Russia: Treatment of members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (2011- November 2014) [RUS104992.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview of Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Sources indicate that the Seventh-day Adventists are a Protestant Christian denomination (Seventh-day Adventist n.d.a; Forum 18 4 Apr. 2012). According to the official website of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, there are practitioners in nearly every country throughout the world (Seventh-day Adventist n.d.b). The General Conference, located in Silver Springs, Maryland, coordinates the global ministry of the Church and "is responsible for the spiritual and developmental plans of the church around the world" (ibid.). The administration of the Seventh-day Adventist world church consists of 13 geographical divisions (ibid.). Within the Euro-Asia division of the Seventh-day Adventists, which comprises Russia and 12 other countries, there are approximately 2,000 churches and 140,000 church members (Seventh-day Adventist n.d.c.). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, who contacted their administration in Russia, said that there are more than 40,000 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Russia, and approximately 100,000 people, when factoring in children and other attendees (Seventh-day Adventist 5 Nov. 2014). He said that the locations in which Adventists are more active include Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhni Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Khabarovsk, Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2. Treatment
2.1 General Treatment

Although stating that there are no "serious problems" for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Russia, the Seventh-day Adventist representative in Russia noted that there are "difficulties" for Seventh-day Adventists in some regions of Russia, which he said stem from many people not knowing about the Seventh-day Adventist Church and considering it a "sect" (Seventh-day Adventist 5 Nov. 2014). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Director of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, a Moscow-based NGO that monitors and researches hate crimes, hate speech, anti-extremism and related issues in Russia, expressed the opinion that all minority religious organizations, including Adventists, "have some difficulties in Russia from time to time" (SOVA 8 Nov. 2014). Similarly, the Keston Institute, a UK-based organization that specializes in the study of religion in Communist and formerly Communist countries (Keston Institute n.d.), states that there is "anti-sect phobia and basic hostility to 'non-traditional' religions" among some officials and some sections of society (ibid. 2014, 15).

The Director of the SOVA Center noted that there have been cases of "'anti-sectarian' propaganda" against Adventists (SOVA 8 Nov. 2014). SOVA's report Freedom of Conscience in Russia; Restrictions and Challenges in 2012 notes that in the Domodedovo region of Moscow, an Orthodox group distributed leaflets directed against the alleged threat of Seventh-day Adventists (ibid. 15 May 2013).

Further information about the treatment of Seventh-day Adventists by society, including cases of violence, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2.2 Treatment by Authorities

The Seventh-day Adventist representative in Russia described the attitude of Russian authorities towards Adventists as "very good" (5 Nov. 2014). He noted that representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are invited to participate in a number of public events in major cities and that an Adventist is represented as one of the members of the President's Advisory Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations (Seventh-day Adventist 5 Nov. 2014). The Keston Institute similarly indicated that an Adventist is a member of the President's Council for the Cooperation with Religious Associations (Keston Institute. 2013, 11).

The SOVA Center noted that in 2011, "'non-traditional'" religious organizations [1] - particularly Protestant denominations and Jehovah's Witnesses - were "subjected to harassment from bureaucrats and security forces representatives" and cited a number of examples in which local officials warned the public against the threat from "'sects'" (SOVA 16 Apr. 2012). Similarly, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) notes that officials often refer to religious minorities "negatively,", "abetting an intolerant climate" (US 30 Apr. 2014, 141).

Forum 18, an Oslo-based foundation that reports on "violations of freedom of thought, conscience and belief" (Forum 18 n.d.) and SOVA report that in 2011, the Deputy Education Minister of the Republic of Bashkortostan wrote to all educational administrators warning of the threat posed by the "activity of foreign religious organisations of destructive orientation [or persuasion]," which included a list of approximately 100 religious organizations, including Seventh-day Adventists and other Protestant denominations (Forum 18 4 Apr. 2012; SOVA 16 Apr. 2012). According to SOVA, the letter described these organizations as "'criminal'" and recommended that representatives be banned from educational institutions without permission from the Ministry and for educational authorities to "discuss the danger these organizations pose" with students during class (ibid.). According to Forum 18, after complaints from religious organizations, Russia's Human Rights Ombudsman wrote to Russia's General Prosecutor and said that the letter violated the Constitution, the Religion Law and the Anti-extremism Law (Forum 18 4 Apr. 2012). Bashkortostan officials reportedly withdrew the letter (ibid.).

