CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

Controversies about the Church of Scientology in Russia. Legal Methods of Defense of the Right for Freedom of Religion

by Galina Krylova
A paper presented at The 2001 Conference in London

Scientology started in Russia with the opening of the reading hall named after L. Ron Hubbard at the journalism department of the Moscow State University and making Hubbard posthumously doctor honoris causa in 1992. The success of his book "Dianetics" helped to found the Hubbard Humanitarian Center in Moscow in 1993. Then similar centers had been opened in many other cities of Russia. The Hubbard’s course on administrative technology was given in numerous "Hubbard Colleges". "Narconon" and "Criminon" centers were opened and quite active. The Moscow Church of Scientology was registered in 1994.

Today, starting level missions are working in Russia; one of them is registered as a church, the rest - as social organizations. They are actively fought with. The fight is coordinated from Moscow, formally by the Prosecutor Office, but in fact - by the Federal Security Agency (FSB). When accusations of new religions of "making zombies out of the members" have been rejected in courts scientologists were accused of commercial activity under the disguise of religious and social work.

On one hand, Russian scholars and state officials involved in religious matters formally consider Scientology to be a religion. "The creed is based on the works of the founder of the Church, L. Ron Hubbard. The basic kind of activity of Scientology churches and missions, as well as their religious practice is an education of Scientologists and auditing (the communicational procedure that has a status of religious rite in the Church of Scientology). The Church has Sunday services, wedding ceremonies, funerals, naming ceremonies as well as other religious services" [1].

Even though many books interpret the teaching of Hubbard incorrectly and evaluate it negatively, they still recognize its religious character. Moreover, even those who are quite critical towards the doctrine and practice of Scientology, note that "the absolute negation of new religions is shared by Christian fundamentalists, nationalistic chauvinists and political conservatives of monarchical or rather restoration orientation [2].

Psychiatrists state that medicine and Scientology are things different and consider the latter a religion not a science [3].

On the other hand, the same scientists and officials don’t follow their own definitions when consulting authorities on their policies towards religious minorities. The staff of Russian Academy of the State Service under the President of Russian Federation is a good example of such contradictive behavior.

The active promotion campaign of new religious movements in Russia brought about an immediate opposition. Scientologists as well as others - Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unification Church, etc. - became a target of the mass media attacks. Their activity was closely watched by the Federal Security Agency (FSB), Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor Office. Different quasi-analytical writings of certain State Duma deputies also contributed to the witch-hunt. In result, Scientology acquired an image of an enemy. It’s often said that this "totalitarian sect" should be fought with, as security and national interests of Russia strongly demand.

The new ideology is being formed in Russia with Russian Orthodox Church claiming the leading role. It promotes traditional Russian values as priorities for the State policy, fuels xenophobia and can’t help bringing about hostility towards teachings non traditional for Russia. This hostility isn’t limited by words only. Following the Old Russian tradition "the word becomes a deed" (it is a slogan of Russian secret police since time immemorial). As a result, the law enforcement bodies become active participants in the fight against "spiritual enemies of Russia".

Anti-cult movement became active soon after new religious movements became registered according to the liberal law "On freedom of creed in Russian Soviet Federal Socialistic Republic" in 1990. But this threat wasn’t taken by them seriously, as Russia, supposedly, went along the way of democratic changes and the freedom of creed was assumed to be one of the unalienable human rights. Scientologists naively believed that anti-cult movement wouldn’t make much harm as Hubbard teaching attracted many people.

Anti-cult materials, taken in a literal, non-critical way by many members of the State Duma and other State structures plus an overtly negative position of the Russian Orthodox Church brought about the situation when the negative image of the Church of Scientology dominates in power structures, mass media and public opinion. This factor should be taken into account as, in difference to democratic countries, it does and will directly influence in the predictable future the courts, prosecutor offices, Justice bodies, etc. Moreover, anti-cult statements are considered to be truth and even are used as an evidence in civil or criminal cases, because they are supplied by the State Duma, General Prosecutor Office, FSB, etc.

In 1996 The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Interior issued their booklets where the Church of Scientology was presented quite negatively as one of the "totalitarian sects", doing a lot of psychological harm to their adepts. Since that time mass media has published a plenty of negative information never mentioning philanthropic activity of scientologists recognized by local administrations.

Even though some events of the anti-scientological campaign can be somewhat occasional, the campaign itself has a lengthy and purposeful nature.

