The Hare Krishna devotees in Russia are growing in numbers every year and chanting the names of Lord Krishna for the spiritual benefit of everyone. However, on November 23, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France took a decision based on an appeal from the Centre of Societies for Krishna Consciousness in Russia and its Head of Law Department Maha-Balarama das. The reason for the appeal to the ECHR was the negative assessment of the Hare Krishna organization by the state authorities of the Ulyanovsk region of the Russian Federation and the refusal to approve a harinama, i.e. singing and chanting God’s names in public, in Moscow. The events took place in 2010 as well as 2013 respectively, and it took all these years for the court to carry out the decision. In the appeal, Maha-Balarama das complained about the inability of the Russian authorities to protect the Hare Krishnas from defamation. In particular, it was about the project “Beware of Sects!” organized by the authorities of the Ulyanovsk region in 2008 and the brochure “Be careful: Sects!” distributed within the framework of this project. According to Maha-Balarama das, the word “sect” carries a negative connotation in the Russian media. The second complaint concerned the Moscow authorities’ ban on conducting a harinama.
The Centre of Societies for Krishna Consciousness is a religious organization that consists of more than 70 regional Centres for Krishna Consciousness, all of which are officially registered in the Russian Federation and thus have the government’s permission to hold services and engage in social welfare work. The Society’s teachings are based on the centuries-old Vaisnava philosophy, also known as bhakti-yoga, which originated in India. The Hare Krishna Movement in Russia was started in 1971 when Srila Prabhupada visited Moscow, and in 1988 the organisation was officially registered in the USSR.
Russian devotees during harinama
The Court found a violation of Article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion, in the actions of the Ulyanovsk authorities, and a violation of Article 11, which guarantees freedom of assembly and association, in the actions of the Moscow authorities. The Court decided to recover 7,500 euros from the Russian Federation in favor of each of the applicants as compensation for moral damage.
In its decision, the ECHR said, “It is particularly striking that the regional State authorities had considered themselves at liberty of casting aspersions on the religion of an officially registered and lawfully operating religious organisation which the applicant centre was.”
According to Maha-Balarama das, it is important to note that the problems which made him appeal to the ECHR are not systematic problems but rather just particular cases, which, if ignored, could potentially lead to difficulties in Krishna’s devotees’ activities in Russia long-term.
Recently there have been no serious issues for the Centre of Organisations for Krishna Consciousness’ activities in Russia. Harinams are now regularly held in many cities throughout Russia in accordance with the law and pandemic restrictions. So far, all other emerging issues are being resolved in Russian courts, without the need for appeal to international jurisdictions.
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