Jun 23, 2016

Russia's Feud with Scientology Leads to Arrests

Russia’s Feud with Scientology Leads to Arrests


In latest crackdown, police raid Scientology offices and churches, citing suspicions of criminal business dealings.


23 June 2016

Transitions Online


The Russian branch of the Church of Scientology has denounced the raids carried out by the Russian police in its Moscow and St. Petersburg locations earlier this week, The Moscow Times reports.  


Ten church members were arrested in St. Petersburg on allegations of “illegal business activity.” And in Moscow, eyewitnesses said that police officers were not letting people in or out of the Scientology church.  


"It is a disease of our society when government agencies charged with protecting the people and enforcing the law, use the name of the law to persecute the practice of religion," the Church said in a statement on Wednesday, saying the authorities had violated the concept of religious freedom enshrined in Russian law.    


The arrests were made in the wake of a long-running conflict between the Russian government and the Russian Church of Scientology, which the authorities view as an extremist organization.


In November 2015 the Moscow City Court ruled to dissolve the Moscow church because the term “Scientology” is an American trademark, Kremlin-controlled RT reported. As a result, the ministry said that the group should be subjected to consumer protection laws.


“The representatives of the Church of Scientology themselves have created many legal conflicts by restricting the religious freedom through the use of trademarks,” the Ministry of Justice said, as quoted by RT. “So it turns out a commercial partnership was spreading the religion, while religion can only be spread by religious organizations.”


The Moscow branch of the church was given six months to appeal the decision or cease functioning. The group sent its appeal in January to the Russian Supreme Court, which dismissed it in May “without examination,” a court official told the RAPSI agency at the time.


Earlier in 2015 the Moscow church was searched under suspicion of illegal land sales. And last August authorities also confiscated cameras and microphones from inside the Moscow church that they said were several illegally installed.


The Russian Orthodox Church has also voiced its disdain for Scientology. In 1994, the Council of Russian Orthodox Bishops called Scientology a “pseudo-religion imported from the West.”  


"The Russian Orthodox Church is trying to root out its 'competitors' with the help of the authorities," says religious scholar Yekaterina Elbakyan (pictured), quoted by The Moscow Times in an article earlier this year on the crackdown. "By doing so, it is also making itself part of the government apparatus and making itself dependent on the state.”  


·        L. Ron Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology in 1952 based on the idea that people are immortal spiritual beings. Various celebrities, including Tom Cruise, have helped popularize the religion.    


·        In 2011 Hubbard’s books on Scientology were banned in Russia as extremist literature. At the time, the court stated in its ruling that the books "seek to form an isolated social group whose members are trained to perform their functions generally aimed against the rest of the world,” according to RIA Novosti.

·        In 2003 the government in Belarus released a list of 16 banned religious organizations including Scientology, Forum 18 reported.

·        In April authorities arrested a Russian woman, Ekaterina Zaborskikh for swindling luxury home-buyers and donating some of the money to the Scientology churches in Russia, The Daily Beast reported. She allegedly stole 130 million rubles ($2 million) between 2012 and 2014 by selling homes that her construction company never completed, according to Komsomolskaya Pravda.


·        In 2007 the St. Petersburg City Court dissolved the Center for Scientology amidst allegations that the organization was spying on its congregation, the Moscow Times reported.

Compiled by Elizabeth Potter




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