Religious Freedom Under Threat in Russia
Religious minorities increasingly face difficulties in Russia.
In April 2019, the Russian authorities interrupted the Sunday service of a Baptist community in Verkhnebakansky. They accused the community of using a residential property for worship. However, under Russian law, the use of premises provided by a member is the only lawful way a religious group can meet. Vitaliy Bak, the leader of the group, seeks to remedy the violations by the Russian Federation of his right to practice his faith freely. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Russian constitution as well as by the European Convention on Human Rights. Vitaliy took up the legal battle for his rights. Yet, in July, the authorities returned to seal off a large part of his house preventing any use.
Increasing Difficulties in Russia
Religious minorities increasingly face difficulties in Russia. According to a 2018 US report on religious freedom, many Christian denominations are prosecuted for “unlawful missionary activity”, places of worship and private homes are raided, and anti-extremism laws are used to ban religious texts. Under Russian law, communities with the status of a religious group cannot own property and must therefore meet in residential buildings.
Security Service Seals Off Place of Worship
The Baptist community in Verkhnebakansky faced a lawsuit which sought to ban all religious activities in the residential building owned by Vitaliy Bak, the pastor of their group. They won at the first level but lost the three following appeals. On a Sunday a few months later, an officer of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB, the successor of the infamous KGB) came with local police and sealed a large part of the house.
Case at European Court of Human Rights
Pastor Bak’s final appeal in Russia was refused. With the help of ADF International, he has now taken his case to the European Court of Human Rights alleging violations of his right to freedom of religion and assembly. The Court is yet to decide whether or not his case will be heard.
“My dream is that our small group of believers will be able to worship together safely and enjoy the freedom protected in our constitution.” – Vitaliy Bak, Russian pastor, with ADF International lawyers