Anatoly Pchelintsev, the representative of the presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations, proposed creating an ombudsman institution in Russia to protect the rights of believers. He sees the main tasks of such a representative as protecting against the arbitrary actions of the authorities of the followers of all religious movements prevalent in the Russian Federation, as well as participating in the formation of the state’s policy towards religious denominations. The Daily Storm found out that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims took the initiative with caution, and opinions were divided. And in the Council of Heads of Protestant Churches of Russia they consider that the ombudsman is extremely necessary for small denominations.
“This is a kind of mediator in the relationship between the state and religious organizations. About who will contribute to the formation of state policy in relation to faiths and directly participate in its implementation. And, finally, about who can reach the police. Believers themselves are not able to do this.", – Anatoly Pchelintsev explained to Daily Storm his idea.
Pchelintsev has long been involved in legislation in the field of religion. The topic of his doctoral dissertation in jurisprudence: “Freedom of religion and religious associations in the Russian Federation: constitutional and legal research”. In the 90s, after graduating from the law faculty of the Moscow Military Red Banner Institute, he worked in the military prosecutor's office, and then engaged in advocacy.
In Russia, siloviki are now defining a policy regarding religious organizations, and representatives of faiths, especially a few, are not included in the discussion of this policy, Pchelintsev notes. Legislation on freedom of conscience is so controversial and confusing that courts in similar circumstances often make diametrically opposed decisions. And if law enforcement agencies usually have no questions about the religions traditional for our country, then religious minorities claim pressure from the security forces.
Photo: © Global Look Press / Komsomolskaya Pravda "It’s necessary to at least revive the institution of the Commissioner for the Protection of Freedom of Conscience, adds pchelintsev. “But this area needs to be depoliticized so that we do not return to the Soviet era.”
Co-Chair of the Advisory Council of the Heads of Protestant Churches of Russia, General Secretary of the Russian Association for the Protection of Religious Freedom Oleg Goncharov told the Daily Storm about the increased attention of security officials to Protestants. In our country there are about five thousand Protestant parishes registered by the Ministry of Justice, and the number of Protestants themselves reaches at least several hundred thousand.
"Over the past two to three years, we have had about 50 cases of harassment. Law enforcement officers come with checks or a search to our religious groups. Until 2014, this was not … They are trying to drive protesters into a certain ghetto", – declares Daily Storm Goncharov.
The pressure, in his opinion, was caused by the information campaign against the United States in the Russian media. Protestants are associated with American religious associations and with events in Ukraine. An authorized human rights activist, as suggested by Goncharov, would act as an intermediary between the authorities and faiths and inform the president about the most egregious and resonant cases of violation of the rights of believers.
It is hard to imagine that the authorities will support the initiative of Anatoly Pchelintsev without consulting the traditional confessions of Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church believes that the creation of a new ombudsman institution could be a step towards establishing state control over religious associations. The Church faced a similar attitude on the part of the authorities both during the time of the Russian Empire and in the USSR. In addition, if a human rights defender and his apparatus have sufficiently broad powers, then under the pretext of upholding someone’s rights, he can begin to protect believers of one denomination from adherents of another faith.
"IN ROC the issue of creating an ombudsman for believers is expectedly perceived through the prism of the infamous Council for Religious Affairs [действовал при правительстве СССР с 1965-го по 1991 год и занимался преследованием верующих], as well as the Chief Prosecutor of the Synod [высший орган церковно-государственного управления Церковью, созданный Петром Первым в 1721 году и просуществовавший до 1917 года. В это время Церковь фактически подчинялась светской власти — императору России]. Both of these institutions left far from the best mark in the history of the church."," Vakhtang Kipshidze, deputy chairman of the ROC Synodal Department for Church Relations with the Society and the Media, told Kommersant.
