Swett: Vladimir Putin puts boot to many Christians, Boston Herald

Katrina Lantos Swett Friday, January 01, 2016

With the passing of Christmas and on this the start of the New Year, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to convince many Americans and other Westerners that he is a staunch defender of Christians against their oppressors, most recently ISIS in Syria.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. From Iraq and Syria to Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia itself, the Kremlin’s behavior belies such rhetoric. For the sake of Christians and others persecuted for their faith, it is time to rid ourselves of this myth.

At best, Putin’s regime has been an unreliable ally of Christians. At worst, it has persecuted Christians, at home and abroad, especially those who do not belong to the country’s dominant religious and cultural — and some say political — institution, the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate.

This is hardly surprising, given that the former KGB official once deemed the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of religion’s most lethal enemies, “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” Putin has cynically used concern about Christians to revive as much of the old Soviet empire as possible and to restore Russia’s Soviet-era influence over the Middle East.

In Iraq, Putin has done little about the slaughter and enslavement of Christians by ISIS and like-minded radical Islamist terrorist groups.

In Syria, he has spoken about saving Christians from ISIS, but his actions contradict his words. His air force has launched bombing raids — not primarily against ISIS, but against civilians and armed opposition groups who pose the biggest threat to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s reign. Clearly, Putin puts Assad’s regime above the well-being of Christians.

Since seizing control of Crimea last year, Russia has put increasing pressure on churches and leaders not affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate. In June 2014, the leader of the Salvation Army in Crimea left the peninsula after reporting repeated harassment by security agents. By late 2014, clergy without Russian citizenship, particularly Greek and Roman Catholics and those belonging to the Kiev Patriarchate, were forced to leave Crimea. The home of the Kiev Patriarchate’s bishop of Simferopol and Crimea, Klyment Kushch, was burned down. Russia also has applied its notorious registration and anti-extremist laws to Crimeans, including Orthodox adherents who are not Moscow Patriarchate members.

Pro-Russian forces have visited similar abuses on communities in the Donbass in eastern Ukraine after Russian-backed paramilitary groups seized territory.

Even within Russia itself, Christians are hardly safe from Putin’s repression. From Baptists to Charismatics to Adventists, Russian Protestants may be denied permits to build churches, as well as visas for foreign missionaries According to some estimates, for every registered Protestant congregation, there are at least two unregistered ones, as Russian authorities often discriminate against such congregations through the religious registration law. Some of these church members, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, are deemed “extremist” under Russia’s overly broad anti-extremism law, some for simply opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The conclusion could not be more obvious: As evidenced by his sins of commission and omission, Vladimir Putin is no friend of Christians. It is time for Christians and all people of goodwill to pay heed.

Katrina Lantos Swett, a New Hampshire resident, is president and CEO of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

Original op-ed on Boston Herald


Desperate China crushing its own people: USA Today. By: Chen Guangcheng & Katrina Lantos Swett

"Since July 10, Chinese authorities have been detaining human rights lawyers and activists in unprecedented numbers. An estimated 250 have been taken into custody. Police and thugs are grabbing people from their homes and offices, and even from restaurants, without warning or rationale. They are being interrogated, threatened and accused of fabricated crimes. Many are being held without access to family, friends, legal representation, or any other semblance of due process under the law."

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ROLL CALL Opinion - Swett: Lautenberg Amendment a Lifeline for Iranian Refugees

By Katrina Lantos Swett
Special to Roll Call
Sept. 6, 2012, 11:44 p.m.

An unmarried Baha'i woman spent three years in Iran's notorious Evin Prison charged with being a spy for Israel and the United States. She was told: "To destroy you, we have to destroy your community, your meetings and your prayers." She hopes to live "as a free Baha'i in the U.S." and wants to be sure that "no one will look at me as someone who doesn't belong in society."

An unmarried Christian woman fled Iran after she was forced to join a mosque and develop a relationship with a mullah who stalked her daily. She fears the mullah would kill her if she were forced to return.

A husband and wife who are Mandaeans - religious followers of John the Baptist - fled Iran with their two children after enduring a lifetime of religious persecution. Suffering from physical developmental delays and epilepsy, the daughter had been denied medical care because of her religion.

What do these people have in common, besides fleeing Iran? They were able to seek safety and freedom in the United States thanks to a provision in U.S. law known as the Lautenberg Amendment. Authored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), this law is a needed lifeline for religious minorities, including Jews, Christians and Baha'is, to escape religious persecution in former Soviet nations and now Iran.

They also share the fervent hope that the Lautenberg Amendment will continue offering a lifeline to others. It is now up to Congress to make sure that happens. Enacted as part of the 1990 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, the Lautenberg Amendment has been reauthorized ever since. Unless Congress extends its life, it is set to expire Sept. 30.

The Lautenberg Amendment offers vital protections for historically persecuted groups seeking refugee status by establishing a presumption of eligibility and allowing fast-track processing to prevent undue backlogs in "third" countries that host their processing. Such processing is vital for those who flee countries, such as Iran, which do not have U.S. embassies. Without such assurances, "third" countries probably would not provide transit visas permitting persecuted individuals to be processed in safety on their soil.

The amendment neither increases the number of refugees the United States accepts each year nor requires any special appropriated funds. Rather, it recognizes the unique situations these groups continue to face. The small number of refugees who qualify each year are fully screened and vetted.

The Mandaeans, Christians, Bahai's and others who have fled Iran seek refuge from a country that the Secretary of State each year since 1999 has designated a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for egregious, ongoing and systematic violations of freedom of religion or belief.

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which I chair, religious freedom conditions in Iran have regressed to a point not seen since the early days of the Islamic revolution more than 30 years ago. Religious minorities, including Baha'is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims, along with recognized non-Muslim religious minorities - Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians - who are protected under Iran's constitution, face increased discrimination, arrests and imprisonment.

The Lautenberg Amendment enjoys strong support from both parties in Congress. Given the many issues that Congress must wrestle with in September, we urge lawmakers to put the Lautenberg Amendment at the top of the agenda and swiftly reauthorize this measure, sending the unmistakable message that religious freedom matters, as do the lives and safety of the persecuted.

Katrina Lantos Swett is chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.