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US criticism of religious freedom in Russia groundless — analyst

August 16, 16:41 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Most claims in the Department of State report made against Russia have no facts to rely on, the expert said

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MOSCOW, August 16. /TASS/. The US Department of State’s report on the freedom of religion, which claims religious minorities in Russia are subject to persecution, should not be taken seriously, an expert on religious affairs, Doctor of History at the Moscow State Linguistic University Roman Silantiev has said.

On Tuesday, the Department of State published its 2016 report on the freedom of religion in the world. The report was presented to Congress for the 19th year in a row. On its basis the US Secretary of State may draft recommendations for blacklisting this or that country.

"Such reports have repeatedly been examined by my colleagues and yours truly. They cannot be regarded as serious documents, because most claims made against Russia have no facts to rely on," he told TASS.

As an example he mentioned the claim that in the country there are so-called privileged religions.

"No facts were provided to confirm the claim certain religions enjoy a privileged status. As for the few instances of some violations, which occur in Russia far more rarely than in European countries, they are described as a system," he said.

"In response to requests for presenting proof we will most probably hear that sources cannot be disclosed for fear of their security. In such a fashion any rumors and unverified information can be presented as well-established facts and then they are included in an official document. The way I see it, the Department of State’s report is a commonplace and deserves no attention at all," Silantiev said.

New sanctions: to be or not to be?

The chief of the Center for Religion and Society Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, Roman Lunkin, believes that the conclusions contained in the report may be used by the US Secretary of State to draft recommendations for including in sanction lists certain individuals and organizations, allegedly responsible for violating the freedom of conscience in Russia.

"I believe this is quite possible, in particular, in view of the latest sanctions US President Donald Trump signed into law. The legal act states outright there will follow an expansion of the list of individuals involved in corruption, human rights abuse and other affairs the United States may interpret as unseemly," he told TASS.

He believes the sanctions may well be applied to those who participated in drafting and adopting the Yarovaya package of laws (aimed against terrorism and extremism). "From the standpoint of a commission of the US Senate is to be believed, the Yarovaya package has certain authors. Also, certain individuals played a role in the elimination of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Who may be selected remains not very clear, but I am certain that some of them will be under sanctions," Lunkin said.

In its comments on the previous reports by the Department of State on the freedom of religion in the world the Russian Foreign Ministry pointed to their partiality and bias.

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