NEW YORK (9 April 2018) — In a major victory for Russian-born Hindus facing escalating attacks from government-aligned authorities in Russia, U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks this week called on the U.S. government’s religious freedom monitor to investigate a disturbing pattern of attacks against Hindus in Russia. Meeks’ request, reported Friday in U.S. media, comes as religious freedom concerns in Russia are on the rise.

In a letter submitted to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Meeks called on the Commission to exercise its mandate to investigate ongoing attacks against Hindu spiritual leader Shri Prakash Ji and his family in Moscow. Guru Ji, as he is known to his followers, has been the victim of verbal and physical harassment as well as overreach by Russian government agents looking to brand his religion as “extremist.”

“We are thankful for Congressman Meeks’ commitment to our cause,” said Shri Prakash Ji, who operates a prominent Indian cultural center outside Moscow and is the country’s foremost Hindu spiritual leader. “As a federal representative for one of the most diverse regions of the United States – and with one of the largest Indian American constituencies in the country – his voice means a great deal to our cause around the globe. It is our sincere hope that his constituents and his allies in Congress can continue to raise this issue with American officials.”

Attacks on Hindus have escalated since 2011, when a group of activists attempted to ban the Bhagavad Gita – Hinduism’s holy book. The situation escalated last fall when a number of men dressed as police officers stormed into Guru Ji’s cultural center to seize documents. A group of men also attempted to force their way into the family’s home, alleging Guru Ji’s followers were part of an extremist cult.

Meeks’ letter calls attention in particular to the actions of Alexander Dvorkin, a prominent anti-cult activist who has been using his authority on Russia’s Expert Religious Studies Council to target minorities, including spearheading the reputational and physical attacks on Guru Ji. Dvorkin and the Council have been singled out as concerning actors by USCIRF beginning in a 2009 report.

The ongoing attacks have prompted several pledges of support for the Russian Hindu community. Last year, Russian members of parliament held two events in the Duma to raise awareness about the attacks, which are just the latest in a series of religious freedom concerns to arise in the country. Non-orthodox Christians, as well as Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, have been singled out as “others” and erroneously arrested, spuriously charged, and run out of the country as the Russian government uses the catch-all charge of “extremism” to persecute minority groups in an attempt to unite the country under a nationalist identity and the Russian Orthodox Church.

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