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Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities

Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities Chairman of the Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples of the Russian Federation Petr Tultayev.

In 2015, certain facts of religious discrimination and discrimination against minorities were recorded in Russia. Religious discrimination included persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses (48 cases), Muslims (15 cases), new religious movements (10 cases), Protestants (4 cases), Catholics (1 case). Pressure on Jehovah’s Witnesses had increased during the monitored period, with the number of incidents in the first have of 2015 being larger than in the whole 2014 (at the same time, the number of anti-Muslim incidents had decreased).

When it comes to ethnic discrimination, chairman of the Association of Finno-Ugric Peoples of the Russian Federation Petr Tultaev said on May 19 that due to new higher education standards, national departments for training school and pre-school minority language teachers have been shut down in many institutions. In addition, Ministry of Education did not approve a single school textbook for national language or literature. Chairman of Tatar FNCA I. Gilmutdinov noted that it is extremely difficult to convince regional heads to open ethnic-cultural schools. He clarified that minority textbooks do exist, but only for primary schools.

On the other hand, school hours for national languages in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan were taken from Russian language lessons The number of Russian language courses in Tatarstan is almost 50% less than average in the country On June 1, it was reported that Tatar children in Tatarstan are forced into groups for learning Tatar language in schools, in order to increase the indicator of pupils studying local language Compulsory Tatar language education is also introduced in preschools, for all nationalities and without parents’ consent.

Crimean Tatars are facing some difficulties in Crimea. Members of Crimean Tatar Majlis were prohibited to stage any public action on May 18th – anniversary of Crimean Tatar deportation, which caused outrage among members of this minority On May 18, around 70 Crimean Tatars who were planning to hold an unsanctioned commemorative action in Simferopol were detained by police. However, they were released shortly afterwards.

On April 21, 2015 it was reported that Sochi law enforcement took down banners dedicated to the Armenian genocide. Armenian community was also asked to cancel their commemorative action timed for the 100th anniversary of the genocide. This seemed rather strange, given that President Putin attended a commemorative ceremony in Erevan.

There have been several incidents concerning the LGBT community. On March 8, Moscow police detained an activist holding a rainbow flag in the so-called “Hyde Park”.

On March 25, 2015, General Prosecution appealed to Roskomnadzor media watchdog to block access to the Deti-404 LGBT project on the grounds of the already overturned court verdict.

On March 26, it was reported that an LGBT teenager from Nizhny Novgorod was forcibly placed in a psychiatric hospital.

On April 21, Kirov District Court refused to reinstate an LGBT teacher woman as a teacher.

On May 17, Moscow police detained 17 people during an LGBT flash mob, dedicated to the International Day Against Homophobia.

On June 11, 2015, an LGBT exhibition at the Red Square gallery was disrupted by police and “Centre E” officers. On June 13, when organisers attempted to resume the exhibition on the street, its materials were seized by the police.

There is evidence suggesting that the state supports Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in pressuring cultural and education institutions that allow atheistic actions or actions that can be regarded as “desecrating the church”. This was most noticeable with regards to the production of the “Tannhauser” opera. Director of the opera was charged with “desecration of items of worship”, but the court soon dismissed the case for lack of evidence. Director of Novosibirsk theatre B. Mezdrich, unwilling to change the production, was sacked on March 29. As later reported by Ministry of Culture, the decision was made due to his “reluctance to consider the social values and disrespect to the opinion of citizens, as well as failure to comply with recommendations of the founder.”

On April 28, 2015, it was reported that a theatre play about Saint Ksenia of Petersburg in Kaliningrad was censored due to its comic portrayal of a priest. The play was amended shortly after its premiere, following an appeal from the head of the Department of Culture and Youth Policy.

On April 24, it was reported that head teacher of Kvalynsk School N3 Tatyana Kotserova was ordered to resign due to the “insufficient number” of parents who chose “Foundation of Religious Cultures and Secular Ethics” course for their children. Head teacher was accused of celebrating Halloween and of “anti-Orthodox agitation” among parents, who wrote to school administration and asked that they are consulted regarding the presence of an Orthodox priest in history lessons.

Discrimination against migrants became more evident since the influx of immigrants from neighbouring states. Migrants have been discriminated in registration, movement, business, employment, education, housing, healthcare, etc. Discrimination against migrant workers, caused by oversights in migration legislation and violation of existing laws by employers, as well as anti-immigration sentiments in the society, has been common in various context. However, such cases are rarely reported on in the media.

There have been reports of exploitation of migrants, when they were paid low wages or no wages at all. On April 6, it was reported that construction workers from Tajikistan building the “Children’s World” store in Moscow have been underpaid by more than 10 million rubles in wages. Many of them were deported from the country. Other sources also indicate that Moscow employers collectively owe migrant workers more than 3 billion rubles. Migrants are also discriminated in the housing market, particularly when property owners prefer to let their property to “Russians” or “Slavs”. Migrants are also subject to extra attention of the police on the street.

