Police claim to be looking for illegal immigrants. Photo: REUTERS/Viktor Korotayev
Russian police and other security agencies appear to be increasingly raiding religious communities as they meet for worship, Forum 18 News Service notes. Police have often raided and searched places of worship- particularly those of Jehovah’s Witnesses-but not when services and meetings are under way.
Raids on religious communities as they meet for worship are rarer, though these have increased. In September, four Jehovah’s Witness communities in the Chuvash Republic and one Muslim community in Belgorod Region were raided as they met for worship.
One Jehoavh’s Witness is now facing "extremism" criminal charges. In Belgorod, several hundred Muslims were in the middle of Friday prayers when police-some with weapons and wearing masks-broke up the service, claiming to be looking for illegal immigrants.
Of more than 350 men present, more than 150 were taken to police stations. Only six were found to be in Russia illegally. "We ourselves have asked the police why they didn’t wait until our prayers were over," community leader Ramazan Ramazanov told Forum 18 [a Norway-based human rights organization dedicated to religious freedom]. "We have had no reply yet."
At the same time, the number of administrative fines for leading religious worship without the approval of local authorities also appears to be rising.