U.S. Commission Asks A Ban to Kadyrov
The annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has published. The commission demands from the U.S. authorities have to impose a ban on issuing a U.S. visa and to freeze all assets of Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the pro-Russian regime in Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, like the year before.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) as an entity separate and distinct from the State Department, is an independent U.S. government body that monitors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF bases these recommendations on the standards found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents. The 2012 Annual Report represents the culmination of a year‘s work by Commissioners and staff to document abuses on the ground and make independent policy recommendations to the U.S. government, as mandated by Congress. With a reporting period of April 2011 through March 2012, this Annual Report addresses 28 countries from around the world. Russia and Chechnya are in the “Watch List Countries” of the report. In the countries, which are an the Watch List of countries, there are serious violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments.
According to the report, religious freedom conditions in Russia continue to deteriorate. The Russian government increasingly used its anti-extremism law against peaceful religious groups and individuals. These actions, along with rising xenophobia and intolerance, including anti-Semitism, are linked to violent or lethal hate crimes. Despite increased prosecutions in Moscow, the Russian government has not addressed these issues consistently or effectively, leading to significant problems of impunity in many regions.
The Russian government uses the country‘s extremism law to sanction religious individuals and groups and other activists who are viewed, often unjustifiably, as security threats. Russia‘s 2002 Extremism Law defines extremist activity in a religious context as ―propaganda of the exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens according to their attitude toward religion, and after 2007 amendments, no longer requires the threat or the use of violence.
If a Russian court ruling of a text as extremist is upheld, it is banned throughout Russia. Individuals who prepare, store, or distribute banned texts may be criminally prosecuted for ―incitement of ethnic, racial or religious hatred,‖ with penalties ranging from a fine to five years in prison. In December 2011, the criminal code was amended to add prison terms starting in 2013 of up to three years for organizing or participating in a banned group. As of February 2012, 1081 titles were banned as extremist. Islamic materials constitute most of the banned religious texts, including Russian translations of 15 texts by Muslim theologian Said Nursi. As of 2012, 68 Jehovah‘s Witnesses texts were deemed extremist. A positive decision on a Scientology religious text is on appeal; two bans were overturned, as was a ban on the Bhagavad Gita-As It Is.
Other laws place onerous requirements on religious communities. Russia‘s 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience defines three categories of religious communities with varying legal status and privileges. Ministry of Justice officials reportedly require more registration data from Protestant churches and new religious organizations. Officials can bring court cases which may result in banning religious communities found to have violated Russian law. Russia‘s 2006 NGO law, which also applies to religious groups, empowers the Ministry of Justice to examine documents on foreign donations and data on executive boards and other internal matters of religious bodies.
The human rights crisis reflects the Russian government‘s increasingly authoritarian tilt and the growing influence of violent extremist groups. Russian journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders have been killed and attacked, with the perpetrators usually acting with impunity. Human rights violations, including in regard to religious freedom, persist in Chechnya and other areas of the north Caucasus. Widespread popular protests starting in late 2011 over contested results of parliamentary elections may lead to human rights reforms, but it is too soon to predict the eventual outcome.
Religious Freedom Conditions
Russian officials have equated the practice of Islam outside of government-approved structures with extremism and even terrorism. In the North Caucasus and other areas of Russia, Muslims viewed as ―overly observant‖ reportedly have been arrested, disappeared, or even killed for alleged religious extremism. Some suspects allegedly linked to Muslim extremist groups were jailed reportedly due to planted evidence and later tortured in detention, prisons, and camps.
Violent Hate Crimes against Persons and Property: Chauvinist groups have stepped up their campaign, including death threats, against individuals, groups, and officials that defend the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and migrants. While the Russian police, particularly in Moscow, have offered some assistance to victims, these efforts are inconsistent and often ineffective. Local authorities often fail to investigate hate crimes against members of ethnic and religious minorities, leading to the problem of impunity for ―skinhead‖ racist groups‘ attacks on mainly Muslim Central Asians and Jews.
The Kremlin-appointed president, Ramzan Kadyrov, condones or oversees mass violations of human rights, including religious freedom. Kadyrov is accused of involvement in murders, torture and disappearances of political opponents and human rights activists in Russia and abroad. He has distorted Chechen Sufi traditions to justify his rule, instituted a repressive state based on his religious views, and ordered the wearing of the hijab. Nine women were killed for ―immodest behavior‖ since 2008; Kadyrov has appeared on television to praise these murders and the killers have not stood trial.
Recommendations for U.S. Policy
- In response to continuing violations of religious freedom in Russia, the U.S. government should: pass into law the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011 (S. 1039, hereafter referred to as the Magnitsky bill) to impose U.S. visa bans and bank asset freezes against specified Russian officials, including [pro-Russian] Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, for alleged human rights and religious freedom violations; after the Magnitsky bill becomes law, lift the trade sanctions against Russia included in the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment linking trade relations with restrictions on freedom of emigration, as has been done for seven of the 15 non-market economies initially cited in the Jackson-Vanik Amendment;
- recommend [pro-Russian] Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and other relevant Russian officials named in the Magnitsky bill for inclusion in the Politically Exposed Persons list of government officials whose bank assets should be frozen due to their corrupt practices and gross human rights violations; make freedom of religion or belief a key human rights and security concern in the U.S.-Russia relationship and press Russia to reform its extremism law to add criteria related to advocacy or use of violence and ensure the law is not used against peaceful religious communities; implement the Smith Amendment included in the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act to prohibit U.S. financial assistance to the Russian Federation government due to its official policies on non-violent religious groups, especially the Extremism Law; include in U.S.-funded exchange programs participants from Russian regions with sizeable Muslim and other religious minority populations and initiate an International Visitor‘s Program for Russian officials on the prevention and prosecution of hate crimes; and
- institute a visa ban and freeze the bank assets of [pro-Russian] Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov due to his continued gross human rights violations and alleged links to politically-motivated killings, and urge European partners to do the same.