On the eve of Russia’s July 3 presidential election, the U.S. government called on Moscow to ensure the maintenance of religious freedom in Russia. "We fully expect whatever government emerges will see religious freedom as a right for all people," a State Department spokesman said July 2. Washington’s action came in the wake of three recent developments, all of which raised concerns of increasing religious intolerance in Russia. The first of these involved official restrictions placed on the activities of The Jewish Agency, a non-governmental organization that since 1989 has facilitated the emigration of more than 600,000 Jews to Israel. The second involved well-publicized remarks by Kremlin strongman Aleksandr Lebed on June 27 and July 2 that depicted the missionary activities of foreign sects as a threat to the Russian people, and called for them to be outlawed.
Finally, it was reported July 1 that Russian authorities had denied a visa to David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. Harris, a leading spokesman for Soviet Jewry in the 1970’s and 1980’s, was to attend a conference in St. Petersburg on the future of Jews in the former Soviet Union. Russian officials cited bureaucratic snafus to explain the problems faced by Harris and, early on, those of The Jewish Agency. But, particularly in light of Lebed’s remarks, some Jewish leaders have wondered whether Moscow’s actions might not be a sign of growing official intolerance of religious freedom in Russia. (UPI, July 2)
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