Maxim Kozlov-Shulzhenko, a leading analyst of the Orthodox Center of St. Basil the Great, was also skeptical about the proposal. "I am for clearly spelling out all the powers in this position. After all, everything can end with the fact that priests will be protected from parishioners, or vice versa – parishioners from priests. Everyone can be offended at all and plunge the interfaith situation into chaos. It is better, after all, for the Church to be separated from the state, because interference by the authorities in interfaith issues can only worsen the situation.".
Kozlov-Shulzhenko also notes that within the denominations themselves there are contradictions and in order to resolve them, one must thoroughly understand the characteristics of each creed. If an ombudsman with low professional competence appears in Russia, it is unlikely that anything will change in the life of believers, and then there is no point in creating such an institution. In addition, the initiative itself caused the expert to suspect: “If this comes from below, then most likely people who were engaged in similar activities in Soviet times are trying to realize their ambitions. If the initiative comes from above, then we see a change in the relationship between the Church and the state. In this case, issues, including conflicts, will be resolved through some kind of laying. ”
Anatoly Pchelintsev answered the question about the authorship of the proposal: “This is our own initiative, and this is not about creating some kind of state body. It is about the Ombudsman, human rights defender of believers".
Photo: © Global Look Press / Alexander Rekun
However, the idea still finds support in the Orthodox community. “I take such an initiative positively, – said Orthodox publicist Sergei Khudiev. – I do not like Jehovah's Witnesses * as a heretical sect, but I believe it is wrong to persecute people for their religion. I think this is wrong when people are imprisoned solely for religious activity. Even Vladimir Putin spoke disapprovingly of this, but the persecution continues. There is also some pressure on the Protestants, and I consider it pointless and destructive, yet our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. ”
Khudiev believes that the Ombudsman will be able to protect the Orthodox in the long run, if in Russia the attitude of the authorities towards religion changes. “The problem is that now the state runs into the religious minorities with varying degrees of severity. And for the Orthodox Church, the best situation is when the authorities respect the rights of the Church. This is a guarantee that they will not come upon us when the political situation changes, – he muses. – I look with great concern at the persecution of sectarians, because if the policy in the country changes, they may come for us, the Orthodox. Therefore, it is very important that there are legal mechanisms that protect sectarians and which, if necessary, can protect us. ”
Leaders of Russian Muslims also differed in their assessments of the ideas of Anatoly Pchelintsev. The deputy mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia Ravil Haji Seyfetdinov stated that Russia is necessary “A certain state body, for example, the Ministry of Religious Affairs”, but one ombudsman cannot protect the rights of all believers. “In our multinational society, this not one person should be engaged. This direction should be led by competent people who have the practice of interfaith dialogue. In this department there should be representatives of the main religions, which will create a balance ”, – he is sure.
“We now see that some federal agencies are vested with similar powers, but these functions are constantly wandering from one department to another", The deputy mufti draws attention. Regarding the possible pressure on unwanted confessions by the state, Seyfetdinov believes that the government will always be able to exert pressure with the help of law enforcement agencies, which, in fact, is happening in some regions.
Member of the Presidium of the Council of Muftis of Russia Nafigulla Ashirov absolutely did not support the idea. “This is absurd. Someone just needs to be employed, and they are looking for where. A lot of posts can be invented, for example, the Ombudsman for the Protection of Animal Rights. Relations between believers and atheists are regulated by state laws. “General human rights must be protected, and it’s difficult for me to imagine the special rights of believers,” he said the radio says Moscow.
Spokesman for Russia's Chief Rabbi Gershon Kogan was cautious in his assessment: “Yes, violations of the rights of believers sometimes occur in our country. There are fewer problems with traditional denominations, because many people know about us, we have built relations with power structures, but all the same sometimes difficulties arise. Is it necessary to create an ombudsman institution? This largely depends on the details. What powers he will have, what he will do. Whether the Ombudsman’s institution will help in this is difficult to say.".
* "Jehovah's Witnesses" – the organization is prohibited in the territory of the Russian Federation.
"DAILY STORM", February 18, 2020