Russia’s Justice Ministry is waging a war on Scientology, this week banning the organization from operating on Russian soil. It's not the first time Moscow has moved legally against the group, however, in an updated list released Friday two key Church of Scientology entities have now been blacklisted as "undesirable" - the most severe designation ever taken by the Russian government.
Calling the group a "threat to the security of the Russian Federation" a media statement described that that "On October 1, the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises International, L. Ron Hubbard Library as well as the ENEMO were added to the list of organizations whose activity is deemed undesirable in Russia by the Prosecutor General’s Office."
The two entities named are California-based holdings and are said to be vital to Scientology operations in foreign countries. Being added to the "undesirable" list means all local offices are closed down by the state and assets frozen.
Moscow has long argued it's a "business masquerading as a religion" - similar to arguments made by detractors in the West, who have also long lobbied Washington to revoke Scientology's tax exempt status.
In most countries across the globe, the group is officially considered a religion and thus enjoys tax exempt status, with the major exception of Russia. In the US, where it was born over a half-century ago when American science fiction novelist L. Ron Hubbard wrote its foundational texts (numbering thousands upon thousands of pages), it's attracted huge controversy.
The controversy and media spotlight has grown especially over the last decade in the US. After a number of high profile Scientologists, including celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta (though there are rumors the latter has moved away from it), became outspoken public advocates - which included defending some bizarre practices like forcing women to "stay silent" during child birth - but which resulted in backlash as more and more documentaries emerged delving into the strange belief system.
The Prosecutor General’s Office in Russie said the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises International and the Church of Spiritual Technology "pose a threat to the security of the Russian Federation.”https://t.co/nOvgeXKgGF— Religion News Service (@RNS) September 28, 2021
According to Russia's RT News, the Kremlin has long eyed Scientology going back to its presence just after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990's:
The decision follows a decades-long campaign to ban Scientology from illegally profiting on Russian territory, with the first major effort to restrict the group dating back to 1996, back in the Boris Yeltsin-era and some twelve years after the organization gained a foothold in what was then the Soviet Union.
However, it was not until the 2010s when authorities really cracked down on Scientology groups, investigating major branches in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as their leaders, on charges of illegal business activities and extremism.
Scientology is known to employ an army of lawyers, often making it extremely difficult for local, state, or central governments to go after the group - which often wins court cases based on presenting itself as a valid religion.
Tom Cruise Worried About John Travolta Distancing Himself From Scientology? https://t.co/gxjQrjoGdW— Suggest (@suggestonline) September 24, 2021
Other European countries like Belgium and France have recently seen high profile cases thrust Scientology into the media spotlight, with some European officials labeling it a "cult". However, Russia now stands out as the country with by far the most restrictive laws against the organization.