In 2014, Ministry of Education and Science prohibited schools from accepting children whose parents do not have a permanent or long-term residency registration in the region. As a result, children of foreign and internal migrants have been put in a vulnerable position, with their fates depending on the decision of local officials and school administrations Based on the aforementioned order, Tver school N 34 expelled two Uzbek students, whose residency permits have expired (their father, meanwhile, had a residency permit until 2019) This is likely to be one case out of many.

In Moscow, decisions regarding deportations are made in no more than 3 minutes. Migrants are not told their rights, not provided an interpreter, and their cases are often considered “in batches”. Chertanovsky Court is holding a record in the number of administrative cases considered in the first six months of 2015, having deported more than 2 thousand people. It is followed by Sherbinsky District Court, which considered 1.6 thousand administrative cases in six months.

Deportation centre in Sakharovo (Greater Moscow) is infamous for its poor living conditions. Detained persons are not allowed to go out of the building and meals are of extremely poor quality. Furthermore, the centre fails to provide sufficient medical care for detained migrants. Attention to this particular centre was brought by a suicide attempt of a migrant in February, which resulted in a change of management.

Moscow authorities held a special operation “Migrant-2014” between October 23 and November 2, 2014. In the first four days of the operation, 7000 people have been arrested, but only 535 of those have been found in violation of residency laws Migrants were arrested at work and at home and taken to undisclosed locations, often separating children and parents. A similar operation was held in St. Petersburg from September 22 to October 10 On December 23, it was reported that of 79 000 foreign nationals detained in Moscow as part of the operation Migrant-2014, around 4 400 were deported. Some 15 000 administrative offences have been identified as well. Thus, majority of arrested foreign nationals were detained unlawfully.

On February 17, 2014, it was reported that Mayor of Arzamas ordered to close all catering establishments that have no Russian dishes on the menu. According to him, national restaurants gather unemployed people and irritate the locals.

On June 4, 2014 it was reported that Moscow nurseries reject children who only have temporary registration. Experts estimate that around 36 000 children are deprived of pre-school education as a result. Deputy Head of the Department of Education Alexandr Gavrilov said that families working for special or intelligence services are given priority.

On August 1, 2014, Deputy Minister of Education of Bashkortostan V. Aristarkhov urged school headmasters to assess school enrolments and identify students from western regions of Ukraine, in order to avoid possible provocative actions on their part.

On July 28, it was reported that migrant workers in the Moscow subway sector are not being paid due wages on a large scale.

Two Moscow taxi companies, Gettaxi and City-Mobil, became involved in a scandal in November-December 2014. Gettaxi forced its “non-Russian” drivers to change their names to Slavic at work. City-Mobil, meanwhile, added an option of requesting a “Slavic driver” for its customers (later the company abandoned this service)

Monitoring also recorded discrimination on ethnic grounds. Most cases involved Crimean Tatars. Crimean administration prohibited any form of public action between May 16 and June 6, 2015 in order to prevent possible extremist provocations. The real reason for this was the 70th anniversary of deportation of Crimean Tatars on May 18th. Head of Crimea Sergey Aksenov said that “some forces” might use Crimean Tatars to “destabilise” the situation.

On July 5, member of the Crimean Tatar Majlis Refat Chubarov was denied entry to Crimea for 5 years due to his alleged “extremist actions” Crimean Prosecutor warned Chubarov that Majlis’ actions fall under the Russian law “On countering extremist activities”.

On August 21, Crimean authorities denied Crimean Tatars to hold an annual requiem rally in memory of deportations, scheduled for August 23, motivating the rejection with health concerns due to high temperatures.

On November 15 and 21, the police arrested more than 160 people – most of whom were ‘non-Slavic’ – in Lokomotiv market and Central market in Simferopol. All detainees were brought to the counter-terrorism department, where they were taken into a basement. Officials took their fingerprints, DNA records and photos. Those who had passports were subsequently released. Others had to wait for their documents.

Romani people have been discriminated on a local level. On September 8 and 9, 22 Roma houses have been demolished in Perm. Inhabitants were evicted in the middle of the night and not given the time to gather their things. Commissioner for Human Rights in the Perm region promised to look into these demolitions, noting that the government should provide support for the Roma community, rather than threaten it.

On September 17, 2015, after “non-typical” blonde children were noted amongst the Roma in Perm, their camp was visited by the police unit for combatting organised crime. However, investigations showed that these children were legitimate.

In Russia in 2016, there were cases of pressure on representatives of individual religious organizations. First of all, it was about "Jehovah's Witnesses" (the organization "Management Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" banned as an extremist in 2017) , the Church of Scientology , various Protestant churches , the Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior (Kyiv Patriarchate) , and Hare Krishna followers.

All of them were charged with "illegal missionary activity" and other offenses on the basis of the new law "On Amendments to the Federal Law" On Counteracting Terrorism" and certain legislative acts of the Russian Federation regarding the establishment of additional measures to counter terrorism and ensure public safety".

There is also pressure on Muslims. So, on December 23, 2016, after Friday prayer, OMON officers surrounded a mosque in the suburbs of Elista, and started to get parishioners one by one in a minibus to check documents and to photograph. A similar procedure was held on the same day in Saransk. On November 10, Moscow's law enforcement authorities raided the Dubrovka Trade Center, which houses trade halls selling hijabs and other Muslim clothing. The police detained the saleswomen in the hijabs, interrogated, fingerprinted, and photographed them. At the same time, it is necessary to note that the Russian Federation has no law prohibiting wearing of Islamic religious clothing, as it is in France, the Netherlands, and a number of other countries.

Bodies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia tend to preventively register some citizens in connection with their possible adherence to radical Islam. It causes a lot of criticism among believers. It is especially widespread in the republics of the North Caucasus. In Dagestan, according to some sources, about 20,000 people were registered for such a record. Registration includes calls to the police, interrogations, forced fingerprinting, and the collection of biological materials for processing genomic information.

At the same time, being a part of this database creates difficulties in moving around the republic and finding employment, and leads to other restrictions on the rights of citizens. Often the reasons for registering them are visiting mosques that are considered "Wahhabi" for rituals, kinship, familiarity or neighborhood with persons suspected of religious extremism, etc. Moreover, often anonymous messages or denunciations of neighbors become the reason for preventive recording.

As the Commissioner for Human Rights, Tatyana Moskalkova, noted in the annual report, "in itself, such facts cannot be the basis for setting for preventive registration. For this, more serious legal reasons are needed, in particular, the prohibition of a religious association, its inclusion into the list of extremist or terrorist organizations, etc. In practice, such requirements are not always respected.”

One of the main problems in the enforcement of anti-extremist legislation is its overly broad interpretation by law enforcement agencies, which results in abuses. As examples we can cite two cases in which representatives of Jewish organizations were prosecuted for "illegal missionary work": in March 2018 the lighting of candles in the Hanukkah menorah in the office of an organization in Moscow in December 2017 was deemed "missionary work," and in February 2019 a lecture by Israelis at a seminar for Jewish youth in the Novosibirsk Jewish community center called "Jewish Lifehacker" was deemed "missionary work. In 2018, the requirements for religious groups were tightened. The July 20 order of the Ministry of Justice "On Amendments to the Form of Notification of the Start of Activities of a Religious Group," which came into force, prescribes that the notification of the establishment of a religious group must include personal data of its founder, as well as "information about the basis of religion, places of worship, other religious rites and ceremonies, the leader, representative, citizens who are members of the religious group."

At the end of July 2018, Roskomnadzor included the Jehovah's Witnesses website in Russia jw-russia.org. and 10 other Jehovah's Witnesses websites in the Unified Register of Banned Sites . In early October 2020, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe urged Russia to implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and lift the restrictions imposed on Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, review the sentences previously imposed on Jehovah's Witnesses, lift the ban on the organization's activities in place since 2017, and amend anti-extremism legislation. At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking11 December 2018 at a meeting of the Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, noted that he "does not really understand" why Witnesses are being persecuted.

In a report published in June 2019 on the human rights situation in 2018, Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova noted that the sentences against Jehovah's Witnesses "make one think that there is a conflict between the constitutional right to practice one's religion individually or together with others and the characteristics of extremist activity as specified in Article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. Of course, any extremist activity is unacceptable, but the vague criteria for classifying religious materials as extremist is also unacceptable, when in fact any federal judge at his discretion can ban any book, image, video or audio recording.

In October 2021, the Plenum of the Supreme Court clarified the application of anti-extremist legislation with regard to violations of the right to freedom of religion. The document states, in particular, that actions "consisting solely in the exercise ... of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including through individual or joint use of religion, the performance of religious services or other religious rites and ceremonies. By themselves, they do not constitute the corpus delicti under part 2 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

We should note several cases of Jehovah's Witnesses being acquitted by the courts even before this clarification was issued. On August 27, 2020, an investigator with the Sakhalin region FSB closed the criminal case against two Jehovah's Witnesses from Nevelsk due to lack of evidence: Vyacheslav Ivanov, 50, and Dmitry Kulakov, 23, accused of inciting religious hatred . On October 7, 2020 Maysky district court of Kabardino-Balkaria acquitted Jehovist Yuri Zalipaev who was accused of calling for violence against Orthodox Christians and Muslims, finding him not guilty.

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