Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe

Russia: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe

Russia: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014

Article excerpt

United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, guaranteeing the right to worship and profess one's religion, but by law, officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in "extremist activity." The principal law on religion defines Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country's four "traditional" religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church. The government generally did not restrict the activities of established Judeo-Christian religious groups, but imposed restrictions limiting the activities of minority religious groups. Government actions included detaining and imprisoning members of minority religious groups, and at least one case where individuals were reportedly threatened with cruel or degrading treatment if they refused to convert. Police conducted raids on minority religious groups in private homes and places of worship, confiscating religious publications and property. Authorities applied anti-extremism laws to revoke the registration of minority religious groups, refused to register certain religious organizations, and imposed restrictions that infringed on the practices of minority religious groups and their ability to purchase land, build places of worship, and obtain restitution of properties confiscated during the Soviet era. Although Jewish community leaders reported no official acts of anti-Semitism at the federal level, there were increasing reports throughout the year of cases of antiSemitism by local government officials, as well as increased anti-Semitic statements in government-controlled media. The government granted privileges to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) that were accorded to no other religious group.

There were incidents of violence related to religion involving deaths and beatings. Rallies by nationalist groups were marked by anti-Semitic slogans, and there were increased cases of anti-Semitic statements by politicians, in the mainstream media, and on social media sites. Vandalism of synagogues, cemeteries, and mosques increased.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers met with a range of government officials to discuss the treatment of minority religious groups, the use of the law on extremism to restrict the activities of religious groups, and the revocation of registration of some religious organizations. The embassy engaged the four "traditional" religious groups, minority religious groups, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in a regular dialogue to promote interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance.

Section 1. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 142.5 million (July 2014 estimate). The Atlas of Religions of Russia, published by Sreda, an independent Russian research group, reports 42.5 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian and 6.5 percent Muslim. In contrast, a 2013 poll by the Levada Center, a nongovernmental research organization, reports 68 percent of Russians consider themselves Orthodox while 7 percent self-identify as Muslim. Religious groups constituting less than 5 percent of the population each include Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus, Bahais, Hare Krishnas, pagans, Tengrists, Scientologists, and Falun Gong adherents. The 2010 census estimates the number of Jews at 150,000; however, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, there may be 750,000 Jews, most of whom live in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Immigrants and migrant workers from Central Asia are mostly Muslim. The majority of Muslims live in the Volga Ural region and the North Caucasus. Moscow, St. Petersburg, and parts of Siberia also have sizable Muslim populations.

Section 2. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework

The constitution provides for religious freedom, stating citizens shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of conscience and to freedom of religious worship, including the right to "profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion, or to profess no religion. …

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