(RNS) — Russia has designated two California-based organizations linked to the Church of Scientology as “undesirable,” a move that could formally ban the group.
The Prosecutor General’s Office on Friday (Sept. 24) said the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises International and the Church of Spiritual Technology “pose a threat to the security of the Russian Federation.”
The issue will now be taken up by the Ministry of Justice, which, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, could outlaw the groups under laws governing “undesirable” foreign nongovernmental organizations.
Russian authorities in recent years have gone after the Church of Scientology, ordering the closure of the group’s Moscow branch, according to news reports. The Justice Ministry has also declared some of the group’s literature extremist, Reuters reported.
The government has barred more than 30 groups under a 2015 law that made membership in “undesirable” organizations a criminal offense, the Associated Press reported. In 2017, Russia ruled the religious group Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” and has since sentenced 14 adherents to six or more years of prison.
Scientology was established in 1952 by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction author, and the Church of Scientology has been acknowledged as a religion in the United States since 1993. Scientology is known for its celebrity followers, such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
The church has claimed it has 8 million members worldwide, with about a third of those in the U.S., but many critics have suggested there are between 25,000 and 55,000 active Scientologists.
On Netflix, a docuseries hosted by actress Leah Remini features former Scientology members who share alleged accounts of abuse and harassment by the church.