The State of Religious Freedom in Russia

March 06, 2013
12:00 pm - 02:00 pm

The State of Religious Freedom in Russia


A panel discussion sponsored by NED and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom featuring:

Ludmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva
Moscow Helsinki Group

Katrina Lantos Swett
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Catherine Cosman
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

moderated by

Nadia Diuk
National Endowment for Democracy

with introductory remarks by

Carl Gershman
National Endowment for Democracy


About the event

Since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012, a series of new laws have been passed indicating an alarming trend toward a worsening situation for human rights in Russia: hefty fees on participants in unauthorized gatherings, the criminalization of libel against government officials, tightened Internet control, the expansion of the definition of “high treason,” and a series of laws aimed against Russian NGOs.

In the context of the recent history of religious freedom in Russia, these restrictive laws hardly seem surprising. The preface to Russia’s 1997 religion law includes a designation of four “traditional” Russian faiths (Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and particularly Orthodox Christianity) and the designation of three categories of religious communities with varying legal status and privileges.

Furthermore, religious organizations must provide proof that they have existed on a given territory for no less than fifteen years and strict “anti-extremism” laws allow for the prosecution of Russians who preach that their particular faith is superior to others.

Please join us to hear

  • Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group Ludmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva discuss her organization’s long-standing advocacy for freedom of religion in Russia
  • U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Chair Katrina Lantos Swett reveal findings from USCIRF’s recent report, “Russia: Unruly State of Law”
  • USCIRF Senior Policy Analyst Catherine Cosman comment on the misuse of anti-extremism measures and the recent enactment of repressive laws in Russia.

National Endowment for Democracy (NED) President Carl Gershman will provide introductory remarks, and NED’s Vice President for Africa, Central Europe and Eurasia, and Latin America and the Caribbean Nadia Diuk will moderate the event.

About the speakers

Ludmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva, a founding member and current chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, has devoted 50 years of her life to the cause of human rights in Russia. Beginning in 1956, her apartment was a meeting place for the Moscow intelligentsia and a center for the distribution of Samizdat writings. She worked to offer material assistance to political prisoners and their families while writing extensively on human rights in the USSR. In 1976, Ms. Alekseeva accepted Yuri Orlov’s invitation to join the ranks of the nascent Moscow Helsinki Group, where she became the editor and archivist of the group’s documents until Orlov’s arrest and her subsequent exile to the United States. She returned to Russia in 1993. Since 1989, she has been a member of the restored Moscow Helsinki Group and was elected chairwoman in 1996. She continues to speak out against human rights violations and to campaign tirelessly for the government to observe and respect human rights throughout Russia. In 2009, Ms. Alekseeva was among the recipients of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, and, in January 2013 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin.

In 2012, Katrina Lantos Swett was appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom by Senator Harry Reid and was chosen as its chair. In 2008, she established the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, a human rights organization that proudly carries on the unique legacy of the late Congressman Tom Lantos who, as the only survivor of the Holocaust ever elected to Congress, was one of our nation’s most eloquent and forceful leaders on behalf of human rights and justice. Ms. Lantos Swett serves as the Foundation’s president and chief executive officer. Ms. Lantos Swett teaches human rights and American foreign policy at Tufts University.

Catherine Cosman joined the staff of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as senior policy analyst for the OSCE-region in late 2003. She previously served as senior analyst on Soviet dissent on the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1976 to 1989. Ms. Cosman worked at Human Rights Watch from 1989 to 1992, where she wrote several studies on ethnic conflicts in Central Asia and (post)-Soviet human rights issues; at the Free Trade Union Institute from 1992 to 1996, where she worked with emerging trade unions in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan; and at the OSCE Mission in Estonia from 1996 to 1998, where she was a senior expert. She managed the Central Asian and Caucasus grants program at the National Endowment for Democracy before joining the Communications Division at RFE/RL in 1999, where she founded and edited “Media Matters” and “(Un)Civil Societies.”