Freedom of Religion or Belief in Russia: Restrictions and Challenges in 2020

Olga Sibireva is the head of the Religion in Secular Society project at the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

In this blog post, I will briefly explain some recent Russian developments regarding freedom of religion or belief protections in 2020. The post is based on the April 2021 report released by the Moscow-based human rights monitor, the SOVA-Center. Generally, Russia did not make any positive progress concerning challenges to freedom of religion or belief that emerged in previous years.

Persecution of Religious Minorities

Since 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned in Russia as an extremist organization. Leaders and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ communities can be fined and punished criminally for professing their religion. While in 2019 there were 18 criminal sentences of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this number increased to 25 in 2020, and 13 people were sentenced to prison time. Overall, more than 400 believers have been prosecuted. New criminal cases were initiated less than a year ago, which means that the authorities will continue to prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses. Additionally, human rights monitors regularly report cases of violence against detained believers.

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New Restrictions in the Russian Religious Law: What Should Believers Expect?

Olga Sibireva is the head of the Religion in Secular Society project at the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

In Russia, religious discrimination is often directed at new religious movements and Protestant organizations, and this trend has only intensified over the years. Increasingly strict state policies towards religious minorities are manifested, primarily, at the legislative level.

The Russian Law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations provides basic regulations for religious life. It was adopted in 1997 and has been amended almost every year since then; many of these amendments have worsened the plight of freedom of religion and belief in Russia.

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