Russian Federation is the world’s largest country by land area. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, beset by corruption and cronyism, Russia has struggled in efforts to build a new democratic political system and market economy.

Rating: Severe Discrimination
This country is found to be declining under the renewed Putin regime; the democratic system has suffered new lacerations of rights and accountability, the president plunging his country into new international crises for the sake of national pride, and the role of clericalism as an aspect of social control expanding.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The constitution of Russian Federation states that the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion shall be guaranteed as well as freedom of ideas and speech. “The propaganda or agitation instigating social, racial, national or religious hatred and strife shall not be allowed.” (Article 28, 29). These rights have been violated several times under the renewed influence of Vladimir Putin.

The Russian government has demonstrated a clear preference towards the Russian Orthodox Church. After the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been a huge upsurge in religious affiliation. The number of religious people increased from 31% to 72% in the 17 years after the collapse in 1991.

Russian Orthodox privilege

In 2010 the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) approved the 200-Churches-Project in Moscow, which led to wide tensions between the church and the residents of Moscow, especially those people who live in the districts where the new churches have already been built or will be built. Even if the most of the protesters were not completely against the project, but they said that not enough thought has been put into the plans where the churches should have been built — parks and squares should be left untouched. Many people saw the project as the realization of the project as the ideological expansion of the ROC. The ROC stated that: “If, in Russia overall, there is one church for every 11,000–13,000 residents, then, in Moscow, (where there are only 650 churches and chapels) every place of worship must accommodate two or three times as many people”.

Religious organizations are allowed additional benefits (e.g., some exemptions from VAT and from income tax on profits generated from economic activities). Exemptions from property tax are granted to religious organizations that use the property for religious activities.

Secular activism shut down

In protest at creeping clericalism, in 2010 a Russian atheist organization Zdravomyslie (“Good Sense Foundation”) tried to erect a series of billboards quoting the Russian constitution. The Moscow city authorities have turned down the  application of the foundation. Ten billboard in Moscow should show the quote: “Religious associations are separate from the state and equal before the law. – Constitution of Russia”. But the Moscow city committee sent a letter that the request has been declined. “In this way, the current Moscow leaders are continuing the old policy of merging state government with religious institutions, setting the abstract “feelings of believers” against the letter and spirit of the nation’s founding law,” said the foundation.


In July 2013 a blasphemy law came into force that sets fines as punishment which account up to US$ 15,000 and jail terms of up to 3 years for public actions in places of worship that disrespect religious beliefs.

Religious tension

Muslims are the second largest religious group in Russia and there are severe tensions between Muslims and Russian Orthodox. Ethnic Muslims account about 21-23 million of Russia’s population. The murder of an ethnic Russian Yegor Shcherbakov by a Muslim from Azerbaijan led in October 2013 to huge anti-migrant disturbances, vandalism and assaults, where 1,200 were arrested. The number of Muslims is increasing by 0.6% a year during the number of Christians is decreasing by the same percentage.

Muslim leaders in Russia say that attempts to build more mosques in Moscow have been rejected or blocked by local officials who fear angering the ethnic Russians in the capital. Russia has the largest Muslim community, where about 2.5 million Muslims live in Moscow. They are complaining that there are not enough mosques (only four) to serve the Muslim community in  Russia’s capital. For many ethnic Russians, the fact of becoming a minority in their country is unthinkable, and nationalist sentiments are dramatically on the rise. Attacks on mosques have been increasing.

Education and children’s rights

The government introduced mandatory classes in Orthodox Christianity in all public schools. In 2013 the president Vladimir Putin has signed a bill into law that makes religious education mandatory in all schools in the country.

The curriculum includes a course on the fundamentals of religion. A federal law guarantees that religious educational establishments can receive accreditation.

