RUSSIA RELIGION NEWS

STETSON UNIVERSITY

Monitoring news media reports about religion in Russia and other countries of CIS 
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Russia Religion News Current News Items

Jehovah's Witnesses win federal level appeal

ARBITRATION COURT FINDS BAN OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES' MAGAZINES ILLEGAL
Portal-credo.ru, 11 November 2011

On 6 October the Arbitration Court of Moscow found illegal the orders of the Federal Service of Supervision in the Sphere of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Communication (Roskomnadzor) of 26 April and 18 May 2010 rescinding permissions for the distribution on the territory of Russia of the magazines "Awake!" and "Watchtower." Roskomnadzor had cited a decision finding the materials of these publications to be extremist and including them in the federal list of extremist materials, the Russian Agency of Legal and Judicial Information reports.

Jehovah's Witnesses challenged Roskomnadzor's decision in courts of three instances. The Arbitration Court of Moscow in October 2010 rejected the suit regarding the illegality of Roskomnadzor's orders, finding that the activity of the claimant was not entrepreneurial. However the federal arbitration court of the Moscow district found that the courts' conclusion that the plaintiff was not conducting economic activity was made without taking account of all conclusions and evidence and it sent the case for a new review.  (tr. by PDS, posted 11 October 2011)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Unregistered Baptists object to proposed law changes

BAPTISTS (INITSIATIVNIKI) APPEAL TO RUSSIAN PRESIDENT REQUESTING REJECTION OF DRAFT LAW OF MINISTRY OF JUSTICE RESTRICTING FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Portal-credo.ru, 10 October 2011

Moscow Evangelical Christians-Baptists (Initsiativniki) expressed in a letter to the president of the Russian federation their concern over the contents of a draft of amendments to the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious association," which was prepared by the Russian Ministry of Justice, a Portal-credo.ru correspondent reports.

In particular, the draft law eliminates the concept of a religious group, which in existing law is defined as "a voluntary association of citizens formed for the purpose of joint confession and dissemination of faith, which conducts activity without state registration and the acquiring of the legal status of juridical person. . . . Religious groups have the right to conduct worship services and other religious rites and ceremonies and also to conduct teaching of religion and the religious education of their adherents" (federal law of 26 September 1997, "On freedom of conscience and religious associations," art. 7, points 1,3).

"Thus, according to the draft law, jointly to confess and disseminate faith and 'to conduct worship services and other religious rites and ceremonies and also to conduct teaching of religion and the religious education of their adherents,' that is, to enjoy the right to freedom of conscience and religious confession will be a right possessed only by those citizens who are members of registered religious associations. All other citizens will be deprived of this right," the letter says.

In the believers' opinion, "this violates the constitution of RF which declares: 'everyone is guaranteed freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession, including the right to confess individually or jointly with others any religion or not to confess any, freely to choose, have, and disseminate religious and other convictions and to act in accordance with them" (Constitution of RF, art. 28). That is, the constitution of RF guarantees the right to freedom of conscience to every citizen independently of his membership in a registered religious association."

The authors of the letter also declare that "such registration contradicts the biblical principle: 'render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.' Christians as citizens of the state acknowledge the state's authority and observe the state's laws, but in questions of faith, conscience, morality, and service to God we may be guided only by God's commandments. Therefore for Christians who wish to obey the commandments of Jesus Christ in everything, such registration is unacceptable."

The believers express the fear that in the event of the adoption of the proposed amendments, the authorities will illegally require citizens who wish to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of conscience to join a registered religious association, and the unregistered EKhB churches will be placed outside the law. Thus the adoption of the amendments proposed in this draft law will lead to the denial to citizens of RF one of the basic human rights, the right to freedom of conscience and religious confession and, as a result, to repressions and persecutions with respect to peaceful believing citizens and to a worsening of conditions in society and the creation of a totalitarian regime in the state.

The letter also says that "in proposing the amendments imposing on the church control on the part of the state and preventing the free confession of faith, the composers of the draft law in effect are trying to deprive Jesus Christ of the right to be head of the church (Bible, Epistle to the Ephesians 1:22) and to transfer this right to the state. The adoption of such laws is a sin against God and a violation of the order established by him. The Lord Jesus Christ gave his life in order to give those who believe in him forgiveness of sins and eternal life; the church must obey him and fulfill his commandments, and nobody has been given the right to encroach upon his place and authority in the church."

