RUSSIA: An Expanding Net of Intolerance

Feb 5, 2014


February 5, 2014 | USCIRF

The upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics has thrust Russia into the world spotlight. The Kremlin’s increasing intolerance, however, deserves equal, if not greater, attention. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is concerned about this increase which is fueled by overly broad laws that limit the freedoms of religion and expression and which clearly violate international standards: one of these laws penalizes blasphemy and the other prohibits the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.”

“These laws are part of the Putin government’s assault on freedom of religion and expression,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George. “They reflect the growing influence of elements within the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate, which is allied with the Kremlin in restraining competing voices in public life, both religious and secular.”

Russia's anti-blasphemy law imposes up to three years in jail and fines of up to 15,000 USD for public actions in places of worship which disrespect or insult religious beliefs, and up to 9,000 USD and a year of imprisonment for similar acts committed elsewhere.

“Besides punishing those who are deemed to have offended the feelings of others, this vaguely worded but sweeping law gives Moscow’s stamp of approval to certain religious beliefs while criminalizing the expression of others,” said George “Opposed by many Russian opinion leaders and even some parliament members, such government-sponsored intolerance clearly violates international standards.”

Russia’s law banning what it deems to be “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” was signed into law on June 30, 2013, a day before the blasphemy law.

“While the rights of parents and families to direct the upbringing and moral and religious education of their children certainly must be respected,” George said, “a sweeping law of this type restricting the communication of ideas violates the internationally-protected right to free expression, as would a law banning the expression of opposing views on sexual morality. People must be free, to express their convictions peacefully without fear of punishment or discrimination, and everyone’s rights must be protected.

“Free expression deserves protection on all sides of this issue,” said George. “Merely holding or promoting a view about sexual morality, a particular definition of marriage, or the moral status or regulation of sexual conduct should be protected expression under international standards. Except in the narrow circumstances permitted under international human rights law, no government legitimately may ban or limit the peaceful expression of religion or belief. No individual or institution, religious or secular, should suffer state-sanctioned discrimination or civic disabilities for holding or peacefully expressing their beliefs,” George concluded.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at 202-786-0613 or