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ICC NOTE: Forum 18 has begun the process of preparing a religious freedom survey for the Russian Federation stemming from the passage of the Yarovaya laws. The Yarovaya laws are but the latest amendment to “extremist” laws in Russia as the most sweeping law took effect in 2002 likely as a result of the the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The article discusses in detail a wide variety of controversial issues which have arisen due to each new amendment to the expand the previous 2002 extremist law. While the purpose was to curb Islamic extremism, reality saw other religious minorities with no history of extremism being targeted by the Russian government. 

9/13/2016 Russia (Forum 18) – “Extremism” legislation has been the biggest single threat to freedom of religion and belief in Russia for several years. While ostensibly aimed at preventing the incitement of violence and hatred on racial, religious, and social grounds, the 2002 Extremism Law and associated articles of the Criminal and Administrative Codes are regularly used against religious communities and individuals for beliefs and practices which do not violate the human rights of others.

“Extremism”-related freedom of religion or belief violations are so extensive that they are here examined separately from Forum 18’s general religious freedom survey of Russia (forthcoming).

Law enforcement attention is currently focused (and has been for some time) on Jehovah’s Witness adherents, congregations, and publications, and on some Muslims, particularly those who study the works of late Turkish theologian Said Nursi. Individuals of other faiths (including atheism) have come under scrutiny for alleged “extremism”, although such cases are rare.

The last two years have been marked by an increase in the use of “extremism” (and other) legislation against Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular, their publications, and their communities. Their activities at every level – from offering literature in the street to the continued operation of their national coordinating body, the Administrative Centre in St Petersburg – are under scrutiny from law enforcement agencies. Prosecutors are also seeking to have the Jehovah’s Witness New World version of the Bible banned as “extremist”.

Extremism legislation is employed against violent nationalist and radical Islamist groups, but its use in restricting and punishing expressions of faith by non-violent individuals and religious communities fuels an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion towards certain religious traditions. The rhetoric surrounding such cases – from prosecutors’ offices, local authorities, and in some cases “anti-sectarian” activists and the Russian Orthodox Church – also contributes to the impression that particular groups are inherently dangerous. In some cases, this may be enhanced by the release in the media of police or FSB security service “operational footage” of raids and arrests.

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