Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has ordered the mayor of Novosibirsk, one of the main cities of Asian Russia, to grant Mormons a building permit to build their church, on a plot of land legally purchased in 2014 by representatives of the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. The municipal administration has announced its intention to postpone the execution of this sentence, according to a statement released in recent days to the press.
No to the Mormon church
On February 1, the Novosibirsk City Council’s land ownership committee met to discuss the possibility of redeveloping the land in question from a recreational area to a social and commercial area. The assessment was obligatory following the decision of the Supreme Court of December 20, 2017, which required the mayor to include these changes in the municipal regulation, in order to allow the Mormons to build the church. This project had aroused the opposition of some parts of the local public opinion, linked in various ways to the Orthodox Church.
Under their pressure, the municipality had modified the land designation, so as to prevent the construction of the place of worship. The Mormon community then turned to the court for civil cases in Novosibirsk, which ordered the administration to grant permission. The mayor had appealed, but the second instance confirmed the obligation imposed, until the final confirmation of the federal Supreme Court.
However, on February 1, the director of the building and architecture department of the municipality, Aleksandr Kondratiev, announced that the administration intends to further restrain the decision on the matter: “We spent three years explaining our reasons , but the Supreme Court did not understand us. It will mean that we will use other methods, “said Kondratiev. City Councilor Valerij Naumenko called the Mormon Church a “satanic group”.
Countering the “terrorist fanaticism”
The position of local Siberian politicians is accompanied by a long series of episodes of recent months, all related to the interpretation of the “Jarovoj law”, named after the Russian deputy who proposed it two years ago to counter terrorist fanaticism. In reality, the law is increasingly restricting freedom of religious expression in Russia, because of very restrictive rules on the possibility of aggregation for religious reasons at any level, even in private homes, and even more in public contexts. First of all, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned at federal level as “religious extremists”, but also many other “non-traditional” associations such as the Mormons.
In many cities of Russia a real “manhunt” was unleashed against the exponents of the “extremist sects”. In Kemerovo in Siberia, and in Belgorod in southern European Russia, dozens of apartments have been searched, looking for compromising materials of religious propaganda. Many citizens were arrested and held in prison for a few days, before challenging formal charges; they are mostly members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some of them lay on the ground or tied themselves to furniture, and were forcibly taken to prison. A group of deaf people, who had gathered in a private house for a simple breakfast with friends, was also taken to prison in Belgorod. In general, the searches were carried out in a very rough manner, with insults and forms of verbal and physical violence, confiscation of prayer books and Bibles, as well as all computers, passports and money, and even photographs hanging on the Wall.
The widespread climate of intolerance manifests itself not only in the brutal methods of the police, but also in the growing number of private citizens reporting on neighbors and acquaintances, suspected of “extremist” religious activities. A few days ago, the court in Kemerovo issued a search warrant for 12 houses in a single day, on the basis of complaints from private citizens. The police carried out these checks from morning until late at night, even breaking through doors, in full combat gear, with guns levelled, shields and helmets. The detainees were also denied the opportunity to make a phone call or call a lawyer: “Here we are not in America,” replied special forces captain Stanislav Shlagov to a Jehovah’s Witness in Kemerovo. The “informer” neighbors have often accompanied the police in these actions, suggesting where to look for the offending materials, making the raids take on the form of real “pogroms”.
The Hindu “guru”
In Moscow, the house and the Center of a popular Hindu leader, Shri Prakash Dzhi, were also searched. He came from India as a medical student in 1990 to stay in Russia, where he formed a family and opened a center of Hindu spirituality. In recent times the “guru” has been particularly targeted by the main exponent of the “anti-sect campaign” of the Moscow Patriarchate, led by the sociologist Aleksandr Dvorkin, whose accusations led to the police raid against the Hindu group. In an interview in Newsweek last December, guru Dzhi said he was continually persecuted by false journalists or even false followers, sent to his center for the purpose of gathering information.
Despite all these facts, the Russian Ministry of Justice has issued a note in these days, according to which “the right to the profession of one’s own religious faith in the country is not called into question”.