WASHINGTON -U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, today praised the passage of S.Res. 500, which urges the Russian Federation to fully protect the freedom of all domestic religious communities, both registered and unregistered.
“While we recognize that religious freedom has advanced significantly for the Russian people since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Brownback, “I am concerned by sporadic yet consistent reports of local government harassment and uninvestigated assaults against religious groups.”
“The passage of this resolution sends a clear message to the Russian leadership that more work is needed to fully protect the fundamental rights of individuals in Russia to profess and practice their faith,” said Brownback, adding that, “the United States will continue to engage the Russian authorities on this issue.”
The resolution, which was sponsored by Brownback and attracted bipartisan support, calls for the United States to urge the Russian Federation to ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities, and for the Council of Europe members and G-8 members to raise these concerns with President Putin.
A similar resolution sponsored by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), passed on March 15. The Helsinki Commission highlighted the growing problem of religious liberty violations in Russia at an April 14, 2005, hearing entitled “Unregistered Religious Groups in Russia.”
In addition to harassment against some Christian groups and other minority religious communities, two disturbing trends highlighted in the resolution are the rise of anti-Semitism within certain segments of Russian society, as well as increases in the severity and frequency of oppressive actions taken by both local and federal officials against Muslim communities within the country.
The Russian Government has recently enacted legislation potentially curtailing religious freedoms. The January 2006 law regulating non-commercial organizations gives authorities the ability to attend meetings of any registered religious community, as well as increased control over foreign donations. The Senate resolution calls on the Russian Government to invite Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representatives and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to visit and discuss concerns regarding religious freedom.