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IRLA Secretary General Invited To Moscow and Yerevan

Dr. Graz Receives Gift From Yaroslav E. Nilov, Deputy of the State of Duma of the Russian FederationInvited by the Secretary General of the Russian Association for Religious Liberty, Pastor Oleg Goncharov, Dr. John Graz, IRLA Secretary General met with religious liberty experts and officials in the Russian capital from July 1 to 3. The program of the tour included conferences with religious liberty leaders from Central Asia, Ukraine and Russia and meetings with the Head of the Presidential Administration’s Department for Relations with Religious Organizations and the Chairman of the Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations of the State Duma.

“The state of religious liberty in Russia has been improved in several aspects if I compare this with my first visit in 1998” said Graz. He added: “Of course in a such a huge territory challenges exist, but the fact that at the levels of the President’s Office and the Duma there is a possibility to bring cases of violation of religious freedom and to be heard is a positive sign.” Graz also mentioned the interesting discussion he had about the Anti-Extremist Law and the concept of “offending the feelings of others”.

On July 4, Graz and Goncharov flew to Yerevan, Armenia. The purpose was to meet with religious leaders involved in the defense of religious freedom; the Director of the Office of Religious Affairs and a community of believers. Armenia had to face many challenges in the past years and is recovering slowly from the war with Azerbaijan. The country enjoys a state of religious freedom but as some leaders of religious minorities said there are still some cases of discrimination from some local authorities mainly due to lack of precise information.  However they recognize that the dialogue with the authorities facilitates the path for solutions.

“We should never forgot the history of these countries and the situation they have to face to understand their improvement and their challenges” said Goncharov which underlined that all officials he met were in favor of religious freedom even if there is still some opposition. Goncharov is one of the members of the Interreligious Council of Russia.