We demand that they be released and that those who are responsible for their prosecution be brought to justice.
Five managers of the Church of Scientologists of St. Petersburg have been charged by the FSB with abasing the dignity of several of their parishioners (Article 282, Section 2, Paragraph c, of the Russian Criminal Code), creating an extremist community (Article 282.1, Section 1) and illegal business activities (Article 171, Section 2, Paragraphs a and b). They were arrested at the beginning of June last year.
Back in 2011, Shchelkovsky town court ruled that seven works by Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, were extremist. The ruling, based on the assertion that Scientologists want to destroy all social groups except their own, fails to convince. The court found that the aim of the Scientologists is the creation of a «correct» social group to act as a counterbalance to all others, and one that will expand throughout the world. However, even if this is the case, this is not evidence of extremism because the expansion in question does not presuppose the use of violence. It should be noted that the court hearing at which Hubbard’s works were banned featured gross procedural violations.
The official investigators working on the case consider the issuance of internal instructions banning a series of events by parishioners who violated the ethics of the Church of Scientology constitutes an abasement of human dignity. The designation of those followers of Scientology, who have been subjected to psychological pressure, as a social group protected by anti-extremist laws is a dubious approach. According to the ideas of Ron Hubbard, for the sake of the well-being of the majority of followers of Scientology, individuals with «negative» attitudes are not allowed to take part in «auditing» (confession) or training, but should be ignored. However, most religions place restrictions on partaking in church rites, and advice to ignore someone or other cannot be considered incitement of hatred or abasement of dignity.
In 2014 the European Court of Human Rights found the refusal to register Scientology as a religions organization to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. However, the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg has still not been able to register. Because of the ban on official registration, which would enable the organization to have a bank account, the Church has been obliged to collect funds privately. Irrespective of the formal basis of the charges of illegal business activities (providing paid services without having registered a legal entity), deprivation of liberty is clearly disproportionate to the violations with which the five individuals have been charged.
Undoubtedly, Scientologists have suffered discrimination because of their faith. Over recent months, regardless of the formal existence of freedom of conscience in Russia, the situation of religious organizations has significantly deteriorated. The language used in anti-extremism legislation is so indefinite and broad that it allows law enforcement agents to apply the law’s provisions to any associations, religious or otherwise. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been declared an extremist organization and banned, while a number of other groups of Muslims, pentecostalists, Jehovist-Ilyinites and other religious groups are being persecuted.
We believe that Sakhib Aliev, Ivan Matsitsky, Anastasiya Terentyeva, Konstantsiya Esaulkova and Galina Shurinova are political prisoners. We demand that they be released and that those who are responsible for their prosecution be brought to justice.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions.
You can read more about this case here.
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