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Russia drops anti-ISCKON leaflet from ban list

December 14, 2009 15:25 IST

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Russia has strongly condemned the justice ministry's decision to drop an anti-ISCKON leaflet from its list of banned extremist materials, says a report in The Moscow Times.

The paper reports that the leaflet, which was being distributed by an activist of the powerful organisation United Russia at an Indian cultural festival in July 2008, alleges that members of the Hare Krishna movement are involved in selling drugs and weapons.

This is the first time that an item has been dropped from the 450-item list since its creation in 2007, says the daily.
The activist who was distributing the pamphlet was found guilty of extremism by a court in Khabarovsk, but the verdict was overturned by a higher court later, which also urged the lower court to reconsider the ban on the leaflet.

The removal of the leaflet from the extremist items list could set a dangerous precedent, Yury Pleshakov, a representative for the Moscow branch of ISCKON, told the daily.

'It is presented like a fact that the leaflet contains useful information for society, and this leaves other religious organisations in jeopardy,' he was quoted by The Moscow Times as saying.

ISCKON has decided to appeal against the removal of the leaflet.

The justice ministry, which removed the leaflet from its list in November, has so far refused to comment on the issue.
Sova Center, a watchdog that tracks extremism, noted that in spite of courts changing their stance on extremist items in the past, this is the first time that such an item has actually been dropped from the list.

The daily points out the ministry's decision might have been influenced by the fact that the leaflet cited religious expert Alexander Kuzmin, who is known for his opposition to any kind of cult and also happens to be a member of the ministry's expert council.

The activist detained for distributing the leaflet, Nikolai Nagorny, belonged to the Young Guard, the youth group of the powerful United Russia.

Kuzmin, who branded ISCKON as a 'totalitarian sect', sent reputed lawyer Alexander Karelov to defend Nagorny during the trial, reports The Moscow Times.

However, a representative of the Young Guard claimed that the organisation had no role to play in Nagorny's decision to distribute the leaflet, whose origins are yet to be ascertained.

Fellow members of the Young Guard described Nagorny an Orthodox believer, and told the paper that they have been warned by the local prosecutor's office after the incident.

The Rediff News Bureau in Mumbai