FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 18, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) yesterday sent the following letter to President Obama regarding his upcoming meetings with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.
June 17, 2010
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Human rights problems in Russia need to be raised publicly by you and by your administration.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has concluded that this
would be particularly important in your upcoming meetings with Russian President Dmitri
In conjunction with expressing concern over religious freedom in Russia, I also respectfully ask
that you urge reform of Russia’s law on extremism. In addition, I urge you to take specific
actions to protest the impunity accorded to Russian officials and others who commit gross human
rights violations as well as violent hate crimes against members of Russia’s religious and ethnic
minorities, including Jews, Muslims, and Protestants. Pressing Moscow to accord greater respect
for human rights for all its citizens is critical if Russia is to become a more democratic, dynamic,
and stable strategic partner.
USCIRF, an independent U.S. government entity created by Congress to monitor religious
freedom worldwide and make policy recommendations to the Executive and Legislative
branches, has reported on the Russian Federation since 1999. The Russian government has
increased its use of anti-extremist legislation against religious and other groups that are not
known to use or advocate violence, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Russian extremism law
should be amended to ensure that it no longer is used against peaceful human rights and religious
groups. Although the Russian Federation faces genuine security threats, the provisions and
implementation of the extremism law risk increasing radicalism and instability in Russia.
Another key human rights issue is the impunity accorded to Russian officials, particularly
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov due to his leadership of the Chechen armed forces, his
alleged killings of political opponents and local human rights activists, and his institution of
strict sharia law in Chechnya in violation of international religious freedom standards. The
European Court for Human Rights has issued 132 rulings on severe human rights abuses
committed in Chechnya. I hope you will support USCIRF’s call for the U.S. government to
issue a U.S. visa ban against Kadyrov and to freeze his bank assets.
Many Russian officials also proclaim that certain religious and ethnic groups are alien to Russian
culture and society, thereby contributing to a climate of intolerance. In general, the Russian
government has failed to address consistently or effectively the severe and chronic problem of
violent and sometimes lethal hate crimes and anti-Semitism. Numerous acts of vandalism against
synagogues, churches, and mosques also go largely unpunished or are attributed to hooliganism.
USCIRF is concerned that the de facto favored status of the Moscow Patriarchate Russian
Orthodox Church results in difficulties for minority religious communities, particularly those
officially deemed non-traditional, such as the non-Moscow Patriarchate Russian Orthodox and
Protestant communities. These groups face denials of registration, detention and harassment of
their members, and delays and refusals to permit construction or to grant rental permits for places
USCIRF is convinced that raising freedom of religion or belief as an important issue in U.S.-
Russian bilateral relations with President Medvedev will enhance this key relationship while
exemplifying American respect for universal human rights. It is only by enacting reforms of
Russian laws and policies on human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, that Moscow
will become an effective partner with the United States on the common international interests in
which the two nations are currently engaged.
CC: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton