HRWF : Human Rights Without Frontiers

FOREF : Forum for Religious Freedom Europe

CLIMS : Centre de Liaison et d’Information concernant les Mouvements Spirituels

Fundacion para la Mejora de la Vida, la Cultura y la Sociedad

I am delivering this statement on behalf of 5 NGOs, all independent, nonpartisan human rights organizations that focus on defending the freedom of religion or belief.

We wish to share with the Council our deep concern about violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief in the Russian Federation, and our insistence and hope that the Russian government will show greater respect for its international legal human rights obligations in this area.

There is abundant objective, empirical evidence of major state violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, and of an associated trend:  an increasingly dangerous atmosphere of religious intolerance regarding  minority faiths, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Church of Scientology, Hindus, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, followers of Said Nursi, the Falun Gong practitioners, and others.

Regrettably, Russian Federation has moved into the vanguard of authoritarian states that infringe on the freedom of religion and conscience, fundamental human rights without which equality before the law and democracy are impossible.

Russia’s ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses has made criminals of 170,000 peaceful citizens and has subjected them to  abuse by others.

The ban is apparently part of a comprehensive project to suppress minority religions, with the aim of protecting the “feelings” of members of the main religious communities.

Numerous Jehovah’s Witnesses have been jailed, some for months; the authorities have conducted at least 30 police raids and have launched around 20 criminal investigations.

This is an unprecedented assault on the freedom of religion or belief by a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), not to mention a member of the Council of Europe, and a state committed to upholding human rights standards as enumerated in the Helsinki Final Act and Follow-up Documents.

Russian Federation’s illegal restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief, while violating human rights and Rule of Law principles, are creating conflict and instability in the society.  Muslim communities and others have come under pressure from “anti-terrorism” legislation and practices.

The Russian Federation has cracked down on all fundamental rights and freedoms, in addition to the freedom of religion or belief.  There is virtually no freedom of expression in the mass media ; citizens are subjected to state propaganda and receive false information about what happens in other countries, and in their own.  Numerous independent journalists and several opposition political figures have been murdered.  The government has impugned independent human rights organizations and made their work virtually impossible.  Critical political voices have been jailed, and elections are managed Soviet-style.  Human rights defenders have been beaten and jailed.

In the spirit of the Moscow Helsinki Group and other brave and pioneering human rights organizations, we seek not simply to criticize, but also to establish dialogue about these problems and to assist the Russian Federation government to meet its human rights obligations.

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