US critical on religious freedom in Russia

A US State Department report says Russia "often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal activities".

Updated: Jul 31, 2012, 12:45 PM IST

Washington: A US State Department report on religious freedom in the world says problems have remained in Russia because authorities "often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities".

The "International Religious Freedom Report for 2011" cites extremist violence in southern Russia as one reason some religious minorities in the country continue to experience difficulties.

"The (Russian) constitution provides for freedom of religion. However, other laws and policies restrict religious freedom by denying some groups legal status and misidentifying their literature as extremist," the report said.

"In practice, the government generally respected religious freedom, but some minority denominations continued to experience difficulties. The government did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom."

"The most significant constraints on religious freedom during the year included the use of extremism charges to target minority religions and a broad range of speech and activities, in addition to efforts related to denial of registration, preventing access to places of worship, denial of visas for religious visitors, and detention of members of religious organizations," it said.

"There is no state religion, but the Russian Orthodox Church and other `traditional` religious communities receive preferential consideration."

But the report also noted a sharp decline in the number of acts of vandalism motivated by religious intolerance.

"Religious matters were not a source of social tension or problems for the large majority of citizens, but there were some problems between majority and minority groups. Because ethnicity and religion are often inextricably linked, it is difficult to categorize many incidents specifically as ethnic or religious intolerance," it said.

The report also noted that "the Russian Orthodox Church maintains a cordial, professional relationship with representatives from other `traditional` religious groups -- Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism".