600-800,000 people in Russia are members of religious sects

RIA Novosti, Russia/February 20, 2007

Moscow - About 600-800,000 Russian citizens are involved in religious sects in a country of 142 million people, most of whom are Orthodox Christians, the president of the Moscow-based religion and sect study center said Tuesday.

"From 600,000 to 800,000 people are involved in sect activities today," Alexander Dvorkin said. "Roughly speaking, about 80 sects are currently operating in Russia (covering several regions), and there are also thousands of smaller ones."

Dvorkin said the figure included about 300,000 people belonging to the neo-Pentecostalists, a Charismatic movement that emerged in the 1960s. A total of 140,000 people are members of Jehovah's Witnesses, which believes in the God of the Old Testament.

These are followed by Mormons, Krishnaites, and Anastasians. The latter are village life fans who follow the guidelines of a Russian book allegedly dictated to its author, Vladimir Megre (Puzakov), by a woman he calls Anastasia.

Dvorkin said it was early to introduce the term "sect" into the Russian legislation. "First, we need to form a database of legal violations by sects," he said but called for the term "mind control" and "psychological violence" to be included into the Criminal Code.

"There has been little progress in the trial of Grigory Grabovoi due to the shortage of relevant articles in the Criminal Code," Dvorkin said.

Grabovoi was charged in April in a case that caused uproar in both Russia and abroad after the head of the controversial sect claimed he could heal diseases and resurrect the dead, especially the 186 children who died after gunmen seized a school in the southern Russian town of Beslan. Officially, the Beslan tragedy claimed 331 lives.

Dvorkin said sects fell into two groups - classical ones tantamount to notions of "church" and "denominations" (for example, Baptists), and totalitarian ones. The totalitarian sects are the most dangerous and destructive, and are not necessarily based on religion, he said.

"They can operate under the guise of educational, healing, cultural, social or other centers," Dvorkin said, citing scientologists and munites.

"Sects are after power and money. They recruit people through deception and seek to control the lives of their members, to exploit and manipulate them," he said.

The religion and sect study center unites more than 20 regional centers in Russia and has four representations in Serbia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The center is working to open local public councils to fight totalitarian sects.

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