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Text of Helsinki Commission Letter to President Putin

October 24, 2002

His Excellency Vladimir V. Putin
President of the Russian Federation
The Kremlin
Moscow, Russian Federation

Dear Mr. President:

“We write today to respectfully convey our growing concern over the pattern of denial or cancellation of visas for foreign religious workers from select minority faiths, adversely affecting Catholic and Protestant communities throughout the Russian Federation. We seek your assistance in resolving the outstanding cases and urge the establishment of policy which will ensure full respect of the right of these religious communities to select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their requirements and standards.

“Over the past year, authorities have barred certain religious workers from re-entering the Russian Federation on spurious charges, despite that the individuals have worked in Russia for several years at the invitation of local coreligionists and hold valid visas. Reasons for the denials range from suspicion of criminal activity to the alleged dissolution of the inviting religious community. The effect of the visa nullification is serious, as many minority religious communities lack the capacity to produce trained clergy domestically.

“These developments cannot be divorced from the historical legacy of the Soviet period which witnessed brutal persecution of believers of these faiths and liquidation of their leadership. Against this backdrop, Mr. President, these communities must out of necessity rely upon foreign clergy to meet their needs. Artificial impediments imposed by federal authorities that prevent foreign religious workers from taking up their clerical responsibilities in the Russian Federation ultimately undermine the rights of individuals from these faiths to practice their religion.

“It appears that larger religious communities have influenced these government policies, at both federal and local levels. Harassment of clergy of the Catholic Church appears to have intensified following the formal establishment of dioceses in the Russian Federation. Similarly, recent government action against Swedish Protestant Leo Martensson was reportedly due to pressure from Muslim clergy in Krasnodar krai. Accordingly, in view of Russia’s commitment as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), it is important to recall the right of religious communities “to organize themselves according to their own hierarchical and institutional structure.”

“Mr. President, we are confident your government will not permit the denial of visas for foreign religious workers without due cause. Therefore, we urge you to take corrective measures to ensure the rights of all believers, including those from minority faiths, to practice their religion without distinction, and see the end to discriminatory denials of visas to religious workers from select minority religious communities. Sincerely,

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