The constitution declares the state is secular and guarantees freedom of religion, equal rights irrespective of religious belief, and the right to worship and profess one’s religion. The law states government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.” The law allows the government to criminalize a broad spectrum of activities as extremist but does not precisely define extremism. The law identifies Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). A constitutional amendment cites the “ideals and faith in God” passed on by the country’s ancestors. Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported authorities continued to investigate, detain, imprison, torture, physically abuse persons, and/or seize their property because of their religious belief or affiliation or membership in groups designated “extremist,” “terrorist,” or “undesirable,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat, followers of Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Church of Scientology, Falun Gong, and multiple evangelical Protestant groups. For example, an NGO reported that in September, while searching houses of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Irkutsk, security forces stabbed a man and beat him unconscious and beat another Jehovah’s Witness and sodomized him with a glass bottle. According to the NGO, officers also beat the two men’s wives while they were in various stages of undress. The human rights NGO Memorial identified 340 persons it said were persecuted for their religious beliefs or affiliation as of November, compared with 228 in all of 2020. Memorial said the actual total was likely three to four times higher. Memorial did not report the number of persecuted persons for all of the year because the Supreme Court ordered the closure of the NGO on December 28. In July, the Court of Kemerovo upheld the designation of the Falun Gong branch in the Khakassia Region as an extremist organization and ordered its dissolution there. During the year, the government declared four Pentecostal and two Scientology groups undesirable, effectively banning them from the country, and banned and dissolved an Orthodox Church unaffiliated with the ROC. The government criminally prosecuted 13 cases of offending the feelings of believers compared with two such cases in 2020, and prosecuted cases against members of smaller religious groups for what it called illegal missionary work. The government continued to grant privileges to the ROC not accorded to other religious groups.
In December, a court sentenced a member of the “Citizens of the USSR” movement to six years in prison for attempting to organize a contract killing of the head of the Jewish Community of Krasnodar. The SOVA Center, a Moscow-based NGO, stated antisemitism was a part of the movement’s ideology. In the first six months of the year, the SOVA Center reported seven incidents of vandalism at religious sites – two Orthodox, two Jewish, two pagan, and one Protestant – as well as other incidents of religiously motivated vandalism. In February, two persons shot an air gun at a grocery store containing a halal market in St. Petersburg. Police opened a criminal case against the two individuals. Authorities reportedly investigated antisemitic social media posts. A survey by the polling firm Levada Center found that 22 percent of respondents professed a negative attitude towards Jews, compared with 34 percent in 2010. Local residents opposed the construction of churches, mosques, and other places of worship in Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk, Stupino, and Irkutsk.
The U.S. Ambassador and embassy representatives advocated greater religious freedom in the country, highlighting the government’s misuse of the law on extremism to restrict the peaceful activities of religious minorities. The embassy also made extensive use of its social media platforms to disseminate messages advocating religious freedom. Embassy representatives met with representatives of religious groups to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country, though these meetings were fewer than in previous years due to intimidation of religious groups by Russian authorities. In August, the government prohibited the United States from retaining, hiring, or contracting Russian or third-country staff at its diplomatic facilities in the country, further constraining embassy outreach efforts to religious and civil society groups. Department of State officials continued to monitor the situation of U.S. citizens working with religious institutions and organizations in the country to determine whether authorities targeted them for their faith or religious work.
