Mr. Speaker, I rise as a co-sponsor and in support of H.Con.Res. 190, which urges the Russian Federation to “ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, and end the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies,” as well as to “ensure that law enforcement officials vigorously investigate acts of violence against unregistered religious communities, as well as make certain that authorities are not complicit in such attacks.”
As the Ranking House Member on the Helsinki Commission, I have seen how religious freedoms for minority religious communities throughout the Russian Federation have come under increasing pressure. Throughout that vast country, local officials and government authorities continue to harass and limit the ability of these groups to practice their faith freely. In addition, instances of violence, such as arson attacks, have been alarmingly common in recent years. The Helsinki Commission heard disturbing testimony to this effect in April of last year.
The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2005 reported that some federal agencies and many local authorities continued to restrict the rights of various religious minorities, and the internationally recognized expert on religious liberty in Russia, Larry Uzzell, has written that even in Moscow some 10 Baptist congregations have ceased to exist because local bureaucrats refused to allow rentals or property transfers for the use of worship services.
Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that the religious liberty picture in Russia is deteriorating at a critical time for Russia. Russia is an OSCE participating State and assumes the leadership of the Council of Europe in May of this year. Russia also chairs the G-8 this year. A nation holding such positions should not be a country where members of minority religious groups need to constantly battle with bureaucrats in order to have a place to worship, or to get permission from the local clergy of another faith in order to hold a public gathering, or to wonder if their prayer house will be the target of vandalism.
Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues support H.Con.Res. 190, and I again thank my Helsinki Commission Chairman, Chris Smith, for introducing this resolution, and for his tireless efforts on behalf of religious freedom and liberty around the world. I also join Chairman Smith in commending John Finerty of the Helsinki Commission staff for his decades of service to the Commission, and I especially thank him for assisting me in my interactions with members of the Russian Duma through our OSCE Parliamentary Assembly process.