June 7 (UPI) — The Russian Federal Security Bureau raided a Church of Scientology office in St. Petersburg, calling it an effort to uncover information about religious extremism.
“Searches are being conducted in connection to the criminal case concerning illegal entrepreneurship, incitement to hatred and the establishment of an extremist association,” a source told the Russian news agency, TASS.
The raid comes about one year after the FSB raided several locations in St. Petersburg connected to the Church of Scientology due to allegations of “illegal business dealings.”
The Russian government has previously ruled that, because it is not recognized as a religion, proselytizing is a form of money laundering.
The church, a controversial religious group founded in the United States that is derided by some as a cult, has long been at legal odds with the Russian government.
In 2015, a Moscow court ruled that the group cannot be considered a religion because its name is trademarked in the United States and prohibited it from engaging in its religious activities.
“When decisions like this are handed down, actually everyone loses, and this decision affects not only the Church of Scientology of Moscow. This decision is a sign of disease in the justice system,” the group’s Moscow branch said in a statement.
But the legal entanglements go back even further.
According to court documents from the International Center for Non-Profit Law, the Church of Scientology first opened its doors in Russia in 1994. But in 1998, the Moscow Justice Department required religious organizations to re-register with the government and refused to grant the Church of Scientology its religious organization status.
Since then, there has a steady back and forth of legal pushes between the two entities and the Church of Scientology is now considered an “extremist” group by the Russian government.