Family, community and society

Foreign enemies

In 2012 the Russian government adopted a law that required nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to register as “foreign agents” with ministry of justice if their actions can be defined as political activities and they receive foreign funding. Since the definition of “political activity” is wide, it can also be extended to all activities of advocacy and human rights work. The following link provides a list of nongovernmental organizations which are registered as such agencies:

Enemies within

A major threat to religious freedom is the new anti-extremism law, which defines extremism in a religious context and does not need to prove the use of threat or use of violence. The Russian government uses the law as a tool against the opposition.

In 2012 more persons were convicted for hate speech than for hate crimes, which has never happened before in the post Soviet time. The prosecutors and the courts have now serious difficulties in determining what should be banned or prosecuted.

Ukraine conflict

In November 2013 began a wave of demonstrations in neighbouring Ukraine demanding closer European integration. The main reason for the conflict was the suspension Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement with the European Union to seek closer economic relations with Russia. After long protests Crimean crisis began with pro-Russian protests. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in March 2014 and this action has created a long period of still ongoing pro-Russian unrest in the eastern part of Ukraine.

Homophobic attacks

LGBT people face violence and harassment in Russia. The adoption of the federal law “against the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” led to a huge spread of homophobic violence. Violating the law is punishable by a range of fines. Homophobic crimes count a high number of murders, grave physical violence. Foreigners who violate the law are subject to fines, up to 15 days in detention and deportation. There are many gangs in Russia who feel empowered to hunt and to bully, attack and even kill gay people.
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Radical groups justify homophobic attacks by equating homosexuality with pedophilia, and in January 2014 before the begin of Olympic winter games in Sochi President Putin said that “gay people are welcome in Sochi but they should leave children in peace”. Human Rights Watch said: “Such a chilling and wrongheaded message about LGBT people from Russia’s head of state is irresponsible and extremely dangerous.”

Propaganda in Russian media

After Crimea’s annexation by Russia, Russian government began a battle over Ukraine with diverse means. Russia invests around $136 million a year in Russia propaganda abroad in order to influence and manipulate the public opinion in the West.

Vitaliy Katsenelson, originally from Russia, and currently living in USA, described his experience with the Russian media after spending 7 days watching Russian news and reading Russian newspapers:

“I have to confess, it is hard not to develop a lot of self-doubt about your previously held views when you watch Russian TV for a week. But then you have to remind yourself that Putin’s Russia doesn’t have a free press. The free press that briefly existed after the Soviet Union collapsed is gone — Putin killed it. The government controls most TV channels, radio, and newspapers. What Russians see on TV, read in print, and listen to on the radio is direct propaganda from the Kremlin.”

Highlighted cases

On August 17, 2012, three members of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, a feminist group that spreads its freethinking message, and church-state separation protest, through punk rock and performance art, were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years hard labor. Their offense was to stage an impromptu protest performance (which was itself disrupted after only a few moments) called “Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The Russian authorities were widely condemned by human rights organizations around the world for overzealous prosecution and harsh sentencing of Pussy Riot. The judge cited what she regarded as Christianity’s dissent from the principles of women’s equality (contra the band’s explicit feminist values) to back the prosecution claim that the performance was motivated by “religious hatred”. After 21 months in prison, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released on December 23, 2013 after the Duma approved an amnesty.  On 6 March 2014, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were assaulted and injured by the youths in Nizhny Novgorod.

Alexei Devotchenko , the 49-year-old Russian actor was found dead in his apartment in Moscow in November 2014.  He was known as an outspoken critic of Putin. He participated in many anti-Kremlin protests, such like Peace March in September 2014. In March 2014 he signed a letter with other Russian actors against the Russian’s military intervention in Ukraine. Devotchenko returned two state honors which had previously been awarded him by president Putin for acting. The actor explained in an interview that he returned the honors back in a protest against corruption and political censorship. Shortly after this interview he was attacked and almost killed.


“The public perception of atheism has been transformed in Russia, from the dominant ideology of the Soviet Union, into something that is considered indecent for intellectual people. The common perception is that humanism is wrong, dangerous or anti-spiritual.”
— Anonymous Russian humanist