Staunton, February 17 – Russian authorities have charged as extremists only followers of non-traditional religions like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Olga Sibiryeva says, but the logic they are using these cases not only contradicts good sense but also undermines the sense of security the followers of other believers, including traditional ones, have.
Speaking to a conference on religious affairs at Moscow’s Institute of Europe, the SOVA expert argues that the authorities’ use of the Yarovaya anti-extemism laws against believers on the grounds that the assertion by them that such people are extremists because they hold that their religion is true and thus other religions are false is absurd and dangerous.
That is because religions are based on the assumption that they are true, Sibiryeva says; and consequently, all are at risk under this interpretation of Russian law of being “extremist” (sclj.ru/news/detail.php?SECTION_ID=487&ELEMENT_ID=8018&fbclid=IwAR3e6VmpyrKjEidzRzem8LOX93A37Cz2MXOTMUYBqesX59pqaEokhLZ4QiA).
To date, officials have not applied the anti-extremism law to followers of the four traditional faiths; but the attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses has led to criticism of other “non-traditional” religions, opening the way attacks on them and calling into question the idea that religious belief itself is protected in Russia.
And the fact that the technology of banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses was originally developed for use against Muslim groups, whose literature has been banned as extremist, shows how easily extremist laws can be extended from one group to another, even if the believers involved are considered part of a “traditional” faith.
The February 14th session to which Sibiryeva spoke attracted a wide range of Russian and European experts who discussed how Russian laws should be changed so that this danger is reduced if not eliminated. They proposed that Russian law be brought into line with European practice.
Most importantly, they argued that no one should be charged with extremism because of their belief in the truthfulness of their religion. Such confidence should not be the subject of legal sanction unless it leads to violent actions against other groups. Only if that confidence is restored by changes in law can all believers have confidence they too will not run afoul of the law.