On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State designated Russia a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing sanctions issued for individuals identified pursuant to section 404(a)(2) of the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 and section 11 of the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014, as amended by Section 228 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 142.3 million (midyear 2021). A poll conducted in 2020 by the independent Levada Center found that 63 percent of the population identified as Orthodox Christian and 7 percent as Muslim, while 26 percent reported having no religious faith. Religious groups each constituting approximately 1 percent or less of the population include Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Baha’is, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), pagans, Tengrists, members of the Church of Scientology, and Falun Gong practitioners. The 2010 census, the most recent for which data is available, estimates the number of Jews at 150,000. The Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) estimates the Jewish population is 172,500. According to Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin, chairman of the Religious Board of Muslims of the Russian Federation, there were 25 million Muslims in 2018, approximately 18 percent of the population. Immigrants and migrant workers from Central Asia, which experts estimate at six to seven million, are mostly Muslim. Most Muslims live in the Volga-Ural Region and the North Caucasus. Moscow, St. Petersburg, and parts of Siberia also have sizable Muslim populations.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
Religious groups and human rights NGOs reported authorities continued to investigate, detain, arrest, imprison, torture, and/or physically abuse persons on account of their religious belief or affiliation. Authorities continued to accuse religious minority groups of extremism and terrorism.
According to international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, the government used increasingly strict legislation on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” to curtail, complicate, or prohibit the activities of organizations that promote human rights, including freedom of religion and belief, and to monitor their violation. In December, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial, one of the country’s best-known NGOs.
As of November 9, Memorial identified 340 persons persecuted for their religious belief or affiliation whom it considered to be political prisoners, meaning they were either already imprisoned or were in custody or under house arrest awaiting a formal sentence to begin. Memorial stated that the actual number of cases of persecution was likely three to four times higher, given the number of cases the organization identified as similar to those designated as political prisoners; however, the organization said it lacked the supporting evidence to make designations in those instances. Memorial’s list of political prisoners included 206 persons (45 percent more than in 2020) accused of involvement with the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that Memorial characterized as a “nonviolent international Islamic organization,” and 104 Jehovah’s Witnesses (70 percent more than in 2020). According to Memorial, none of the political prisoners being persecuted for their religious belief or affiliation called for violence or planned violent acts.
In August, Forum 18 reported Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims who had been convicted of “extremism” might suffer post-sentence consequences through sudimost (being a convicted person with an active criminal record). The report stated that after their release, these individuals risked harsher punishment if prosecuted again and might experience more limited formal employment opportunities. The courts might also impose restrictions on freedom and administrative supervision, including curfews, restrictions on movement, and an obligation to register with police or probation authorities at specified intervals. These individuals might also be subject to bans on leadership of, or participation in, religious organizations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and NGOs stated Federal Security Service (FSB) agents, officers of the Interior Ministry’s Center for Countering Extremism, police officers, and riot police continued to monitor, detain, search, and carry out raids in the homes and places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers stated authorities had raided more than 1,594 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country between early 2017 and November 2021. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 382 searches of homes during the year, compared with 477 in 2020. They said that during these raids, authorities entered homes, often in the early morning, conducted unauthorized, illegal searches, tortured, and verbally and physically abused members. Authorities often entered residences by forcing open the door. They held individuals at gunpoint, including children and the elderly, and seized personal belongings, including religious materials, personal correspondence, money, mobile phones, and other electronic devices.
In January, authorities dropped charges against Jehovah’s Witness Vadim Kutsenko. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated authorities detained Kutsenko in 2020, subjecting him to electric shocks and forcing him to confess that he had organized activities of a religious organization banned by the court, before placing him under house arrest and eventually releasing him on his own recognizance.
On September 4, Russian human rights NGO OVD-info reported searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes in Irkutsk by the Russian National Guard and the Ministry of Interior’s Grom special forces. OVD-info said during the searches special forces beat and then detained Jehovah’s Witnesses Anatoly Razdabarov and Nikolai Merinov. Officers stabbed Merinov, beat him unconscious, and broke his front teeth. Officers interrogated Razdabarov for eight hours and demanded access to his telephone. They beat Razdabrov, handcuffed him so his shoulders hyperextended, and sodomized him with a glass bottle. According to the NGO, officers also beat the two men’s wives while they were in various stages of undress. On October 12, a court in Irkutsk refused to recognize the searches of these homes as an illegal action by the security forces, though the security forces did not show search warrants during the raids.
The SOVA Center reported that on December 15, authorities searched 10 homes and interrogated 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Samara. The authorities forced Nikolai Vasilyev and another unnamed Jehovah’s Witness to hold a heated kettle and poured boiling water on him after he refused to provide the authorities access to a laptop. Vasilyev and two others were arrested and sentenced to two months in jail; the case continued at year’s end.
In January, authorities dropped charges against Jehovah’s Witness Vadim Kutsenko. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated authorities detained Kutsenko in 2020, subjecting him to electric shocks and forcing him to confess that he had organized activities of a religious organization banned by the court, before placing him under house arrest and eventually releasing him on his own recognizance.
In April, authorities conducted mass searches in Yaroslavl, searching 31 premises and detaining at least two men. In July, officials conducted mass searches in Kurgan, Shadrinsk, and other cities in Kurgan Region. The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that authorities detained at least 13 persons. Authorities said the detainees held meetings for more than 130 individuals.
On May 12, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that FSB operatives installed hidden cameras in a Perm bathhouse to monitor possible baptisms. The recording captured 27 Jehovah’s Witnesses participating in a baptism ceremony, leading five members to be charged. The Industrial District Court of Perm sentenced one participant in the ceremony to seven years’ probation, and each of the other four to two and a half years’ probation. Authorities charged each defendant with participating in illegal religious activities as well as organizing, funding, and participating in the extremist community.
Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said group members continued to flee the country as a result of what they described as increasing government persecution since a 2017 Supreme Court ruling banned the organization. In March, Foreign Policy magazine estimated more than 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses remained in Russia.
The SOVA Center reported authorities had initiated criminal cases against at least 142 Jehovah’s Witnesses during the year; in 2020, the number was at least 146. Since 2017, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses cited in the SOVA Center report, authorities had initiated 597 criminal cases against adherents in 70 regions of the country. The NGO Memorial reported 104 imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses as of November 9 (35 serving sentences, 69 in custody or under house arrest pending sentencing), with 86 others receiving suspended sentences during the year. In addition, according to the SOVA Center, during the year at least 68 convictions were handed down against 105 Jehovah’s Witnesses, compared with 25 sentences in 2020.
On January 19, the Kemerovo Regional Court rejected an appeal by Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Britvin and Vadim Levchuk, who had both been sentenced to four years’ imprisonment at a labor camp for organizing the activities of a banned extremist organization. On December 30, both men were released, having served their sentences.
In February, the Abinsk District Court of Krasnodar sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Alexander Ivshin to seven and a half years in a penal colony for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.
On February 10, the Kursk Regional Court upheld a 2020 decision by the Lgov District Court denying Jehovah’s Witness and Danish citizen Dennis Christensen’s appeal for early release. Detained since 2017, Christensen received a six-year prison sentence in 2019. He remained in prison at year’s end.
On February 24, the Abakan City Court in the Republic of Khakassia sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Valentina Baranovskaya to two years, and her son, Roman Baranovskiy, to six years in a penal colony based on the government’s designation of the group as extremist.
The Central District Court of Chita began proceedings against four Jehovah’s Witnesses charged with organizing the activities of a banned organization: Vladimir Ermolaev, Sergey Kirilyuk, Igor Mamalimov, and Aleksandr Putintsev. The four were detained in mass raids in 2020; the case remained pending at year’s end.
In April, the Investigative Committee for the Krasnodar Territory announced that Abinsk District had opened criminal cases against four Jehovah’s Witnesses for participating in the activities of an extremist organization: Anna Yermak, Olga Pnonmareva, Alexander Nikolaev, and an unnamed individual.
On May 28, authorities opened a criminal case against Anna Safronova, accusing her of participating in worship services of Jehovah’s Witnesses and financing extremist activities. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
On June 30, the Blagoveshchensk City Court sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Dmitriy Golik and Aleksey Berchuk to seven and eight years in prison, respectively, for organizing the activities of an extremist organization. The Amur Regional Court denied their appeal on September 2; the two were transferred from pretrial detention to prison.
