Russia: Government Pressure on Religious Leaders to Support War

Country: Russia

Date of incident: August 2, 2022

The Russian government has been pressuring religious leaders to support Putin's invasion of Ukraine, using tactics such as warning, prosecuting, and fining the believers and leaders who publicly voiced that they oppose the war. From the beginning of the Russian invasion, between February 24 and the 20th of July, 16,380 people were detained for speaking out against the war in public protests, in publications on the internet, and in other demonstrations of protest. Between March 5 and July 14, there were 3,303 cases opened under the new Administrative Code Article 20.3.3, which criminalizes "Public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation", and is used to punish any form of "anti-war statements either in public spaces or online".

Since the start of the Russian invasion, new criminal punishments have been adopted to prosecute those who criticize Russia's actions and those who oppose the war. In addition, access to about 3,000 websites has been blocked for reasons of "military censorship". Among them are foreign media outlets, Russian independent media, human rights organizations, and social media networks.

Two senior religious leaders, Lutheran Bishop Dietrich Brauer and Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who left Russia because they opposed the war in Ukraine, claimed that "they and other religious leaders came under pressure not to discuss or condemn Russia's renewed war against Ukraine". 

Lutheran Bishop Dietrich Brauer added that, at the beginning of the invasion, the government made a "clear demand" to religious leaders to express support for the war. This entailed that they "were not allowed to talk about the war, pray for peace" or be able to contact their Ukrainian brothers and sisters. In an interview with Die Kirche, a german newspaper, he claimed, "We are witnessing the blackmail of religion".

Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who also faced pressure to support the Russian invasion said: "As the terrible war against Ukraine unfolded over the last few months, I could not remain silent, viewing so much human suffering. As time progressed, it became clear that the Jewish community of Moscow would be endangered by me remaining in my position".

Fr Ioann Kurmoyarov of St Petersburg, a Russian priest, was arrested on the 7th of June for posting videos criticizing the invasion, from a Christian point of view. He said that "those who have unleashed aggression will not be in heaven", and added that "if you are not disturbed by what is going on in Ukraine, this outrage, then... you are not Christians". He is being held in St Petersburg's Kresty prison, awaiting trial for the new criminal offence of "disseminating knowingly false information" about the military. On the 28th of July, the city's Kalinin District Court stated that he should remain under custody for another month on the grounds that "if at liberty and not isolated from society, Kurmoyarov may continue his criminal activity, conceal himself from investigators and the court, destroy evidence and otherwise interfere with the criminal proceedings".

Source: Forum18

Picture retrieved from Unsplash by Karollyne Hubert