A. Violence Against Individuals
In many countries of Eastern and Southeastern Europe and in the Russian Federation, nationalists promote the view of a people united by its ethnic origins and its unitary Church. The fusion of a religious identity with nationalist ethnic ideals has led to the exclusion of those who do not share this identity. As a consequence, the so-called nontraditional religions are under attack by governments and extreme nationalists alike. Government officials and extremist groups often use the same rhetoric against nontraditional religious groups, accusing the latter of being dangers to the nation’s future and even agents of foreign powers. This view can be heightened by the presence of religious groups that are new, or perceived to be new, to a particular place, especially as a result of the new freedoms following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
In a climate of xenophobia and religious chauvinism, the pastors, priests, rabbis, or imams of minority religious congregations are particularly susceptible to threats and physical attacks in some countries, as they face, in some countries, official harassment or even imprisonment. Visiting religious workers of foreign nationality, if permitted access, may also be subject to the same harassment, threats, and violence to which citizens are subjected, as well as summary deportation and the denial of visas.
Many individuals were particularly vulnerable because they were readily identified as members of minority religions: some were attacked during religious services, or en route to and from places of worship. Others included religious minority children in state schools. People who stood out because of distinctive dress, religious headgear, or other characteristics were attacked in the street by strangers shouting epithets. Members of religions for which missionary work is integral to their faith were also particularly vulnerable to attack:
- In Armenia, on March 29, 2007, a Jehovah’s Witness was reportedly attacked and choked at his workplace after a coworker learned of his religious adherence.
- In Azerbaijan, four men on April 17, 2007, broke into a building Jehovah’s Witnesses rented for religious meetings in Baku and attacked two members of the congregation and property; although witnesses identified the attackers, police reportedly refused to investigate.
- In the Russian Federation, on July 5, 2007, unidentified young men attacked worshippers in a Baptist church with pepper gas during a service in Kirovo-Chepetsk (Kirov Oblast); the same church was repeatedly vandalized during the year.
- In Malatya, Turkey, on April 18, 2007, a group of young men claiming to be defending Islam and Turkish nationalism bound, tortured, and killed Necati Aydın, Uğur Yüksel, and Tillman Geske—who were employees of a Christian publishing house.
- In the United States, on May 24, 2007, a fellow student attacked 16-year-old Harpal Vacher, a Sikh, at Newtown High School in New York City. The attacker dragged Vacher into a bathroom, pulled off his turban, and sheared off his waist-length hair. In June, the New York-based civil rights organization Sikh Coalition said that at least 60 percent of Sikh students “suffered harassment in one form or another because of their religious symbols.”
Members of majority religions were also the object of attacks motivated by religious hatred:
On March 12, in London, United Kingdom, two young people described as of Asian origin attacked 57-year-old Anglican priest Canon Michael Ainsworth, at St. George-in-the-East Church, in what police described as a “faith hate” crime. The two reportedly “jeered at the priest for being a churchman,” while inflicting bruises and cuts in severe beating.
The perpetrators of violent hate crimes motivated by religious hatred have also targeted places of worship, community centers, schools, and other community institutions. They also routinely targeted burial sites.
In several countries of Europe and North America attackers painted threatening graffiti and smashed windows in churches, temples, and other religious assembly halls, thereby expressing hatred and prejudice toward minority religions. These centers of religious activity are easily targeted and are often the most visible signs of a religious congregation’s presence in a particular area. These attacks echo similar incidents targeting Jewish and Muslim religious property that are discussed in sections of the 2008 Hate Crime Survey on Antisemitic Violence and Violence Against Muslims.
On December 18, 2006, representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in France reported that vandals had attacked seventy-eight of their places of worship during that year. The Jehovah’s Witness hall in Villefranche-sur-Saône was completely destroyed by fire in an arson attack on October 20, 2006.
In the Russian Federation, places of worship were attacked during services or targeted at night for vandalism and arson:
- In February 2007, a young man firebombed a Jehovah’s Witnesses center in Kuybyshev, Novosibirsk Oblast.
- In March 2007, attackers partially destroyed an Assembly of God Church in Moscow, setting off a blaze that destroyed the roof and much of the interior with an explosive device. The congregation had received numerous threats and local authorities had refused to register the property as belonging to the church.
- Attackers twice set fire to a Catholic chapel in the Krasnodar region during 2007.
- On July 11, 2008, arson completely destroyed a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ place of worship in Chekhov, Moscow Oblast. According to a member of the congregation, who led the efforts to salvage the building at four o’clock in the morning, the fire started with an explosion, and the flame spread rapidly through the entire building because the foundation was soaked with a flammable liquid. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ representatives were dissatisfied with the hesitant response by police and firefighters. Local police have reportedly refused to open an official investigation following the incident.
In Serbia, on January 8, 2007, in Stapar, arsonists attacked an Adventist Church with a Molotov cocktail, causing serious damage to the interior; the fire department took action in time to save the building. President Boris Tadić mentioned the incident in his national address, saying that such acts must be stopped.
In the United States, in attacks in April, 2007, vandals in Stafford, Virginia broke windows at the Union Bell Baptist Church and daubed racial slurs on its walls; vandals also defaced the Strong Tower Ministries Church with racist and antireligious graffiti. Police investigated the incidents as hate crimes and detained four students as suspects.
The desecration of graves and cemeteries of religious minority communities was also reported throughout Europe and North America. Bias-driven vandals painted slogans on tombstones monuments and smashed them with hammers or explosives. Dozens of examples of such vandalism and desecration of graves and memorials are documented in sections of this Survey on Antisemitic Violence and Violence Against Muslims. Some additional examples of acts of vandalism against the property of minority religious groups include the following:
In the Russian Federation, in early March, 2007, vandals shattered some 30 Jewish and Lutheran gravestones at Yekaterinburg’s city cemetery. In May 2007, vandals daubed swastikas on some 40 Armenian gravestones in Krasnokumsky, Russia (Stavropol Krai). Police detained four suspects, accused of “mocking the bodies of the dead and their places of burial.”
In Kosovo (Serbia), members of the Orthodox Serbian minority required the protection of the U.N. and Kosovo police military escorts to visit cemeteries in Albanian majority areas. Serb grave markers were routinely toppled or smashed. Serbs, who visited family graves in the cemetery in the Albanian part of Mitrovica in March 2008, said an estimated 80 percent of the Orthodox tombstones there—numbering more than 500—had been vandalized since 1999. On May 30, 2007, in a rare official acknowledgement, police confirmed that gravestones had been damaged at an Orthodox cemetery in Prizren.
Minority Armenian communities in Eastern Europe have suffered similar attacks—with gravestones identified with the Armenian Apostolic Church singled out for graffiti or destruction.