On July 29, the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Arsen Avanesov, Vilen Avanesov, and Alexander Parkov to terms of between six and six and a half years in prison for organizing the activities of an extremist organization. The defendants had been arrested in 2019 and remained in jail pending trial. On December 6, the Rostov Regional Court upheld the verdict on appeal.
On September 23, the Traktorozavodsky District Court of Volgograd sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergey Melnik and Igor Egozaryan to six years in prison for organizing the activities of an extremist organization. Valery Rogozin, Vyacheslav Osipov, and Denis Peresunko were also found guilty of financing extremist activities. Rogzin received a sentence of six and a half years; Peresunko and Osipov were each sentenced to six years and three months.
In October, after a year-long case, the Trusovsky District Court of Astrakhan sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Klikunov, Rustam Diarov, and Yevgeny Ivanov to eight years in prison – the longest sentences yet issued to Jehovah’s Witnesses – and Ivanov’s wife, Olga, to three and a half years in prison. The three men had been in jail since June and charged with organizing and financing extremist activities; Olga had been under house arrest and charged with participation in extremist activities. The court also cited “the commission of a crime as part of a group, by prior conspiracy” as an aggravating circumstance for all four sentences.
On October 28, the Supreme Court decreed that “the actions of persons not related to the continuation or resumption of the activities of an organization recognized by the court as extremist and consisting solely in the exercise of their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion … do not constitute an offense.” On October 28, the SOVA Center stated the wording of the decision of the Supreme Court was not ideal and “unlikely to completely eliminate the numerous cases of persecution for essentially noncriminal activities.” The SOVA Center reported that at the end of 2021, Jehovah’s Witness Dmitry Barmakin was acquitted by the Supreme Court and several other cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses were slated for review.
In the month following the Supreme Court’s October 28 ruling, authorities raided the homes of 25 Jehovah’s Witnesses across 10 different regions, and courts convicted or upheld the convictions of at least seven members of the group on charges of extremist activity, including an 80-year-old woman who was fined 500,000 rubles ($6,700). In November, the Pervorechka District Court of Vladivostock acquitted a Jehovah’s Witness, Dmitry Barmakin, who had been accused of extremist activity – reportedly the first acquittal based on the October Supreme Court decision.
In November, authorities announced completion of the investigation of the 10 Jehovah’s Witnesses detained during raids in Voronezh in 2020 who were accused of organizing a banned community and preaching and recruiting new members between 2018 and 2020. The case was pending in the Levoberezhny District Court of Voronezh at year’s end.
Felix Makhammadiev, a Jehovah’s Witness who was stripped of his citizenship following his 2019 conviction for organizing extremist activities, was deported to Uzbekistan on January 21. Makhammadiev had moved to the country from Uzbekistan with his mother as a minor and subsequently became a Russian citizen. Konstantin Bazhenov, who was convicted in the same case as Makhammadiev, was also stripped of his Russian citizenship; he was deported to Ukraine on May 19.
According to the NGO Memorial, between January and November, authorities convicted, investigated, or charged 18 persons for alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, nine of whom were from Crimea. Since the Supreme Court first labeled the group a terrorist organization and banned it in 2003, Memorial reported that authorities had investigated or charged 331 persons for involvement with Hizb-ut-Tahrir and tried and convicted 258. Since 2003, courts had sentenced 70 persons to between 10 and 15 years in prison, and 87 to 15 years or more. The SOVA Center reported that at least 35 defendants in new cases were arrested during the year. Human Rights Watch characterized Hizb ut-Tahrir as a group that aimed to establish an Islamic caliphate, but which renounced violence.
The SOVA Center reported that on February 18, the FSB conducted a special operation against Hizb u-Tahrir across 10 regions of the country. The FSB detained alleged members, and authorities opened criminal cases against seven of them. Individuals continued to receive long prison sentences for their alleged involvement with Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
In April, the Central District Military Court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Rais Mavlyutov to 23 years in a maximum security penal colony after convicting him of recruiting for a terrorist organization, using the internet to incite terrorism, and organizing and participating in meetings where the literature of a terrorist organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, was read and discussed. Memorial classified Mavlyutov as a political prisoner and stated there was no evidence that he represented a public danger or was involved in terrorist activities.