The Seventh-day Adventist representative said that Adventists sometimes face difficulties in secular schools when exams are set on the Sabbath, but he noted that they are generally able to solve these types of problems and that Adventists have opportunities to attend schools and institutions for higher education (Seventh-day Adventist 5 Nov. 2014). Similarly, the US Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 states that Seventh-day Adventist children in some schools faced challenges observing Saturday as their Sabbath day, since it is a partial school day throughout most of the country and that some schools did not allow them to reschedule exams (US 30 July 2012, 12).

According to Forum 18, local authorities in Russia have fined or threatened to fine people for organizing or conducting meetings for worship that have not been approved by the authorities (Forum 18 28 Oct. 2011). The same source indicates that the primary targets are Protestants and Jehovah Witnesses who do not have their own permanent buildings (ibid.). This source cites a case in which a Seventh-day Adventist leader in Kazan was fined 1,000 rubles [approximately C$25] for holding religious meetings in public venues in violation of Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Violations ("violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket") (ibid.). The same source notes that two years earlier another Adventist leader was also fined 1,000 rubles under the same provision of the Code (ibid.).

Sources report that officials in Vladivostok tried to confiscate a building used by Adventists and Baptists (SOVA 8 Nov. 2014; US 30 July 2012, 12). The US Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 indicates that in December 2011, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vladivostok was told by the city administration that they must vacate the building that they used within five days and return it to the city, whom it claimed was the building's "rightful owner" (US 30 July 2012, 12). The Seventh-day Adventists and a Baptist church had jointly used the two-story building since 1976 and they had requested that the city cede the building to them in accordance with the law to provide property to religious groups (ibid.; SOVA 16 Apr. 2012). Sources indicate that the two churches challenged the orders to vacate the building in court and received a positive ruling allowing them to keep the property (ibid.; US 20 May 2013, 12).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Note

[1] The preface to Russia's 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience recognizes Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Orthodox Christianity as the four "traditional" religions in Russia, although the constitution provides equal legal status for all religions (US 30 Apr. 2014, 142).

References

Forum 18. 4 April 2012. Felix Corley. "Russia: Regional Targeting of Religious 'Sects'." [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014]

_____. 28 October 2011. Felix Corley. "Russia: Fined for Meeting for Worship." [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014]

_____. N.d. "Forum 18 News Service." [Accessed 10 Nov. 2014]

Keston Institute. 2014. Sergei Filatov. "Putin, the Patriarch and the Russian Public." Keston Newsletter. No. 20. [Accessed 7 Nov. 2014]

_____. 2013. Roman Lunkin. "Protestants in Russia Today." Keston Newsletter. No. 18. [Accessed 7 Nov. 2014]

_____. N.d. "About Keston Institute." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2014]

Seventh-day Adventist. 5 November 2014. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

_____. N.d.a. "Beliefs." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2014]

_____. N.d.b. "World Church." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2014]

_____. N.d.c. "Euro Asia Division." [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014]

SOVA Center for Information and Analysis. 8 November 2014. Correspondence from the Director to the Research Directorate.

_____. 15 May 2013. Freedom of Conscience in Russia: Restrictions and Challenges in 2012. [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014]

_____. 16 April 2012. Freedom of Conscience in Russia: Restrictions and Challenges in 2011. [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014]

United States (US). 30 April 2014. Commission on International Religious Freedom (CIRF). "Russia." Annual Report 2014. [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014]

_____. 20 May 2013. Department of State. "Russia." International Religious Freedom Report for 2012. [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014]

_____. 30 July 2012. Department of State. "Russia." International Religious Freedom Report for 2011. [Accessed 3 Nov. 2014]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; Christian Solidarity Worldwide; European Country of Origin Network; Factiva; Human Rights Watch; International Christian Concern; Jamestown Foundation; Moscow Times; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Russia – Government website (www.government.ru); St. Petersburg Times; UN – Refworld.