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For week ended February 20, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

Religious freedom in Russia tenuous
Deseret News 18Feb00 N1
By Lee Davidson: Deseret News Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC -- The LDS Church's experiences with the tenuous status of religious freedom in Russia are typical, according to testimony by the U.S. Ambassador at large for religious freedom. But U.S. diplomatic efforts have helped overcome many of the hurdles.

The ambassador testified before the "Helsinki Commission" on Thursday about the status of religious freedom in Russia. The commission is a panel of senators, representatives and administration officials that monitors compliance with the 1975 Helsinki human rights accords.

The ambassador, Robert Seiple, told about a hurdle that emerged for the LDS and Catholic Churches when regional officials in Smara Oblast (a region similar to a U.S. State or a province) refused to allow the churches to register as officially recognized churches. Without registration, the churches can't have missionaries in the area, own property or perform other legal actions. The U.S. state department, as well as several congressmen, then met with the area's governor to try and persuade him to allow the Church's to register, [He} "was very receptive, and we were pleased that shortly after his return, both groups reported being able to work with local officials to clear up the difficulties," said Seiple.

But Seiple noted that religious freedom in Russia remains tenuous and circumstances could change without the support of the U.S. and international groups."In Russia today, we see a country poised to plunge into a new millennium either as a political partner with the West where the rights of all its citizens are respected and protected, or as a state that does not respect the right of all its citizens to worship God as they choose."

Seiple brought up other examples in his testimony of problems that the LDS Church had suffered in the former Soviet Union. In one case LDS missionaries in the Russian city of Chelybinsk were forced to stop tracting and faced expulsion because local officials rejected registration applications from the Church. According to a State Department report, in March 1999 local militia broke up services of the LDS Church in Chelyabinsk and interrogated seven missionaries. In April, regional officials then forbade the Church from holding services on Easter Sunday and threatened to arrest local church leaders if the congregation met that day. The services were held without incident.

"I believe the Russian people and their government will choose to respect religious freedom and democracy but not without the active support of the international community," concluded Seiple. "We will continue to work with our European partners to promote a climate in Russia that respects diversity in religious practice."

See also:

'Russian Commitment to Freedom of Religion is Tenuous,' Says CSCE Chairman
PRNewswire 17Feb00 N6


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