Although Russia is already engaged in a war that threatens to escalate into an apocalyptic nuclear conflict, the war on religious minorities also continues undaunted. Using questionable, if not downright illiberal, motives, they are pointed at as extremist organisations dangerous to the Russian population and culture. All this despite repeated condemnations by the ECHR. Several times on this site we have reported on the persecution to which religious minorities in Russia are subjected, with particular emphasis on Jehovah's Witnesses, the most severely affected. This time it is the religious community of Scientology that is once again being targeted by the Russian legal apparatus.
RUSSIA: The head of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg was sentenced to prison and released
The court imposed heavy fines on the rest of the defendants in the case
SOVA Center (24.08.2023) – On August 24, 2023, the Nevsky District Court of St. Petersburg issued a verdict in the case of members of the local Church of Scientology. The court found all the defendants guilty and imposed the following punishments:
- Church leader Ivan Matsitsitsky – six and a half years of imprisonment with serving a sentence in a general regime colony, as well as a two-year ban on activities in public associations and religious organizations under paragraph “c” of Part 2 of Art. 282 (incitement to hatred or enmity by an organized group) and Part 1 of Art. 282.1 of the Criminal Code (creation of an extremist community), while the court took into account the period of Matsitsi’s stay in custody and house arrest and released him after serving his sentence;
- Executive Director Galina Shurinova – a fine of 1.3 million rubles (under the same charges);
- to the head of the own security service Anastasia Terentyeva – a fine of 1.2 million rubles (under the same articles);
- Chief Accountant Sahib Aliyev – a fine of 1 million rubles on the same charges, as well as on p. “b” of Part 4 of Art. 174.1 (money laundering on a particularly large scale);
- Constance Yesaulkova, who was Terentyeva’s deputy, – a fine of 600 thousand rubles under paragraph “c” of Part 2 of Art. 282 and Part 2 of Art. 282.1 of the Criminal Code (participation in an extremist community).
Matsitsky, Shurinova, Terentyeva and Aliyev were also found guilty of illegal entrepreneurship committed by an organized group and involving the extraction of income on a particularly large scale (paragraphs “a”, “b” of Part 2 of Art. 171), and Esaulkova – of aiding this crime (Part 5 of Art. 33, subparagraphs “a”, “b” of Part 2 of Art. 171). From punishment under Art. 171 of the Criminal Code, they were released due to the expiration of the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution.
In addition, the court confiscated 3,600 sheets of paper “externally similar to 100 U.S. dollar banknotes” that were found in the premises of the Church of St. Petersburg.
In the debate of the parties on August 16, 2023, the state Prosecutor asked to sentence Matsitsitsky to eight years in prison in a general regime colony, Shurinova and Terentyev to six years one month, Aliyev to six years three months, and Yesaulkova to three years one month. For everyone except Yesaulkova, the prosecutor also requested additional punishment in the form of deprivation of the right to engage in activities in public associations and religious organizations for a period of one year.
A criminal case against members of the Church of St. Petersburg was initiated in the summer of 2017. The detainees were then taken into custody, with the exception of Yesaulkova, whom the court placed under house arrest. Subsequently, Shurinova and Terentyeva were also released under house arrest, later Shurinova was released on recognizance. Matsitsky was sentenced to a ban on certain actions, then arrested again, and then placed under house arrest. Aliyev was placed under house arrest, arrested and placed under house arrest again.
During the court hearings on the election of preventive measures, the FSB investigator stated, in particular, that Scientologists had created an extremist community to humiliate the dignity of some followers of the doctrine, united in the social group “sources of trouble” (obviously, this is the category of “potential sources of trouble” used by Scientologists). In relation to them, Matsitsky issued “ethical orders” under his signature. One of them forbade guilty adherents to participate in auditing (spiritual practice of communicating with a Scientology consultant), the other, according to the media, forbade studying certain sections of philosophy. In addition, it was said in court that the defendants distributed extremist literature and promoted the exclusivity of their religion.
However, according to lawyers, in the final version of the accusations, the emphasis was shifted from specific actions “to criticism of the Scientology doctrine, general goals and methods of the Scientology community.”
We tend to consider it inappropriate to prosecute Scientologists for extremism. The assertion of one’s own exclusivity is inherent in any religion, and the persecution of Scientologists and the prohibition of their literature on this basis are untenable. The separation by the investigation of part of the adherents of Scientologists subjected to psychological pressure into a social group protected by anti-extremist legislation seems doubtful to us. In fact, according to Ron Hubbard’s concept, which he outlined in the book “Introduction to Scientology Ethics”, for the well-being of most adherents, Scientologists should not be allowed to audit (special Scientology practice) and train people with attitudes of certain types, do not bring them closer to themselves; it is preferable to ignore them. But most religions impose certain restrictions on admission to church life and rituals, and the advice of anyone cannot be ignored as a call aimed at inciting hatred or humiliation of dignity.
- Nevsky District Court of the city of St. Petersburg announced the verdict against Ivan Matsitsitsky, Sahib Yakub oglu Aliyev, Galina Shurinova, Anastasia Terentyeva and Constance Yesaulkova // Joint Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg. Telegram. 2023. August 24.
- 29 years for Scientologists // United Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg. Telegram. 2023. August 16.
Republished from HRWF Int