On September 6, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Ufa sentenced Ilmira Bikbaeva to three years’ probation for transferring money to the mother of Ayrat Dilmukhametov, a prisoner accused of supporting Hizb ut-Tahrir. The prosecution said the transfer was proof that Bikbaeva was financing extremism. Bikbaeva said she simply wanted to help the mother who lacked the means to support herself.
On December 24, the Second Western District Military Court of Moscow sentenced Marifjon Mamadaliyev and Ikboljon Sultonov to terms of between 16 and 18 years in a penal colony for allegedly creating a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell. The court convicted six additional defendants of participating in the activities of the cell and sentenced them to imprisonment for terms of 11 to 12 years. The SOVA Center stated the case was based on testimony by a secret witness.
In July, the Court of Kemerovo upheld the designation of the Falun Gong branch in the Khakassia Region as an extremist organization and ordered its dissolution there.
The government prosecuted 13 cases under the law prohibiting offending the feelings of believers, two more than in 2020. According to Memorial, investigating authorities increased activity during the year, including internet monitoring. For example, on October 29, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court sentenced blogger Ruslan Bobiev and his girlfriend, Anastasia Chistova, to 10 months in a penal colony for violating the law. The teens posted a photograph with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background depicting Chistova wearing a jacket with the inscription “Police” while simulating a sex act, with Bobiev standing behind her. The Interior Ministry described the photos as “provocative,” and the court stated the couple “committed public acts expressing clear disrespect for society and committed with the aim of insulting the religious feelings of believers.” On October 30, police detained and charged Irina Volkova for posting a photo exposing her underwear in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. On November 19, authorities in St. Petersburg opened a criminal case against two teenagers in response to a photo circulating on social media, in which the two defendants posed with their pants down in front of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
In October, the authorities initiated a criminal case against Lolita Bogdanova for insulting the feelings of believers after she bared her chest in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
On October 25, the SOVA Center and human rights activists reported that staff at correctional colony No.2 in Kurgan Region mocked Muslim prisoners and threw the Quran on the ground, “trampling” it. Media reported that investigators said they found no evidence of the action as video from the surveillance cameras was destroyed.
On November 18, a court in Kurgan closed the Kurgan Orthodox Parish in Honor of the Holy Trinity. In July, the Kurgan Regional Court ordered the dissolution stating that the parish had misled Orthodox believers and infringed on their constitutional freedom of religion. The Magistrate Court of Kurgan had fined the church in 2020 for illegal missionary work. The parish was independent of the ROC.
In December, the ECHR ruled in favor of Maksim Mikhaylovich Yefimov in his case against the government for prosecuting him for hate speech in 2011 and dissolving his NGO, the Youth Human Rights Group in 2013. Authorities had charged Yefimov with offending the feelings of believers and extremist speech when he published an article criticizing the ROC. The court ruled that the government had violated Article 10 – dealing with freedom of expression – and Article 11 – dealing with freedom of association – of the European Convention on Human Rights and that the government should pay Yefimov 10,000 euros ($11,300).
In November, the ECHR ruled in two separate cases that Russian authorities had violated the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion under the European Convention on Human Rights of members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church). In the latter case, the court also found the government had violated members’ right to family life and a fair trial by arresting and deporting them. The court awarded 9,500 euros ($10,800) in damages and expenses to the plaintiffs in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness case and a total of 34,270 euros ($38,900) to the plaintiffs in Unification Church case.
According to the MOJ, as of December 2020, there were 31,392 registered religious organizations (LROs and CROs) in the country, most of which were ROC-affiliated, compared with 31,379 in 2019.
According to the SOVA Center, registration was sometimes complicated by imprecise language in the laws regulating the activities of religious groups, LROs, and CROs, which left room for interpretation by local and national authorities.
