, the authorities conducted mass arrests of politically active Crimean Tatars, whom they accused of membership in the banned Islamic Party Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). Many face lengthy prison sentences.[ref]https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf
22. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf

Reports also indicate that the state has sort to impose its own interpretation of what constitutes “traditional” Islam, which is seen as an inherent part of Russian culture. Anything which is not considered “traditional” is reportedly considered “extremist”. [ref]https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/is-russia-on-the-path-to-marginalising-its-muslim-population-23927

23. https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/is-russia-on-the-path-to-marginalising-its-muslim-population-23927

Foreign enemies

In 2012 the Russian government adopted a law that required nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to register as “foreign agents” with ministry of justice if their actions can be defined as political activities and they receive foreign funding. Since the definition of “political activity” is wide, it can also be extended to all activities of advocacy and human rights work.[ref]hrw.org/news/2014/11/20/russia-government-against-rights-groups

24. hrw.org/news/2014/11/20/russia-government-against-rights-groups

Ukraine conflict

In November 2013 a wave of demonstrations in neighbouring Ukraine began, protesters demanding closer European integration, following the suspension of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement with the European Union, in order to seek closer economic relations with Russia. Pro-Russian counter-protests began and the political crisis escalated. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in March 2014. There is ongoing pro-Russian unrest in the eastern part of Ukraine.

On 28 June 2019, occupation authorities seized and closed the Cathedral of Vladimir and Olga in Simferopol, the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in Crimea. Members reported to USCIRF that, since the occupation, the OCU has faced systematic persecution for its perceived ties to Ukrainian nationalism, including the confiscation of church property and the harassment of clergy and congregants. On November 6, 2019, a court in the western Crimean city of Yevpatoriya ordered the destruction of an OCU chapel.[ref]https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf

25. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Russia.pdf

Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values

The Russian authorities use a range of laws passed since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012  to control over the flow of information online and offline, stifling free expression in Russia.[ref]https://pen-international.org/news/new-report-pen-international-highlights-russias-relentless-crackdown-on-free-expression

26. https://pen-international.org/news/new-report-pen-international-highlights-russias-relentless-crackdown-on-free-expression According to PEN International, “From recently introduced legislation that criminalises legitimate criticism of the government, to state-run media which act as propaganda tools, to libraries targeted for holding ‘extremist materials’, the space for free expression, civil society and dissent is shrinking fast in Russia.”

Media freedom

With few exceptions, Russian authorities or their affiliates own most media outlets, which have effectively become mouth pieces of the state. Independent journalists face huge pressure – legal, physical and economic – not to contradict the official line or provide coverage of critical viewpoints.

Blasphemy

In 2013, President Putin signed a law amending the Federal Penal Code and incorporating a ‘blasphemy’ clause in part as a response to the Pussy Riot case in 2012.[ref]https://time.com/5442791/pussy-riot-russia-poisoning-olga-kyrachyova-veronika-nikulshina/

27. https://time.com/5442791/pussy-riot-russia-poisoning-olga-kyrachyova-veronika-nikulshina/ The President’s Office stated that the law “introduces liability for public action that shows clear and obvious disrespect for society and intent to offend religious believers’ feelings.”[ref]http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/18422
28. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/18422

If convicted of offending religious believers, one can be sentenced to fines, corrective work, or imprisonment for up to a year, and up to three years if the crime is committed in a place of worship.

Article 148 of the Penal Code[ref]https://rg.ru/2013/06/30/zashita-site-dok.html

29. https://rg.ru/2013/06/30/zashita-site-dok.html states (unofficial translation):

  1. Public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to offend the religious feelings of believers shall be punishable by a fine in an amount of up to three hundred thousand rubles, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of up to two years, or by compulsory works for a term of up to two hundred and forty hours, or by compulsory labor for a term of up to one year, or by imprisonment for the same term.
  2. The acts provided for in the first part of this article, committed in places specially designated for conducting divine services, other religious rites and ceremonies, shall be punishable by a fine in an amount of up to 500 thousand rubles, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of up to three years, or by compulsory works for a term of up to four hundred and eighty hours, or by compulsory labor for a term of up to three years, or by imprisonment for the same term with restriction of liberty for up to one year or without it.

