Russia: U.S. Report on Rights Challenged

Source: NoticiasFinancieras
Date: October 2, 2007

Russian authorities have hit back at the latest U.S. report on religious freedom

by Kester Kenn Klomegah

The Moscow Patriarchate, the secretariat that runs the Russian Orthodox churches, the largest religious denomination in the country, says the assessment reports complied by the U.S. State Department over the past few years fail to reflect positive developments after the collapse of the Soviet system in 1991.

"We have followed most of their reports, but they still lack objectivity," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external relations told IPS. "There are many things in the report that could be challenged."

"An examination of the report creates an impression that there is a standard set of claims that wander from one report to another," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. "The document is compiled in a politically biased manner. Facts provided within it are selected in such a way as to exaggerate religious problems in some countries and to retouch the situation in others. This shows that the report is not objective."

The ministry added: "Together with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Russia was once again ranked among the states 'where religious freedom is of significant interest.' This is explained through traditional references to the 1997 law on the freedom of conscience and religious organisations, which allegedly hinders the development of non-traditional confessions in Russia. Dubious facts and open allegations are offered to prove this thesis."

The State Department 2007 report says federal and local authorities in Russia have taken actions that raise concern about the government's consistency in protecting religious freedom. Some local and regional authorities, it says, use the complex 1997 law on religion and a 2006 law governing NGOs to restrict minority religious groups.

The report refers to a 2004 court decision banning Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian group, and a court decision in St. Petersburg earlier this year to close down a Scientology centre for non-compliance with inspection and auditing requirements under the new NGO law.

The report notes that three European Court of Human Rights rulings have held that the Russian government violated international obligations over registration of the Salvation Army, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Scientology.

It says there are indications that security services, including the Federal Security Service (FSB), increasingly see the leadership of some minority religious groups as security threats, while popular attitudes towards Muslim groups are negative in many regions.

Konstantin Bendas, chancellor of the Russian Alliance of the Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), disagrees with the State Department that the rights of religious minorities are restricted in Russia.

"The latest report states that the 1997 Russian Law on the Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations puts restrictions on the rights of the so-called non-traditional confessions. It does not represent the facts," Bendas told the local Ren-TV. There is no pressure from the state on certain religions and confessions, he said.

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