I would like to mention a few recent materials of the State Duma. They are "The protocol #37 of April 15, 1998" and "Information of April 21, 1998", devoted to the checkout of the contacts of ex-Prime Minister of Russia Sergey Kirienko with the Hubbard College. At that time Kirienko went through the approval procedure at the State Duma for his position of a Prime Minister. Of course, these data about Kirienko had the purpose to discredit him, but the documents mostly concerned the negative reputation of Scientology in general. It should be taken into account that "the Information" was signed not by ordinary deputies, but by quite influential Vladimir Ilyukhin, then the Chairman of the Security Committee of the State Duma and Vladimir Zorkaltzev, then the Chairman of the Committee of Religious and Social Organizations.

The documents label the church as "organization of totalitarian type… with the strict internal hierarchy, complete subjection of junior members to the seniors, precise system of propaganda and recruitment, bodies for the suppression of those who think differently and persecution of enemies. It comprises occult teachings, quasi-scientific terminology and uses all means for achievement of its purposes such as power and money". Another quotation goes like this: "Destructive nature of the organization is determined not only by its teaching and political or "psychotherapeutic" conceptions, but also by recurrent and multi-level fraud, followed by psychological, physical and sexual violence, blackmail, extortion and other manipulations with personality".

The same document contained the negative court decisions on Hubbard and the activity of the Church in different countries of the world. It had the purpose to show how dangerous was the organization actively working in Russia. The authors of the report wrote that the activity of the Church had "a system of actions, developed and planned in detail, directed at: subversion of spiritual foundation of Russian society and weakening of the Russian State; creation of the network for the collection of intelligence information; acquiring of control over different State officials by influencing them via the leaders of those organizations; creation of a religious sect capable of a strong political pressure on the power structures".

In support of the statements cited above, there was information about specialists of the secret enterprises visiting scientological seminars and lectures, and about scientologists, allegedly collecting data at defense enterprises - Ural optical mechanical plant, stock enterprise "Uraltransgaz", Perm device plant, etc. The authors tried to prove that scientologists were most active in cities, where scientific research centers of the Ministry of Defense were located. Of course, the report didn’t mention any specific facts or names.

A whole number of similar information proved by nothing has been actively circulating in Russia for quite some time, appearing in the press with the terrifying details from the life of "brain-washed sect members".

Now the activity of the Church of Scientology is being investigated by the Federal Security Service (FSB of Russia), General Prosecutor Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD of Russia). As a rule such investigations aim at proving that the false information is true. Then the criminal case is started not in order to find the objective truth but liquidate the organization. The investigators definitely follow the order from above.

For example, the document "Information of the State Duma" cited above helped the prosecutor office to start the criminal case in 1998 against the leaders of the Moscow Church of Scientology and Hubbard Humanitarian Center. One should take into account that the court cases started by the prosecutor office against the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unification Church failed and the criminal case against the members of Aum Sinrike was dismissed. The prosecutor office had to get revenge. In the very beginning of the investigation the investigator Drugov said in the interview to "Commersant" newspaper: "I am not ready to comment on the case. But even now it is clear that this is the second "Aum Shinrikyo" and we will make sure, that the main scientologists will appear in court accused of the illegal medical practice and illegal commercial activity".

Essentially the position of the prosecutor office was formed by well-known Russian anti-cult fighters Alexander Dvorkin, Oleg Stenyaev and others, whose opinion about the necessity of fighting Scientology was shared by the prosecutor office.

The investigation did not hide their bias in gathering evidence for the case. The data being available about tens of thousands of people, interested in Scientology (during the search the prosecutor office collected all the data about people, who had visited the lectures at the Hubbard Humanitarian Center and the Moscow Church of Scientology or received auditing in them), the investigators chose exactly those who could have a negative opinion about it. Thus in the report of the FSB of Russia, that executed the order of the investigation, one could clearly see what was the task given to them. Researching the files and other materials, confiscated during the searches, the FSB sent to the prosecutor office only those documents, which "could be of interest to the investigation, such as the lists of people, living in Moscow and Moscow region who were called by the workers of Hubbard Humanitarian Center and contained the notes "do not call", "do not write", ‘antagonism". The investigation was obviously interested only in the people who stopped their contacts with scientologists. People, whose parents were not happy with their participation in the Scientology organizations, were interrogated during the investigation. If the investigators were unbiased, they would note that the number of such people in exceptionally small compared to those who left positive responses in Scientology files and folders.

Big efforts were done to confirm the data of anti-cult activists about socially disruptive nature of Scientology, harming the health of their followers.

However, experts who researched the members did not find the negative influence on their health. The investigation sadly commented that "it was not possible to confirm the theoretical conclusions of experts about the possibility of harming the health of citizens who got the education and passed the medical procedures at the Hubbard Humanitarian Center and the Moscow Church of Scientology".