The SOVA Center reported that in August, law enforcement officers checked the documents of those who had gathered for Friday prayers in several mosques in Moscow and the Moscow region, for example, in Kotelniki. The officers reportedly took a total of 140 persons to police stations, where they released Russian citizens after checking their documents. They released the foreigners after collecting their DNA.
In September, the government designated two Church of Scientology groups – World Institute of Scientology Enterprises International and the Church of Spiritual Technology – “undesirable organizations,” effectively banning Scientology within the country. According to the SOVA Center, the designation meant that the Church of Scientology must stop its activities in the country, and any cooperation with the group would be treated as an administrative or, in some cases, criminal offense.
In August, the government designated four evangelical groups (the New Generation International Christian Movement and the New Generation Evangelical Christian Church (from Latvia), and the New Generation Spiritual Directorate of the Evangelist Christians and the New Generation International Biblical College (from Ukraine) as “undesirable organizations.”
In December, security forces broke up a conference in Ramenskoye attended by Protestant clergy, including representatives of New Generation Churches; one participant was reportedly beaten.
The country’s 83 federal subjects (administrative divisions, excluding Russia-occupied Crimea and Sevastopol) maintained varying policies on the wearing of the hijab in public schools and/or government institutions. In January, a schoolgirl in a Tyumen secondary school was barred from attending classes due to a Ministry of Education and Science policy that mandated students comply with “generally accepted norms of business style [dress] in society.” In March, a local Yekaterinburg media outlet published a report describing the ostracism experienced by Muslim women who chose to wear the hijab.
Representatives of minority religious associations and human rights NGOs stated authorities continued to prosecute individuals and smaller religious groups for “illegal” missionary work and frequently imposed fines. From July 2020 to December 2021, Forum 18 reported 108 prosecutions on administrative charges of unlawful missionary activity for a wide range of activities, including ordinary worship meetings. Forum 18 stated that more than 80 percent of defendants whose cases reached a verdict were found guilty and fined. Foreigners also faced possible expulsion. According to the SOVA Center, Protestant churches were the targets in the largest number of cases.
In September, the Yalta Judicial District Court fined the Christians of the Evangelical Faith of Yalta 30,000 rubles ($400) for carrying out illegal missionary activity. According to press reports, the Fellowship of Christian Businessmen and Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith Pentecostals were also prosecuted. In June, four evangelical Christian pastors and believers from Adygea faced administrative cases for illegal missionary activity. The accused faced fines ranging from five to 50,000 rubles ($.07-$670). In June, the Sovetsky District Court of Astrakhan found a U.S. citizen guilty of illegal missionary activity, fining him 30,000 rubles ($400) and ordering his expulsion. In May, authorities charged Russian astrologer Ekaterina Kalinkina with illegal missionary work for promoting and organizing events for the Hindu festival of Maha Shivratri. Kalinkina faced a fine of 50,000 rubles ($670) as she was not an authorized religious leader. In April, the Magistrate Court of Evpatoria Judicial District fined the Chava Nagila Synagogue 30,000 rubles ($400) for illegal missionary work, finding that videos posted by the community on social media did not carry the full name of the organization.
Religious minorities said local authorities continued to use the country’s anti-extremism laws to ban sacred religious texts and other books related to religion, other than the four holy books – in their original languages – recognized by law. The MOJ’s list of extremist material grew during the year to 5,253 compared with 5,130 in 2020 according to SOVA Center reports.
In February, customs officials in Rostov-on-Don confiscated publications by Jehovah’s Witnesses from the library of the ship Missia, which arrived from the Turkish port of Tuzla. On March 31, the Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg declared that the Jehovah’s Witness Library mobile application containing the group’s literature, including various translations of the Bible, was extremist. On September 27, the St. Petersburg City Court upheld the decision to ban distribution of the app in the country. On September 14, the Primorsky FSB border department searched four homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses and confiscated electronic devices, Bibles, religious literature, and personal records in which they found mention of Jehovah.
