U.S. Commission on international religious freedom advise that DOS “Blacklist” Russia for Crimea and Donbas

The US Commission on International Religious Freedoms has released another report on the state of freedom in the world. In particular, it recommended that the US State Department put Russia on the list of countries of particular concern.

This is reported by Radio Liberty.

The reason is not only the further deterioration of the situation with religious freedoms in Russia but also the fact that before such actions, Moscow had occupied territories of Ukraine – Crimea and a part of Donbas.

Russia in the current report of the US Commission on international religious freedoms, which concerns the situation for 2019, was among 14 countries in the world that, according to the Commission, the US State Department should have included in the list of “countries of particular concern”. The reason is that their governments implement or tolerate “systematic, persistent and egregious violations” of religious freedoms.

The report mentions only those states or non-state entities that, according to the Commission, carry out or do not prevent such violations – there are only 35 of them in the document. Ukraine is not among such violators. But the situation in the occupied parts of the Ukrainian territory – in Crimea and parts of the Donbas was outlined in the section dedicated to Russia.

Russian violations in Crimea and Donbas

In particular, the report states, in the Russian-occupied Crimea, the occupation authorities continued to impose repressive Russian laws and activities in the region, which led to persecution for peaceful religious activities and bans on groups that were legal in Crimea under Ukrainian law.” In 2019, law enforcement officers carried out mass arrests of politically active Crimean Tatars who were accused of membership in the banned Russian Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Many of them face long prison terms.

On June 28, 2019, the occupation authorities seized and closed the Cathedral of Saints Volodymyr and Olga in Simferopol, the main Cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Crimea.

Its believers report that since the occupation, the OCU has been systematically persecuted for being perceived as linked to Ukrainian nationalism. In particular, we are talking about the confiscation of Church property and intimidation of clergy and believers. And on November 6, 2019, a court in Yevpatoria in the West of Crimea ordered the destruction of the OCU-owned chapel.

In Eastern Ukraine, in the occupied part of Donbas, Russian separatists are implementing discriminatory religious policies that create privileges for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, the report says. The Russian-backed LNR militant group essentially banned all religious organizations that did not receive registration from them until October 15, 2018. The ban covered the Protestant communities, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the OCU. And on November 26, 2019, the LNR banned 12 Baptist books as “extremist” – among them, the Russian translation of the Gospel of John.

Russia should be the “country of particular concern” – Commission

The problems in the occupied territories of Ukraine are not the only ones for Russia: they are not enough in the country itself. According to the report, the situation with religious freedoms in Russia continued to deteriorate during 2019. The authorities continued to pursue so-called” non-traditional ” religious minorities with fines, detentions and criminal charges under the pretext of fighting extremism. Thus, in particular, in 2019 in Russia increased the persecution of “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, which was banned as an “extremist” organization in 2017.

Also, the Russian authorities continued to apply laws against extremism to persecute some movements of Muslims, as well as to Scientologists (this doctrine is treated as religious in the United States).

A separate mention in the report is made of the North Caucasus, in particular, of Chechnya, where security forces acted with impunity, arresting and kidnapping people suspected of even indirect involvement in Islamist insurgents, and intimidating Muslims during prayers, the report says.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedoms recommends that the US authorities recognize Russia as a “country of particular concern”, per the American Act on international religious freedoms.

Among the recommendations are sanctions and law on support for religious freedoms in the occupied parts of Ukraine

Washington is also recommended to impose sanctions on Russian government agencies and officials responsible for gross violations of religious freedoms, freezing their assets in the United States and/or banning them from entering the United States.

Also, the Commission recommends that the US authorities work with European allies to use public campaigns, diplomacy, and targeted sanctions to pressure Russia to put an end to the abuse of religious freedoms, release religious prisoners of conscience, and allow the establishment of permanent international monitoring in occupied Crimea.

The Commission recommends that the US Congress adopt legislation that would condemn the deterioration of the situation with religious freedoms in Russia and point out at briefings and hearings that the Russian government does not bring its legislation on religion and extremism in line with international human rights standards. Also, the Commission believes, the Congress should have adopted an Act on support for religious freedom in Ukraine, which should call on the US President to put Russia on the list of countries of particular concern given the state of religious freedoms, to consider Russia’s violation of religious freedoms in the Russian-occupied Crimea and in the Russian-controlled part of Donbas (drafts of this law are currently under consideration by both Houses of Congress).

Recommendations are not still an instruction

The recommendations of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms to US Department of State remain recommendations only. After all, this independent, non-party Federal government Commission has no authority in the United States. In particular, as regards Russia, it is not the first time that it recommends that this country be classified as a “country of particular concern”– but, contrary to these recommendations, the US State Department continues to keep Russia on the second list of lesser violators – the “list for special surveillance”.

In the world as a whole, this Commission recommends that 14 States be added to the list of “countries of particular concern”; only nine of them are on the US Department of State’s list, and five others, including Russia, are not there. Being on this list, among other things, means sanctions for these violations.

According to the Commission’s proposal, the list would cover China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Russia has been proposed by the Commission as a candidate to this list since 2017, but so far to no avail.

RISU, risu.org.ua