Minorities in Russia
A wide range of legislation is used to persecute religious minorities in Russia. The 1996 religion law sets strict registration requirements and empowers state officials to impede and monitor religious groups’ activities.
Themes: Legislative restrictions, minority rights
A wide range of legislation is used to persecute religious minorities in Russia. The 1996 religion law sets strict registration requirements and empowers state officials to impede and monitor religious groups’ activities. It also bans “missionary activities,” defining this very broadly to include preaching, praying, disseminating religious materials, and answering questions about religion outside of officially designated religious sites. Other legislation criminalizes “extremism” without adequately defining the term, and charges of “terrorism” require no advocacy of or participation in violence, enabling the state to target a vast range of nonviolent religious activity.
On April 5, President Vladimir Putin signed amendments to this law that further expanded the state’s ability to restrict religious practice, including more frequent reporting requirements for religious organizations, a mandate for all foreign-educated clergy to be recertified within Russia, and prohibitions for anyone on the government’s expansive extremism and terrorism list from participating in or leading religious groups. Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, members of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Falun Gong, and adherents of indigenous religions are among those affected.
Following over 400 raids on members’ homes during 2021, over 100 peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses, including elderly and disabled members were convicted of ‘extremism’, facing prison sentences of up to eight years.
Members of the indigenous Mari religion faced hostility, with one local official instructing municipal authorities to block the Mari from worshiping on public property, which includes forests sacred to their religion.
However, peaceful Muslims comprise the majority of those imprisoned for their faith. Numerous prison sentences were given to followers of the moderate Muslim theologian Said Nursi. Crimean Tatar Muslims opposed to the Russian occupation of their Ukrainian homeland continued to receive lengthy prison sentences for unsubstantiated charges of terrorism based on their Muslim identity and alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), a nonviolent Islamist group that is legal in Ukraine and most Western countries.
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom