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Russia fines Catholic for “illegal missionary activity,” group says

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Sergey Bezgodov | Shutterstock
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An illicit hotel room Mass was the basis for first known charge against a Catholic for violating 2016 law.

For the first time, Russia has prosecuted a Catholic leader for “illegal missionary activity.”

Forum 18, a religious freedom monitoring organization, reported that Nikita Glazunov was fined 5,000 rubles (about $67) by a court in Kazan in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan. Glazunov, a member of a traditionalist Catholic religious group, the Society of St. Pius X, was charged for organizing a Latin Mass in a hotel conference hall. According to the charge, he invited a “foreign preacher” to celebrate the Mass, but the priest did not have written authorization to perform missionary activity. A witness testified that the preacher had “spoken of the truth of Catholicism in comparison with Orthodox Christianity, and that, after the religious service, [the defendant and another person] approached him and invited him to take printed materials to familiarize himself with their religious views.”

The Society of St. Pius X is in an irregular relationship with the Vatican.

Glazunov appealed his conviction on June 5, but was unsuccessful.

His case was one of 42 actions against “illegal missionary activity” that Forum 18 identified in the first six months of 2020. The charges are based on a law passed in 2016. Most of the cases involved individuals, but two were charges against organizations. Most cases ended in convictions and fines, though in two cases, foreigners were ordered deported.

Over the past year and a half, Forum 18 has seen an increased number of prosecutions for Muslim religious activity, and now, the first case against a Catholic, as well as the first case against a Methodist.

The organization listed known cases in Russia proper but mentioned that Russia also has enforced its anti-missionary legislation in the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

In 2019, a Russian court convicted six Jehovah’s Witnesses of extremism, sending to them to jail for as much as three and a half years.

In the current crop, an American citizen, Raymond Curran, was convicted by a court in Tambov after police found that he was leading services of the unregistered Calvary Chapel Protestant church in a house of culture, accessible to all and without written authorization from a religious organization or evidence of its registration.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will conduct a hearing on September 16 about what it calls “the alarming state of religious freedom in the Russian Federation and Central Asia, and recommendations on how the United States should respond.”

“Russia and various Central Asian countries have undermined religious freedom since the late 1990s, when many former Soviet states adopted repressive religion laws that drew upon past precedent,” says an announcement on USCIRF’s website. “Officials across the region strictly monitor and regulate religious practice, including placing surveillance cameras in places of worship and keeping official databases with detailed personal information of community members. Regional governments actively suppress religious minorities through the denial of legal registration and the use of vague and expansive extremism laws that effectively criminalize any speech or religious practice of which they disapprove. Russia’s exportation of repressive practices to neighboring Ukraine has been particularly egregious, and it has made mandatory religious regulation and vague extremism laws significant weapons in the subjugation of occupied Crimea.”

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