Russia’s Human and Religious Rights Record Criticized at House Hearing

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., left, and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., right, co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights, interact with Elizabeth Cassidy, center, director of research and policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, during a hearing Feb. 27, 2020, at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Russia’s human rights record, including its history of mistreating religious minorities, is worsening, according to testimony at a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday (Feb. 27).

“Unfortunately, the human rights situation in Russia continues to deteriorate, and just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., co-chair of the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights, at the hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building.

Elizabeth Cassidy, director of research and policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said Russia’s “malign activities around the globe are clearly evident, yet its systematic, ongoing, egregious repression of religious freedom is less well known.”

“The Russian government maintains, frequently updates and enforces an array of laws that restrict religious freedom,” Cassidy added.

She said Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were banned as “extremist” by the Russian government in 2017, are “among the groups most brutally targeted under these laws in recent years,” as praying, preaching and dissemination of materials outside designated places of worship are often prohibited.

As of the day of the hearing, the Jehovah’s Witnesses report that 35 of their members are in prison, 25 are under house arrest and 29 have been convicted in Russia.

“These violations are escalating, spreading through the country and even across its borders,” Cassidy said.

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Source: Religion News Service