MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian prisoners will now be able to study Judaism, state-run media reported Friday, the latest in a string of initiatives to give inmates access to religion.
While Russia’s Orthodox Church is the dominant faith in the country, a seventh of Russia’s 142 million people are Muslims, and Jewish groups say there are around one million Jews.
“This new project clearly demonstrates the increase of cultural relations between the state and believers in Russia,” RIA news agency quoted Rabbi Aaron Gurevich from the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS (FJC) as saying.
Rabbis affiliated with the FJC will soon give lectures on the faith at Moscow’s Butyrka prison, which once housed Soviet-era writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and at the “Sailor’s Rest” jail, also in the capital.
While a third of all Russian inmates are Muslim, it is not clear how many are Jewish.
A Muslim prayer room was opened at Butyrka almost two weeks ago, where a Russian Orthodox Church has operated since 1989.
Russia’s crowded, poorly managed prison system has come under increased scrutiny since the 2009 death of jailed lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The federal prison service says almost half of the inmates are ill, many infected with HIV or tuberculosis.
In a rare admission, the Federal Prison Service said it was partly responsible for Magnitsky’s death, who spent much of his last months in Butyrka, where he was denied medical services.
In what analysts say are attempts to save face, sunbeds have been installed at Butyrka and last month an Internet shop opened for all Moscow prisons, where inmates could order food as well as the Bible and the Koran.
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Maria Golovnina