Shri Prakash Ji was supported by Hindus from other countries
Congressmen representing interests of the Indian diaspora in the US appealed to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In order to promote religious freedom throughout the world, US Congressman Gregory Meeks and assemblyman David Weprin appealed to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in the matter of persecution of Hindus living in Russia. They ask to stop the anti-religious activities of A. Dvorkin, who, as is known, has the American citizenship.
BY WILLIAM HARRIS
Russian religious persecution of Hindus are sparking a call for an investigation from two Queens lawmakers.
Congressman Gregory Meeks and Assemblyman David Weprin are sending multiple letters to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, addressing the problems of persecution, threats and other religious freedom violations that Hindus face while living in Russia.
In an effort in order to create a more Russian identity, the Russian Orthodox Church has intensified their campaign with increasing persecution and threats toward Hindus under President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
The letters are being sent to Daniel Mark, the chairman of the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom. Meeks and Weprin represent some of the largest Indian-American communities in the entire country right here in Queens.
According to a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, there are several reported occurrences of derogatory rhetoric toward Hindus, including one where prosecutors attempted to paint a seminal commentary on a Bhagavad Gita as extremist.
Meeks and Weprin noted that the most prominent Hindu spiritual leader, Shri Prakash Ji, has been experiencing Hindu persecution while living in Russia for the past several years. He and his family over the last several years are victims of threats and unauthorized police raids of both his cultural center and home. Smear campaigns are also being used to turn the Russian population against the Hindu spiritual leader.
According to Meeks and Weprin, the letters call for action on an alarming trend stating, “Your Commission’s mandate is to fully examine religious freedom allegations and make policy recommendations to Congress, the President and the State Department when it comes to pursuing appropriate intervention and/or sanctions.”
Meeks and Weprin also note that under Putin’s leadership, a number of other minority groups have faced similar persecution, including Muslims, Buddhists, Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This behavior in Russia is becoming more common as time goes on, but the investigation into these matters may provide some relief for Hindus living in Russia sometime in the near future.
BY JON CRONIN
In an effort to promote religious freedom around the world, U.S. Rep. Jeffrey Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Assemblyman David Weprin (D- Fresh Meadows) wrote to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to investigate a commission that hinders the practice of Hinduism in Russia.
In a joint letter to Dr. Daniel Mark, the chairman of USCIRF, Meeks and Weprin wrote, “Vladimir Putin’s Russia has consistently missed the mark on religious freedom, and I am concerned that in the wake of systematic persecution of religious minorities—for instance, the Jehovah’s Witness ban last year—Putin and the Putin-aligned Orthodox Church have now set their sights on Hinduism.”
Weprin and Meeks said they felt that as representatives of large Hindu communities in Queens, which is the most diverse county in the nation, it was their duty to highlight injustices abroad.
The two legislators pointed to a Newsweek story about Shri Prakash Ji, a Hindu leader in Moscow who has lived there with his family for more than 30 years. In the past few years, he and his family have suffered attacks on their home and property.
Meeks and Weprin wrote that such attacks were allegedly prompted by Alexander Dvorkin, who is the chairman of the Expert Religious Studies Council in Russia, which is associated with the Orthodox Church-affiliated commission and has the authority to investigate religious organizations. The USCIRF had singled out the commission in a 2009 annual report.
Shri told Newsweek that the attacks have worsened in the past three years. In November 2017, police raided the spiritual center that he leads and his home.
“They searched the center, and they searched my home, where my family was. They are sending fake journalists to my office. People come to me, they pretend to be a follower, and then they film me. Every week, they are doing something,” he told Newsweek.
Weprin and Meeks noted that the attacks on Prakash have increased as the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed more far-right sentiments. According to Meeks and Weprin, behavior such as this is becoming more commonplace in Russia under the Putin regime. To create a more singular religious voice in Russia, the administration has targeted religious minorities, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Buddhists and Scientologists.
“USCIRF has been very clear about the nature of Russia’s efforts to brand common religious practice and faith as ‘extremist.’ A report last month detailed several instances of derogatory rhetoric towards Hindus, including a case in which prosecutors attempted to paint a seminal commentary on the Bhagavad Gita as extremist. I believe that the actions detailed in the aforementioned case are continuations of this alarming trend,” Meeks and Weprin wrote.
The legislators noted in their letter that it is the duty of the USCIRF to examine religious freedoms, and then make policy recommendations to the president, Congress and the State Department. They asked for an investigation of Dvorkin and his associates to be launched that would look into his use of his government post to attack religious practices, and “ensure that the country’s religious minorities can practice their faith in peace.”