On multiple occasions, authorities fined missionary organizations for violating legal requirements pertaining to missionary activity. On November 10, OVD-Info reported that the Magistrate’s Court in Kabardino-Balkaria fined the Seventh-day Adventist Church 30,000 rubles ($400) for distributing literature without special marking as part of missionary activity. On November 19, the Magistrate’s Court in Kabardino-Balkaria also fined Seventh-day Adventist Nina Boronina for possessing Christian books about health in violation of the law. On September 15, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported as part of a commentary on persecution of religious believers in the country that authorities in Belgorod fined a Baptist individual for distributing free Bibles in the Sputnik shopping center.
The SOVA Center reported on October 7 that the Leninsky District Court of Stavropol fined the Orthodox Jewish Community of the Stavropol Territory 100,000 rubles ($1,300) for keeping the book Forcibly Baptized by Markus Lehmann, which was included in the government’s list of extremist materials, in its library. The SOVA Center stated there were no signs of incitement to religious or national hatred in the novel, which is about the persecution and discrimination of Jews in the 14th century in Poland and Lithuania.
Authorities classified literature related to Said Nursi as extremist. On April 22, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court in Tatarstan designated 163 editions of the works of Nursi as extremist, according to the SOVA Center. The court accused the defendants in the case of participating in the “Nurdzhular” organization, a Muslim organization that the Supreme Court declared extremist.
There were several other instances of restrictions on Islamic literature. The SOVA Center reported on July 14 that the Sernursky District Court in Mari El fined Rosalia Timurgalieva for distributing extremist materials after she posted the film “Miracles of the Koran,” which the center said contained no calls to violence or discriminatory content, on social media. In April, the Yoshkar-Ola City Court fined Valea Takhmazova and Izzatilo Isakov 1,000 rubles ($13) each for the same offense.
In January, Muslim community leaders criticized the decision by city authorities in Rostov-on-Don to transform the former Cathedral Mosque into a jazz school. The mosque had been closed during the Soviet era and utilized by the army; in 2016 the Muslim community in Rostov asked for the building’s return.
In November, residents of Troitsk near Moscow complained to the city administration about an unofficial mosque – a residential building in which Muslims gathered for prayer. The residents said the mosque led to traffic disruptions. City officials reportedly determined the building was an illegal structure and planned to demolish it. There were no other mosques in the city. The case continued at year’s end.
On November 19, Ildar Alyautdinov, the Mufti of Moscow and the main imam of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, proposed opening prayer rooms in shopping centers and the subway instead of in residential buildings. He stated that Moscow did not have enough local mosques for resident Muslims and migrants, and the rooms would allow Muslims to perform prayers at the right times without eliciting negative reactions from others. In response, the press service of the Moscow Department of Transport stated that it was impossible to allocate “premises and places for religious actions of people of all views in public transport.”
In August, Ryazan authorities denied a request from Dmitry Pakhamov, cochairman of the Christianity and Islam Association and head of the International Christian Solidarity Foundation, to build an Islamic cultural and educational center in the city. Officials responded that there were no free plots suitable for the construction of a religious facility.
In August, Samara city government authorities ordered the demolition of a Pentecostal Good News Church in Mekhzavod as an illegal building, saying the area was zoned for residential use.
On November 12, the Leninsky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod charged Kirill Evstigneev with providing financial services deliberately intended to support an extremist organization, for paying rent for a meeting place for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On November 2, the Kuznetsk District Court of Novokuznetsk prohibited the Orthodox diocese from operating a chapel, citing a violation of fire safety rules.
The NGO Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF) stated it had filed two cases with the ECHR on behalf of the Word of Life church in Kaluga – a Pentecostal church in a dispute with local authorities over ownership and building code violations which blocked efforts to convert a building to a meeting place for their community. Worshipers reportedly were meeting in a tent outside the property pending resolution of the case.
