One year after Russia enacted a controversial law restricting religious freedom, Protestants and Roman Catholics say the measure has had a chilling effect on religious activity nationwide.

Russia's controversial law on religion, signed a year ago by President Boris Yeltsin (CT, Nov. 17, 1997, p. 66), has produced what attorney Vladimir Ryakhovsky, president of the Christian Legal Center, calls "an atmosphere of intolerance."

The law has initiated a season of religious harassment and discrimination, while official favors are visited on Russia's dominant Orthodox church and other "traditional" religions.

Although abuse most often has occurred in rural areas and Russia's remote East, religious minorities in Moscow have not been spared. Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Catholic believers—both Russian nationals and foreign missionaries—have experienced problems. There have been evictions and restrictions on teaching, publishing, and distributing literature. Church registrations have been revoked. Taxation has been excessive, and attempts to close down churches or other ministries through the courts have been implemented.

Discrimination has come mainly at the hands of local government officials, federal agents, Orthodox priests and parishioners, local police, Cossacks, Communists, nationalists, and fascists. Religious-rights attorneys in Moscow appealed to the Constitutional Court in July, citing four cases of violations.

Language in the new religion law is considered to be unconstitutional in at least 16 instances. Additionally, the law violates international human-rights standards and agreements signed by the Russian Federation.

VISA LIMITS: In June, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs implemented instructions ...

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