The USCIRF Report on the Anti-cult Ideology, and the Statement of the Conference on the Situation in Russia

Section:
Alessandro Amicarelli

By Alessandro AMICARELLI, attorney, London, president of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) — Speech held on September 3, 2020 at the online Seminar “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Opponents: Russia, the West, and Beyond”.

It is my pleasure to introduce the topic of the role of anti-cult organizations’ ideology in the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide and the role of FECRIS and its allies within this field.

The anti-cult family present themselves as a benevolent group of people whose main aim is saving the victims of brainwashing and manipulation inside what they label as “totalitarian cults”, yet they forget to say that they themselves have been found in the courts of law guilty of a number of crimes including also kidnapping and forced de-conversions of members of religious minorities; they also forget to say that most of the NRMs (New Religious Movements), which I prefer to call NRSMs (New Religious and Spiritual Minorities), operate freely and legally in most of the democratic countries all around the world and their rights have been confirmed in the same courts of law where members of the anti-cult organizations have been found guilty of crimes committed to the detriment of members of religious and spiritual groups.

The activities carried out by the constellation of anti-cult organizations, which at times are even just anti-religious and anti-spiritual as such and not just “anti-cult”, have been often argued and censured by International organizations and governments that are more keen to protect the lives and activities of members of religious and spiritual communities, advocating their rights at different levels also in conjunction with and with the support of the civil society groups.

Recently, in July 2020, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a Special Report on The Anti-cult Movement and Religious Regulation in Russia and the Former Soviet Union.

First and foremost let’s say who the USCIRF is.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), basing on their own official definition, is:

“an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.”

USCIRF issues a Report annually, but the July 2020 one is a Special Report on the situation in Russia as I just mentioned.

The Report starts shedding light on an international phenomenon that has constantly spread from the US anti-cult environment in the 70’s throughout Europe and Russia over the last 40 years.

The USCIRF Report openly mentions and criticizes the role of Mr Aleksander Dvorkin of the Saint Irenaeus of Leon Information-Consultation Center (SILIC) and vice-President of FECRIS (the European Federation of Research and Information Centers on Sectarianism).

The Report acknowledges that Dvorkin learnt the trade in the Unites States in the 70’s and exported the model to Russia where the anti-cult propaganda grew fruitfully thanks to the support of the local Orthodox Church. Same fate this “ideologized”  movement had in other European and non-European countries, even though it has almost disappeared in the United Sates.

Today's FECRIS of which Dvorkin is vice-president, stemmed from the impulse of the American anti-cult environment and soon after Alexander Dvorkin, in 1992, returned to his homeland Russia to give the start of his "anti-cult" commitment, the European "anti-cult" associations gathered to give birth to the FECRIS in 1994.

The USCIRF Report describes FECRIS as a (quote) «French anti-cult organization with panEuropean influence».
In fact, as we can read on their website, today it operates (quote) «in more than 30 countries to date, among them 5 are non-European».

Thus, a private association, funded by the French government, influences the religious freedom policies of dozens of countries through a (quote) «disinformation campaign against religious minorities» as the USCIRF Report states.

Then the USCIRF with its Report has begun to shed light on the true nature of the so-called "anti-cult" movement and its ideology. Europe, on the other hand, foolishly granted participatory status to FECRIS, while France finances and supports their activities.

The USCIRF has included France in the list of “Countries and Regions Monitored”.

It seems to us that all the countries where FECRIS operates through the “anti-cult” associations federated to it should be monitored as well, if not even added to the “special watch list”. In fact, it should be noted that, as stated in the Report (quote)

«the group regularly disseminates negative propaganda on religious minorities, including in international forums such as the annual conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimensions conference».

The representatives of FECRIS who participate in the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (as they do elsewhere) to implement their «negative propaganda» are not only French or Russian; in fact, FECRIS representatives from various countries are active, as are the members of FECRIS from various European countries who travel to China and elsewhere to spread intolerance against religious and spiritual minorities.

We believe that monitoring the countries where intolerance turns into discrimination and persecution is an incomplete action if the origin of the anti-religious impulse is not exposed and stopped as well. It is non-logical to prosecute the perpetrator and ignore and leave the well-known instigator free.

We note with satisfaction that the FECRIS representatives were quite unhappy with the USCIRF Report and started talking non-sense about a over-a-year-old court case, relating to Jehovah’s Witnesses, occurred in Switzerland, totally manipulating the content of the case and the nature of the judgment itself, as Massimo Introvigne and I have explained in a White Paper that will be published within the next few hours. 

We also note with great satisfaction that the USCIRF recommends to take a series of additional actions enlisted in the USCIRF Report’s Final Recommendations, some of which read as follows:

Recommendations

(quote)

The U.S. government should:

  • Publicly censure Alexander Dvorkin and the Saint Irenaeus of Leon Information-Consultation Center (SILIC) for their ongoing disinformation campaign against religious minorities;
  • Promote education about freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in regional diplomacy and offer training and resources as a component of regional humanitarian assistance;
  • Counter propaganda against new religious movements by the European Federation of Research and Information Centers on Sectarianism (FECRIS) at the annual OSCE Human Dimensions Conference with information about the ongoing involvement of individuals and entities within the anti-cult movement in the suppression of religious freedom; and
  • Pressure the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan to remove prominent anti-cult figures from their expert councils and bar them from official positions of influence over religious regulation.

(End of quote)

We hope these actions may be implemented very soon and also be only the beginning of a series of further actions to contrast these hate experts, and finally guarantee everyone their right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.

And now as part of my role today I will report some excerpts from the Final Statement of the Conference on the Situation in Russia… signed by all today’s speakers  (and endorsed by Eileen Barker of London School of Economics and Maria D’Arienzo of University of Naples).

“On July 13, 2020, armed officers raided 110 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Voronezh Region. This was the largest number of coordinated raids on Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern Russia. Unfortunately, this action marks an escalation in the persecution of the Witness community following the April 20, 2017, ban imposed by the Russian Supreme Court on the Witnesses’ national organization and its 395 regional divisions on grounds of  “extremism.”

Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that the ban does not violate the right of 175,000 Witnesses to choose their religion and engage in religious worship.

Even discussing the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is prohibited. On June 15, 2020, the editor-in-chief of Religion and Law was sentenced for having published an article on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia that failed to mention that the Witnesses’ organization is “forbidden in the territory of Russia as extremist”. On May 1, 2020, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention condemned the raids, arrests, detention, and trials of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, stating that they are “charged with criminal activity on the basis of mere exercise of freedom of religion.”

As institutions and individuals concerned with religious freedom, we have followed the events in Russia with increasing alarm.

On December 11, 2018, President Putin said that “Jehovah’s Witnesses are also Christians, and I don’t really understand why they’re persecuted.” And in 2017, he bestowed the Family Glory award on a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Noviks from Petrozavodsk, calling them a “model family.” However, President Putin’s words were not followed by action, and the “incomprehensible” persecution continued.

We urge President Putin and his administration to take actions to cease the systematic and senseless persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a community of peaceful, law-abiding citizens who only ask to practice their faith in peace.”

Signed by the speakers of the September 3, 2020 Seminar “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Opponents: Russia, the West, and Beyond

We are receiving a numbers of signatures, in fact the Statement is open to signature to all scholars, researchers, professors and public personalities who are willing to endorse it.


Following is the video of Professor Massimo Introvigne presenting Jehovah Witnesses' White Paper "The New Gnomes of Zurich"