Since the ‘blasphemy’ law was introduced seven years ago, there have been 19 prosecutions under Article 148, 12 of which resulted in a conviction.[ref]https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russias-blasphemy-law/

30. https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russias-blasphemy-law/

Research shows that since the ‘blasphemy’ law was introduced in 2013, media and journalists tend to self-censor as they zealously avoid writing about religion due to the clause’s imprecise and unclear wording.[ref]https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/11/blasphemy-law-has-resulted-in-growth-of-religious-censorship-in-russia/

31. https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/11/blasphemy-law-has-resulted-in-growth-of-religious-censorship-in-russia/

COVID-19 False information

On 1 April 2020, President Putin signed legislation imposing severe punishments for individuals and organisations convicted of spreading false information about the pandemic.[ref]themoscowtimes.com/2020/04/01/russians-risk-fines-jail-time-for-dodging-coronavirus-quarantine-a69818

32. themoscowtimes.com/2020/04/01/russians-risk-fines-jail-time-for-dodging-coronavirus-quarantine-a69818 Free expression groups have raised concerns that the coronavirus pandemic may be used as a method to restrict the media and independent journalists.[ref]article19.org/resources/russia-stop-restrictions-on-media-and-independent-journalists-under-the-cover-of-coronavirus/
33. article19.org/resources/russia-stop-restrictions-on-media-and-independent-journalists-under-the-cover-of-coronavirus/

Highlighted cases

In February 2019, Russian stand-up comedian Aleksandr Dolgopolov made jokes about Jesus, the Virgin Mary, [ref]https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51222812

34. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51222812 the Russian Orthodox Church[ref]https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russias-blasphemy-law/
35. https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russias-blasphemy-law/ and President Vladimir Putin’s supporters. A video of his act was uploaded on YouTube. A year later, after watching the video, an individual filed a complaint with the authorities alleging that Dolgopolov had “offended the feelings of religious believers”.[ref]https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russias-blasphemy-law/
36. https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russias-blasphemy-law/ In January 2020, the venue where Dolgopolov had performed was asked by the Ministry of Internal Affairs for information about the performance. Dolgopolov received news that the local police had opened an investigation into him under Article 148 of the Penal Code, the country’s ‘blasphemy’ provision. Fearing for his safety, Dolgopolov fled the country but has since returned to Russia.

On 17 August 2012, three members of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years hard labor. Pussy riot is a feminist punk rock group with a freethinking message including being in favour of church-state separation. Their offense was to stage an impromptu protest performance (which was itself disrupted after only a few moments) called “Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The Russian authorities were widely condemned by human rights organizations around the world for overzealous prosecution and harsh sentencing of the Pussy Riot singers. The judge cited what she regarded as Christianity’s dissent from the principles of women’s equality (contra the band’s explicit feminist values) to back the prosecution claim that the performance was motivated by “religious hatred”. After 21 months in prison, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released on December 23, 2013 after the Duma approved an amnesty. On 6 March 2014, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were assaulted and injured by youths in Nizhny Novgorod.

Ruslan Sokolovsky, an atheist blogger, faced a possible seven and a half year prison term for playing Pokémon Go in a church. He was convicted in May 2017 and handed a three and half year suspended sentence. The 22-year-old blogger had been held in pre-trial detention since October 2016, after he released a video of himself playing Pokémon Go in a church in Yekaterinburg, central Russia, that August. In the video he explains that a recent news report in Russia highlighted the apparent risks of playing the popular augmented reality video game in churches. However, in the video Sokolovsky discusses his disbelief that such actions would be prosecuted, and decides to test it by filming himself. He said of the threat of prosecution, “for me this is total bullshit, because who can ever be offended by you walking around a church with your smartphone?”[ref]theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/11/pokemon-go-russian-youtuber-convicted-playing-church-ruslan-sokolovsky

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