Duma looking at draft law "against religious sects"
by Nina Achmatova

The Moscow City Duma joins the fight against destructive and totalitarian cults, but no political leader is able to define them. One lawmaker says US-based and funded sects are the main danger because they hide behind clubs or courses of various kinds.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Moscow City Duma (Council) has sent some recommendations to the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament). The latter is preparing federal legislation to regulate the activities of non-traditional religious organisations and destructive and totalitarian cults, Russia Religions and News reported, citing local media.

Moscow City Duma Member Renat Laishev, who sits on the City Duma’s Public Associations and Religious Organisations Committee, said that the committee would meet shortly with experts and law enforcement officials to discuss the issue. Their views will be then sent to the State Duma.

"I am sure that they will be useful for those who will draft the bill," said Mr Laishev, who noted that a mobile phone application called ‘Religious organisations in Moscow’ is being prepared "with as much information as possible about the dangers of pseudo-religious organisations".

Duma Member Sergey Gavrilov (Communist Party), who heads the 'parliamentary group for the protection of Christian values', told Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily that experts estimate that between 300 and 500 dangerous sects operate in the country, with up to 800,000 members. The greatest risk comes from US-based sects who can count a billion US dollars in funding.

“Some are targeting lonely people. Others work with intellectuals. Under the guise of various courses, they apply psychological pressure on people. Many groups work undercover and it takes some work to even track them. Today, even the special services sometimes only learn about some horrible occult sects years after they start their activities,” the lawmaker said.

Meanwhile, the multi-party ‘parliamentary group for the protection of Christian values’ set up a working group to fight sects. However, no one has yet indicated exactly what sect means and to whom it applies.

According to Gavrilov, dangerous sects often disguise themselves as book clubs, personal growth courses or as communities preaching traditional religions.

This is nothing new. Back in December, the State Duma stressed the need to come up with a legal definition of "sect", one that would not violate the Constitution but could be used to ban the activities of certain religious organisations in the country.

Yaroslav Nilov, who chairs the State Duma Public Associations and Religious Organisations Committee, said that is hard to introduce a legal definition of "sect" because that "would violate the Constitution" and freedom of belief.

In his view, if such a concept could be defined, the activities of sects could be banned; however, as it stands today, the Constitution allows all registered religious groups to operate on the territory of the Russian Federation.