Russian court rejects ban on Hindu sacred text

Moscow, Russia - A Russian court on Wednesday rejected an attempt to ban a translation of a sacred Hindu text in a ruling greeted with relief by New Delhi after protests over the sensitive issue in India.

The ruling represented a rare victory for religious freedoms in Russia after years of expanding influence by the country's dominant Orthodox Church.

Prosecutors in the Siberian city of Tomsk had asked a court to classify a Russian translation of the Hare Krishna edition of the "Bhagavad Gita" as "extremist literature" alongside books such as Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf".

They cited conclusions from two Russian state universities claiming the foreword to the Russian edition contained signs of "incitement to religious hatred" and "extremism".

The prologue was written by Swami Prabhupada -- founder of the international Hare Krishna movement that has had repeated run-ins with local authorities since its first appearance in post-Soviet Russia.

Prosecutors had asked for the ban in June after running a check on Hare Krishna's activities in the Siberian region. The Russian general prosecutor's office had also conduction national checks on the movement in 2004 and 2005.

The Izvestia daily said the eight-hour hearing ended Wednesday "with the judge's verdict being drowned out by the sound of applause" from Hare Krishna's supporters in the court room.

"We humbly accept this ruling without any malice in our heart," a local movement representative told the Russian daily.

The case threatened to create an unexpected roadblock in relations between Russia and India, strategic allies that have had exclusive military and other trade relations since Soviet times.

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna had described the prosecutors' attempted ban as the work of "ignorant and misdirected or motivated individuals" that attacked a text defining the "very soul of our great civilisation".

And the work of India's parliament was briefly suspended last week after an uproar over the issue, while furious protesters picketed the Russian consulate in the eastern city of Kolkata.

India's top diplomat later held consultations with Moscow's ambassador to New Delhi that reportedly concluded with assurances from the Russian government that it would ensure the text's continued publication.

"We appreciate this sensible resolution of a sensitive issue and are glad to put this episode behind us," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said in a statement issued in New Delhi after the ruling.

"The esteemed Tomsk judge's verdict... deserves applause," added Indian Ambassador Ajai Malhotra.

"It is very good to know that this case has been resolved for good and is now behind us," RIA Novosti quoted the New Delhi envoy to Moscow as saying.

India and Russia have enjoyed close ties that date back to the 1950s. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returned from an annual visit to Moscow at the weekend after sealing a preliminary deal to buy 42 jets.

A controversial 1997 law requires religious groups that had not been active in Russia for at least 15 years to register with the authorities and strictly limits foreign missionary work.