ADF’s 2019 application to the ECHR on behalf of Pastor Vitaliy Bak remained pending at year’s end. Bak, a Baptist community leader whom the Novorossiysk city administration accused of holding illegal worship services in his home, faced the possibility that his house would be demolished; local authorities closed the house in July 2019. The ADF stated the authorities’ actions violated freedom of religion.
According to NGOs and independent experts, the government continued to cooperate more closely with the ROC than with other religious organizations, with officials often interpreting the law that recognized the “special role” of Orthodox Christianity as granting special privileges or benefits to the ROC as an institution. Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs stated in a report in May that “the Kremlin continues to deepen its reliance on the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (ROC) as a lever of soft power in Russian foreign policy.” In a July interview posted on the ROC website, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cited the existence of a Working Group for Cooperation between the foreign ministry and the ROC. In June, ROC Patriarch Kirill presented Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu with an ROC medal for “supervision of the construction of the main temple of the Russian Armed Forces.” He thanked Shoigu for his contribution to “this new way of interaction between the Church and the armed forces.” Patriarch Kirill also presented awards to two deputy defense ministers. The government continued to provide the ROC Patriarch with security guards and access to official vehicles, a privilege accorded to no other religious organization. According to the SOVA Center, the ROC had received more government-granted property than any other religious organization.
In January, the Verkhnepyshminsky City Court sentenced an assistant to former ROC priest Shiigumen Sergiy to 15 days administrative arrest for inciting hatred through uploading a video on social media, a punishment that does not involve criminal charges. The ROC had banned him from preaching. Sergey refused to leave the Sredeuralsk Convent in a dispute over the property.
On February 10, the Sverdlovsk Arbitration Court recognized the Sredneuralsk Convent as property of the ROC Yekaterinburg Diocese. The ROC had filed a claim for recognition of ownership in 2020.
Forum 18 raised concerns about amendments to the law in October which required clergy, missionaries, or religious teachers who received their religious training outside the country to enroll in a class on state-confessional relations and obtain recertification by a CRO. The NGO criticized what it said was the vague wording of the amendments, which left interpretation to law enforcement authorities. According to Forum 18, the majority of religious educational establishments appeared ineligible to offer such courses as they lacked state accreditation. Baptist, Pentecostal, and Lutheran seminaries all lost their higher education licenses by May. Forum 18 stated the amendments would affect some communities more than others; for example, the majority of Russia’s Buddhist leaders had trained outside Russia. Sergey Gavrilov, head of the State Duma’s Committee for the Development of Civil Society and Issues of Public and Religious Associations, stated in an April 5 press release that the (then proposed) amendments were “aimed at protecting the spiritual sovereignty of Russia” and would “take into account Russian legal, moral, and cultural traditions.”
The country’s National Security Strategy, approved in July, included the prevention of the spread of religious radicalism, destructive religious movements, and formation of ethnic and religious enclaves as measures to ensure security.
The Jerusalem Post and Forum 18 reported that antisemitism was rising in the political sphere. In February, an Anti-Defamation League report criticized the Russian government for instrumentalizing antisemitism to influence domestic and foreign public opinion in its conflict with Ukraine by exaggerating the prevalence of antisemitism in that country.
In January, St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Professor Vladimir Matveyev publicly denied the Holocaust during a webinar. Matveyev stated Zionists invented the Holocaust, as “it was impossible to pass six million victims through all the concentration camps.” Other webinar participants contested the statements. Both institutions fired him in February, and a court denied his request for reinstatement. Matveyev was charged with rehabilitation of Nazism, and his case remained pending at year’s end. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.
In August, Russia Religious News reported Foreign Minister Lavrov commented that the ROC was “suffering from (unspecified) pressure by Western countries.”
At an October 21 plenary session of the 18th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion club, President Vladimir Putin stated that Russians were guided by a moral and spiritual conservatism and must defend “true values” from “adherents of the so-called social progress,” whom he compared to the Bolsheviks, whose quest for progress a century ago became an effort to destroy “age-old values and religion.”