MOSCOW A Russian court on Wednesday rejected prosecutors' calls to ban the Bhagavad Gita, a case that provoked protests in India, by including it on a list of outlawed literature alongside Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Russia hopes the ruling will dispel outcry in close ally India over the charges by state prosecutors in the Siberian city of Tomsk that a translation of the Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism's most holy books, is hostile to other faiths.
After angry Indian lawmakers forced parliament to adjourn last week demanding the government protect Hindu rights, Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna condemned the case as "patently absurd" and told the body he had raised concerns with senior Russian officials.
Seeking to avert a diplomatic spat, Russia's Foreign Ministry stressed that prosecutors had not attacked the holy book itself but a controversial preface written in 1968 by a founder of the Hare Krishna movement A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada entitled "As It Is". The book was translated into Russian in 1984.
"I repeat this is not about the book per se, but about the unsuccessful translation and the preface written by the author," spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in comments posted on the ministry's website.
A leader of the Hare Krishna community in Tomsk, Ismailov Enver, expressed "relief" over the ruling and told Reuters the group welcomed it as a sign of "possible dialogue with the authorities".
The Bhagavad Gita takes the form of a conversation between Hindu god Krishna and a prince called Arjuna prior to a battle. The book forms a bedrock of the Hindu belief system.
Rights activists say local officials have exploited Russia's vaguely worded law on extremism in recent years to persecute religious groups frowned upon by the dominant Russian Orthodox Church.
Following trials brought by prosecutors across the country, Russia's list of banned literature has grown to more than 1,000 texts including Jehovah's Witness literature and works by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi.
Once a text is banned, its possession is a punishable crime.
Post-Soviet Russia recognises freedom of religion, though some activist worry that right is threatened by the Orthodox Church's growing ties to the state.
The Church has undergone a revival since the fall of the Soviet Union ended decades of repression under Communism and reclaimed a privileged status as one of the country's main traditional faiths.
In the past, it has repeatedly complained that other churches are poaching converts in its territory.
(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Alison Williams)