Patterns of religiously-motivated violence and prejudice often occur against a backdrop of official policies of discrimination and intolerance. Governments in some of the countries discussed below deny religious communities legal status, bar the construction or rental of places of worship, deny permits for cemeteries, and place restrictions on freedom of assembly, while subjecting members of religious minorities to harassment, public vilification by state officials or in the state media, arrests, beatings, and imprisonment.
Intolerance toward minority religions has, in some countries, been endorsed by local or national officials, and may be accompanied by violent police actions suppressing religious freedom. In some cases, police have actively collaborated with violent mobs to harm members of minority religions.
In several countries government officials deny the right to freedom of assembly and the right to build a place of worship to members of minority religious communities, while local authorities bar groups from renting premises for worship. Thus, religious minorities, notably Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelical Christian churches, find obstacles to finding a place for their religious practices. Often the result is that worship services must be held in private homes. But such arrangements—not always legal—make individuals from these congregations vulnerable to attacks by their neighbors, as well as police harassment and raids.
- In the Russian Federation, national and local officials have encouraged public antipathy toward nontraditional religions, which are sometimes characterized as harmful “cults” and denounced as foreign-supported representatives of external interests. In August 2007, for example, Governor Vyacheslav Dudka of Tula Oblast described adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses as part of a “religious expansion into Russia, stimulated by foreign intelligence agencies.”
- In Serbia, monitors reported an increase in vandalism at Baptist, Adventist, and other Protestant churches, in the context of news media campaigns characterizing these faiths as malicious sects. The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), in a 2008 report, concludes that Serbia’s Law on Churches and Religious Communities “helps create a negative climate for the so-called untraditional religious communities, such as Jehovah’s witnesses and certain Evangelical groups,” which is exacerbated by some leaders of the dominant church.
In some countries, religious majorities have played a role in the exclusion of minority religious groups, including by stigmatizing minority faith and belief communities and by pressing governments for measures to restrict their activities.
- In Armenia, a number of incidents were reported in which clergy of the majority Armenian Apostolic Church assaulted members of minority religious groups with impunity. On June 1, 2007, in Lusarat, an Armenian Church priest reportedly harassed and physically assaulted two Jehovah’s Witnesses in a public square. On August 21, 2006, a priest reportedly assaulted two female Jehovah’s Witnesses, breaking the arm of one of them; police reportedly suspended a criminal investigation into the assault on the grounds that the priest had expressed remorse.
- In Serbia, ECRI’s 2008 country report noted that government hostility toward minority religions had been exacerbated by leaders of the majority Serbian Orthodox Church, noting that some dignitaries of the church “have had a part in fostering hostility towards these groups, which they refer to as ‘cults,’ accusing their followers of being ‘satanists.’”