A severe setback for Religious Freedom in Russia: The Russian Federation's Ministry of Justice will permanently close the Sova Center

Country: Russia

Date of incident: May 27, 2023

On April 27, the Moscow City Court ruled the liquidation of the Sova Information and Analytical Center, the leading organization monitoring religious liberty violations in the country. This represents a significant blow to the protection of freedom of religion in Russia.

In March 2023 the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation demanded the closure of Sova on the grounds of  "repeated law violations," like supposed participation by Sova in events or organizing them outside Moscow, where the center is registered as a regional organization. Radio Svoboda reports that previously, the Ministry of Justice had accused Sova of Russophobia, and criticism of laws in a series of publications, "including one on the state-run Rossiya-24 television network." Alexander Verkhovsky, the head of Sova, said in March, "The lawsuit was the result of an unscheduled inspection by the Ministry of Justice at the request of the prosecutor's office. The inspection report lists 24 events outside the region as violations, including international conferences."

Finally, on April 27, Judge Vyacheslav Polyga of the Moscow City Court, considering the claim of the Ministry of Justice, liquidated Sova for "not formalising its interregional or all-Russian status while participating and holding events in other regions." Sova announced on its Telegram channel that it would appeal the decision. The court rejected the argument that, even if such participation were illegal (which the defence claims it is not), it should not have been gross and intentional, and that, as a result, closing the center is not a proportional and just measure.

The Sova Information and Analysis Center was founded in 2002 by members of the Moscow Helsinki Group (liquidated by the court on the same grounds) and the Panorama Information and Research Center, it reports on diverse human rights violations in Russia. In the field of Religious Freedom, Sova is particularly important as it is one of the single sources in the country that reports every single violation with an in-depth report of the situation.


Source: Bitter WinterRIA NovostiKaroteka

Photo: Вести.Ру