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07/12/2023 Russia (International Christian Concern) – On July 5, 2023, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a report outlining the conditions of religious freedom as it relates to Russia. Despite outlining other severe instances of religious persecution in the past, this report highlights issues that have presented themselves since the invasion of Ukraine.  

This report covers three main topics, including a general update about the country, violations conducted by Russia in Ukraine, and a reminder of policy recommendations previously stated by the commission.  

USCIRF outlines in this report that “Russian authorities continue to engage in severe religious repression and have used its war in Ukraine to institute new or amend existing legal mechanisms to further suppress religious communities and decimate independent society.”  

USCIRF described the current situation for Christians in Russia, writing specifically about Russian Orthodox Priest Mikhail Simonov, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for spreading false information about the military. Simonov had posted on social media, “Killing children and women, on Channel One we sing songs. We, Russia, have become godless. Forgive us, Lord!” 

Another Orthodox priest Ioann Kurmoyarov was detained after posting videos denouncing the war, saying, “Those who have unleashed aggression will not be in heaven” and “if you are not disturbed by what is going on in Ukraine, this outrage, then…you are not Christians.” It is reported that prison authorities have not provided Kurmoyarov with adequate medical care despite the deterioration of his health in jail. 

Simonov and Kurmoyarov are a part of the Russian Orthodox Church, which represents 71% of Russia’s population. While this majority is protected under Russia’s religious law as a “traditional” religion which is viewed as a religion loyal to the Russian government, there are still threats to those who take any stand against the government’s actions. 

Russia currently maintains blasphemy laws punishing those who “offend the religious feelings of believers.” The report released by USCIRF describes those who have been punished recently for violating this rule, including a woman who has criminal charges against her due to her depiction of Jesus in four paintings she created.  

The current situation in Russia has led to many being persecuted for making any statements about their faith that could be construed as being related to the invasion of Ukraine.  

With this situation in mind, USCIRF has recommended that the U.S. State Department continue to designate Russia as a Country of Particular Concern, meaning that the United States would be able to take further action against the country of Russia specifically as it pertains to humanitarian rights regarding religious freedom. 

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