Anti-Krishna Leaflet Off the Banned List

Moscow, Russia - The Justice Ministry has dropped a leaflet from its 450-item list of banned extremist materials, marking the first time that an item has been removed since the list’s creation in 2007.

The leaflet, which accuses Russian Hare Krishnas of selling drugs and weapons and being prepared to kill, was added to the list after a Khabarovsk court convicted a United Russia youth activist of extremism for distributing it at a far eastern festival of Indian culture in July 2008.

A higher Khabarovsk court overturned the ruling in September and ordered the lower court to reconsider the ban on the leaflet, which it did.

Yury Pleshakov, a representative for the Moscow branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, said the removal of the leaflet set a “dangerous precedent.”

“It is presented like a fact that the leaflet contains useful information for society, and this leaves other religious organizations in jeopardy,” he said by telephone.

Krishna lawyer Mikhail Frolov promised to appeal the removal of the leaflet in court.

The Justice Ministry, which compiles its list based on court rulings, declined to provide an immediate comment on its decision.

The ministry removed the leaflet in late November, said Sova Center, a watchdog that tracks extremism.

Sova noted in a statement that courts have reversed their stances on what materials are deemed extremist in the past but the Justice Ministry has kept the items on its list.

Sova researcher Galina Kozhevnikova said the ministry might have acted this time because of United Russia’s involvement in the case. The detained activist, Nikolai Nagorny, belonged to United Russia’s youth group, Young Guard.

In addition, she said, the Justice Ministry might have been motivated by the fact that the leaflet cited religious expert Alexander Kuzmin, who is a member of the ministry’s expert council.

Kuzmin, known as an outspoken critic of cults, called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness a “totalitarian sect” in the leaflet. He was not available for comment Tuesday.

Ivan Dzhulyak, head of the Khabarovsk branch of Young Guard, told The St. Petersburg Times that Kuzmin had helped Nagorny fight the extremist charges by sending reputed lawyer Alexander Karelov from Moscow to defend him in Khabarovsk.

He said Nagorny had acted alone in distributing the leaflet, whose origins were unclear.

“Even though he was doing it on his own, I was punished as the group’s leader,” Dzhulyak said.

He said that he had received a warning from the local prosecutor’s office for distributing extremist material.

Nagorny, whom Dzhulyak described as a strong Orthodox believer, remains a member of Young Guard.