In a Newsweek article February 6, staff writer Cristina Maza reports on a concerted campaign of harassment against popular Hindu religious leader Shri Prakash Ji that he claims is the work of anti-cultist Alexander Dvorkin.
Ever since attracting Dvorkin’s attention, he and his family have been the target of a smear campaign, says Guru Ji, culminating in a police raid of his spiritual center and his home in November 2017.
“They searched the center, and they searched my home, where my family was. They are sending fake journalists to my office. People come to me, they pretend to be a follower, and then they film me. Every week they are doing something,” Guru Ji told Newsweek. “I’m starting to wonder how I can live here with my family. There are so many nationalist elements here, and my daughter is going to school, every day we are worried. They call and threaten us, they say I should leave Russia.”
In 2009, the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom’s annual report noted that Dvorkin had been named the chairman of a new government-linked body called the Expert Religious Studies Council, which was given wide powers to investigate religious organizations in Russia.
“The Expert Religious Studies Council’s new chairman, Alexander Dvorkin, is Russia’s most prominent anti-cult activist, and he lacks academic credentials as a religion specialist,” the report notes. “Observers are concerned that under Dvorkin’s leadership, the council may call for the closure of registered as well as unregistered minority religious communities.”
The article points out that Dvorkin’s council maintains close ties to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is also known for its anti-sect activities. It points out that many in Russia say that Dvorkin and his associates have a long track record of targeting religious minorities and have a well-established network of followers and collaborators in governmental and nongovernmental structures throughout Russia.
“Religious freedom in Russia is in a dire state, and we’re concerned about the status of all religious minorities there,” Daniel Mark, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Freedom, told Newsweek. “Alexander Dvorkin is one of a large network of Russian Orthodox activists who have grown considerably in influence over the last 10 years due to the Russian government’s increasing patronage of the Russian Orthodox Church and the government’s Soviet-style concerns about the subversive potential of independent religious groups. These concerns are no justification for violations of religious freedom.”