Upon the prosecutor office request the psychiatric hospitals also couldn’t find any data about citizens, who suffered from the technologies developed by Hubbard. No medical data was available that would confirm any harm done to children.

The data of Dvorkin and other anti-cult activists about socially disruptive character of the organization was not confirmed. People interested in Scientology did not refuse to be drafted or dropped out of schools; they were not involved in the illegal trade. The investigation methodically requested the military organizations about people, refusing draft because of religious motivation, committees of education about people leaving schools on the basis of religious motivation, transport militia departments about people involved in illegal trade but all in vain.

After this failure the investigation concentrated at proving that the nature of Scientology is commercial and not religious.

Having found the experts with negative opinion about Scientology (the well-known anti-cult activists, the priest of the Orthodox Church, the worker of the prosecutor office, the competitor of "Narconon" program among them but no scholars of religion), the investigation desperately tried to prove that Scientology is actually involved into illegal educational and medical activity. That is, Scientology leaders, having registered a religious organization, are guilty of illegal commercial activity and tax evasion.

It is also worth noting that the texts of the experts are full of anti-cult terms. One of the experts is a psychiatrist Fedor Kondratiev who is the author of a strange theory that "sect addiction" is similar to "drug addiction" and should be treated psychiatrically. Besides, during the court hearings on Jehovah’s Witnesses case in Golovinsky court he was found to be involved in plagiarism. 6 pages out of 7 from his quasi-scientific expert opinion was an exact copy of the reference book of the missionary department of the Moscow Patriarchy entitled "New religious movements of Russia of destructive and occult nature".

In addition to such expert opinions the investigation directly used the statements of anti-cult leaders, making them the basis of accusation.

For example, there’s a letter from the former State Duma Deputy of LDPR party Nadezhda Krivelskaya stating that the Hubbard’s study technology is used by a certain educational institution without a necessary license for the educational activity.

Alexander Dvorkin stated to the investigation "valuable" data, referring to the publications that he himself organized in the newspaper "Tverskaya, 13" and on the supposed psychical deviations, neuroses caused by the application of the Dianetics methods.

Gerasimov M.V. - the board member of The Committee of the Salvation of Youth, who openly declared that the purpose of his Committee was to "stop youth from becoming members of the totalitarian sects", explained without supplying any evidence, that "as a result of the brain treatment, the person becomes so psychologically dependent that can execute any order up to a murder of another person".

The charity activity of scientologists in 1995 with the victims of the Neftegorsk earthquake and with the soldiers of the Interior Affairs Ministry troops at the hospital, their work with prisoners, and their anti-drug actions all this was completely ignored. As a result, without studying the activity of scientologists, their religious doctrines, the structure of their organization, the rites and ceremonies, the investigators made a conclusion about commercial nature of the organization. The fact that Scientology was in many respects different from the Orthodox Church made them think it was not a religion. Besides, they were misled by the similarity of certain scientological and secular terms (such as ‘technology’, ‘courses’, etc.).

However, the Ostankino district court of Moscow, where the criminal case against the leaders of the Scientology Church and the Hubbard Humanitarian Center had to be examined, did not fulfil the hopes of the investigation. At the beginning the court sent the case for an additional investigation, but the Moscow city court canceled this decision. Then in March 2001 the court stopped the criminal persecution for the lack of corpus delicti, that is rehabilitated the accused. But tthe prosecutor office, which does not want to admit its failure, also appealed this decision. The Moscow city court will examine this appeal on May 17, 2001.

During the investigation by the Ostankino regional prosecutor office other cases against scientologists were initiated. The Hubbard Humanitarian Center was liquidated under the pretext of certain mistakes during its registration. However, the decision had no legal grounds and currently the Supreme Court of Russian Federation is going to examine the motion to review the case. But it seems that the decision will be motivated politically not legally.

At the same time the prosecutor office initiated the numerous tax checks. The media loudly reported about them, stating that scientologists are avoiding the payment of taxes. I’ll give one example to illustrate how it was done. Twice the prosecutor office with the help of the FSB made a total search and took nearly all financial documents and computers with all the data kept in them. All requests to let the copies to be made for the annual financial report were refused by the prosecutor office. At the same time the tax inspection warned about the necessity to make such reports and arrested all accounts. Eventually, scientologists submitted rough balance sheets and reported that all the materials were seized by the prosecutor office, which refused to let them copy. But the tax inspection still made the decision about scientologists’ evasion tax payments and penalized them considerably. The tax inspection based its decision on allegedly commercial nature of Scientology not admitting the religious or social character of its organizations.

These decisions were appealed at the Arbitration court and at the common court and were canceled as illegal during 2000 - 2001. The most important was that the courts acknowledged non-commercial status of organizations.

