Is Russia Systematically Clamping Down on Religious and Media Freedoms? The Russian Double Standard — A Sign of the Times

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As President Vladimir Putin prepares to host the G8 Summit scheduled for July 15-17 in his hometown of St. Petersburg, is the Russian Federation resorting back to cold war antics of religious intolerance and muzzling of the media? While on the one hand, Russia wants to be perceived as a democratic nation where religious freedoms and media rights are protected, the recent cancellation of the multiple entry visa granted to Pastor Sunday Adelaja calls to question its seriousness. As Pastor of the Embassy of God church in Europe, Pastor Sunday leads one of the fastest church planting organizations in the world—500 churches in 12 years—and pastors the largest evangelical Church in Europe—35,000 worshippers on any given Sunday. Even as it denied Pastor Sunday entry, the Russian government was also promoting a summit of world religious leaders on its G-8 Summit website.

As President Vladimir Putin prepares to host the G8 Summit scheduled for July 15-17 in his hometown of St. Petersburg, is the Russian Federation resorting back to cold war antics of religious intolerance and muzzling of the media? While on the one hand, Russia wants to be perceived as a democratic nation where religious freedoms and media rights are protected, the recent cancellation of the multiple entry visa granted to Pastor Sunday Adelaja calls to question its seriousness.

On the 31st of May 2006, Pastor Sunday Adelaja was refused entry into the territory of the Russian Federation as he arrived in Russia by invitation of Andrey Malahov to take part in his popular TV-show "Puskay Govoriat" (translated: "Let them speak"). As Pastor of the Embassy of God church in Europe, Pastor Sunday leads one of the fastest church planting organizations in the world—500 churches in 12 years—and pastors the largest evangelical Church in Europe—35,000 worshippers on any given Sunday.

Even as it denied Pastor Sunday entry, the Russian government was also promoting a summit of world religious leaders on its G-8 Summit website. The World Summit of Religious Leaders, held July 3-5, 2006, was meant to show Russia’s tolerance of religion and staged to coincide with the G-8 summit. Organized by the Interreligious Council of Russia, an affiliated member of World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP), the world religious leaders’ summit, to its credit, released this communiqué after the summit:

"Dialogue and partnership among civilizations should not just be slogans. We need to build a world order which combines democracy—as the way of harmonizing different interests and as people’s participation in national and global decision-making—and respect to the moral feeling, way of life, various legal and political systems, and national and religious traditions of people. Comprehensive, just and durable solutions of international disputes should be reached by peaceful means. We reject double standards in international relations. The world should have many poles and many systems, meeting the requirements of all individual and nations rather than matching lifeless and oversimplified ideological patterns."

http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=documents&div=78.

About 100 of the churches established by the Embassy of God Church are in the Russia Federation. Pastor Sunday was not informed as to why he was denied entry into Russia, however, he believes that it is likely because of the role his church played in the Orange Revolution, which saw the demise of a Russian-backed government in the Ukraine. According to Pastor Sunday, “Protestants took a very active part in the demonstrations for democracy during the November/December 2004 revolution. Now, the newly elected Mayor of the capital of Ukraine is a member of our Church as well as many influential politicians and business leaders. Probably, all these things scared the authority of the Cremle very much, as they are ready to operate by this unpopular method.”

The Russian government’s double standard in promoting the World Summit of Religious Leaders on one hand and selectively denying other religious leaders entry into its territory is atypical of the conflicting messages coming out of the Kremlin these days, and it is reminiscent of cold war strategies. As President Putin puts on the face of a leader in a democratic nation, he should heed the message coming out of a summit his administration helped sponsor and reinstate Pastor Sunday’s multiple entry visa to fellowship with members of his congregations and media supporters in Russia.

President Bush and the other G-8 leaders must cordially remind their host that without freedom of speech, media, and religion, democratic ideals are harder to sustain over time. Hopefully, he will listen, unless of course, President Putin is playing a new version of the Russian roulette by moving to reestablish a communist state corked in a democratic chamber.

See Also The Following Related Stories From Associated Press:

Putin Rips Cheney's Verbal 'Hunting Shot' By Jim Heintz. Posted Jul 12, 11:21 AM EDT

Bush to Discuss Kremlin Moves With Putin By Tom Raum. Posted Jul 11, 8:22 AM EDT

Russia Curtails Radio Free Europe By Mike Eckel. Posted Fri, Jul. 07, 2006

Russia Takes Center Stage As G-8 Host By Judith Ingram. Posted Jul 10, 9:39 AM EDT

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Matthew Austin
SONIKA MEDIA SERVICES
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