The criminal case on tax evasion was dismissed in June 2000 for the lack of the corpus delicti. One should also take into account that the prosecutor office, confiscating the financial documents of scientologists and refusing to let them even copy them for balance sheets, in essence created the case artificially.

The refusal of the Moscow Department of Ministry of Justice to re-register the Moscow Church of Scientology was appealed at the Nikulinsky district court of Moscow, which ordered the Moscow Department of Ministry of Justice to re-register the Church.

But it would be quite naive to think that it was a happy end for Scientology in Russia. During 2 months the Moscow Department of Ministry of Justice ignored the court decision and failed to file an appeal in time. As soon as Moscow Prosecutor office knew about such decision it filed a protest to the Presidium of the Moscow city court. There were no absolutely grounds for the protest so prosecutor had to invent them. The two grounds for the protest were that the court of the 1st instance didn’t take into consideration the absence of expert opinions in materials of the case and didn’t check the correspondence of the Church documents to the law. It’s curious that the refusal to re-register was based on other claim - the absence of documents that the Department itself when asked couldn’t name. It means that the district court examined the case based on one set of premises and the prosecutor office unable to overturn the decision made up a new set instead. The accents are changed. The Presidium of the Moscow city court didn’t take all this into consideration and took the decision in prosecutor’s favor. The decision of the Nikulinsky district court was dismissed and send for a new hearings. Moscow Church of Scientology is still not registered though the official grace period for re-registration of religious organizations is over.

The story is far from being over but it’s evident that in public court battles authorities can’t accuse scientologists of any wrong doings. Instead they violate the law themselves trying to ban Scientology in Russia.

I think that eventually Russia will arrive through a plenty of court hearings at the conclusion that "totalitarian sect" is not a scientific term and the law enforcement bodies independently of their religious preferences should recognize that equality of religions in the face of law. But I am afraid that it will take a lot of time and effort. Meanwhile there will be many decisions motivated politically but not legally and scientologists will have to overcome a lot of difficulties.

The criminal cases based on Moscow scenario are open in Khabarovsk [Far East] and Izhevsk, in other regions many difficulties are made for the activity of the existing missions.

I would like to give an example of the case in Khanty-Mansiisk, where the Scientology mission has been working for five years in the form of the social organization. It was refused a re-registration because of its religious nature. On the other hand, the registration of the religious organization was refused, as it didn’t exist in that region for 15 years, the period of time demanded by the law of 1997. In the result the organization was liquidated by the court decision. The Appeal court upheld the decision of the court and we asked for review of the case but I’m not sure that the case would end successfully in the near future.

One should take into account that such tactic is common for all regions of Russia. Therefore, even from the known materials one can see that the campaign against scientologists is being carried at the State level and is being coordinated by the prosecutor office and FSB.

I represent the interests of scientologists as an attorney and do it because of my belief in basic human rights and freedoms. Living in Russia I understand that Russian Orthodox Church that thinks Russia to be its canonical territory will consider the appearance of the foreign missionaries as a threat to itself and hardly stop its anti-missionary propaganda.

But this should be done in the form of a doctrinal dispute an not by the methods of a police State as the Constitution of Russian Federation guarantees the basic human rights, including the right to the freedom of conscience. It is hardly possible to win in spiritual matters by forceful means.

One could be an active opponent of Scientology and still recognize its right to believe in other, non-traditional way for Russia. And if its understanding of God or achieving happiness by the bridge of 14 steps, discovered by L. Ron Hubbard, are considered to be unusual for Russia, this should hardly be the reason for their persecution.


[1] [back] The Reference Book "Religious associations of the Russian Federation", published by the Analytical Department of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (Moscow, "Respublica" publishing house, 1996), pages 231-232.
The similar opinion is shared by the Reference Book "Religious associations of Moscow region", published by the Russian Academy of the State service under the President of Russian Federation (Moscow, "Slaviansky dialogue" publishing house, 1998). It refers the Church of Scientology to religious organizations and auditing - to basic Scientology sacraments. The Reference Book directly mentions that the payment done by parishioners for services is a source of financial wealth of the Church, pages 207-208.
This opinion is also shared by the authors of the Reference Book "New religious cults, movements and organizations in Russia", published by the Russian Academy of the State service under the President of Russian Federation (Moscow, Publishing house of the Russian Academy of the State service, 1998).

[2] [back] The Reference book "New religious cults, movements and organizations in Russia", (pages 21-22).

[3] [back] V. E. Kagan, "Scientology and psychotherapy: expert materials", published by the Independent Psychiatry Journal, #3, #4, 1999.

The Spiritual Supermarket: Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century

April 19-22, 2001

[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]

cesnur e-mail

[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]