The letter ends with a request to turn down the discriminatory amendments proposed in the draft law and to take measures for preserving the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and religious confession.  (tr. by PDS, posted 11 October 2011)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Rights advocates criticize proposed restriction on religious activity

ALL RELIGIOUS GROUPS MAY BE LIQUIDATED IN RUSSIA
Appeal of the Guild of Experts on Religion and Law to clergy and believers regarding amendments to federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations"

Brothers and Sisters,

On 5 October 2011 there was posted on the web site of the Ministry of Justice of RF a draft of a federal law of the Russian federation "On introducing changed in the federal law 'On freedom of conscience and religions associations.'" This is the first serious attempt by agencies of justice to change radically the currently existing law on freedom of conscience of 1997. Previously the Ministry of Justice has proposed a draft of a separate law on regulating evangelistic activity, but it was renounced by all religious associations. However in essence a tightening of regulations on evangelistic activity within the framework of yet another law may be the next step after revolutionary changes in the law on freedom of conscience.

The draft of the amendments of the Ministry of Justice of RF in the law on freedom of conscience makes the following corrections in the life of religious associations and believers:

1. Comprehensive religious activity will be impossible within the framework of a religious group; the very concept of a religious group is being eliminated from the law.

Everyone will be required to be registered, and any other forms of religious activity—meetings of a religious group in a home without registration, and especially evangelistic activity or teaching religion to believers—will be considered illegal. The natural possible consequences of the amendments to the law are fines for the activity of a religious association without registration and, as a result, liability to criminal responsibility.

2.  At the time of registration, all associations will pass through a filter of a religious studies expert analysis (the Council for Conducting State Religious Studies Expert Analysis in the Ministry of Justice is headed by the "sect-fighter" Alexander Dvorkin).

The law on freedom of conscience will contain a separate chapter devoted to state religious studies expert analysis, raising its status and authority. Decisions of the experts will be the basis for refusing registration.

3.  Believers and congregations and their literature will be examined for extremism with doubled energy.

The amendments emphasize the importance of applying the law "On combating extremist activity" to religious associations. On the basis of this law, as is now especially noted, "a religious organization may be liquidated and the activity of the religious organization may be curtailed and prohibited."

4. A discriminatory ten-year period will be introduced for organizations that cannot establish their membership in a centralized religious organization.

Such organizations do not have the right to create their own educational institutions, or the right to invite foreign preachers, or the right to form a centralized organization, or the right to teach religion to their children in general education schools extracurricularly, or the right to evangelize in prisons and social institutions, etc.

The Guild of Experts on Religion and Law is concerned at the appearance of such amendments and it appeals to all believers and leaders of religious associations to stand up in defense of freedom of conscience in Russia.

We will collect all letters, suggestions, and appeals of citizens and churches and publish them on our "Religiia I pravo" portal (address: info@religionip.ru). The president of Russia, the prime minister, the Ministry of Justice, the central news media, and society as a whole must hear the voice of believers.

Prosecution of any religious activity without registration and the expansion of possibilities for arbitrariness through expert analysis and examination for extremism places Russia among those states that violate religious liberty and their own constitution and sets itself in opposition to international norms and standards in the area of freedom of religion and convictions.

Roman Lunkin, president of Guild of Experts on Religion and Law

Inna Zagrevina, chairman of Board of Directors of Guild of Experts on Religion and Law

(tr. by PDS, posted 11 October 2011)

Russian original posted on "Portal-credo.ru" site, 10 October 2011

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Russian government tries to prohibit free religious activity

RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF JUSTICE HAS PRODUCED DRAFT LAW SUBSTANTIALLY RESTRICTING RIGHTS OF UNREGISTERED RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS
Portal-credo.ru, 7 October 2011

Soon in Russia only officially registered religious associations will be able to teach religious doctrines to their adherents. And only a religious organization that is a member of a centralized religious association will be able to publish books and teach children in Sunday schools. As "Gazeta.ru" reports, such amendments to the law on freedom of conscience of 1997 have been proposed by the Ministry of Justice of RF and have been found to be discriminatory by Russian rights advocates and competent international organizations (several provisions of this law have been eliminated by the Constitutional Court of the Russian federation).

The text of the draft law was published by the Ministry of Justice on 6 October. It specifically contains a prohibition of religious associations that have not been registered with a territorial office of the Ministry of Justice (in existing law they are called "religious groups") for engagement in religious activity and conduct of services.

According to the amendments, citizens who have decided to form a religious group will have to inform the Ministry of Justice in writing even if they do not intend in the future (after 15 years as existing law provides) to register and to acquire the status of legal entity (juridical person). The only religious group that will be able to be registered is one with no fewer than ten persons and that has submitted a charter and passed a state religious studies expert analysis. At the same time the state retains the right to refuse registration of such an association on the basis of a whole series of instances—in particular, if its "goals and activity" violate the constitution and Russian legislation generally, and "if the organization is not recognized as religious in accordance with established procedure."

The draft law eliminates the fifteen-year period that is required for registration of newly created religious organizations that are not members of centralized religious organizations.

Existing law divides religious associations into organizations and groups. Religious groups may operate without registration and they have the right to worship in private apartments and teach religion to their members. The document proposed by the Ministry of Justice effectively eliminates the very concept of a religious group operating without governmental registration.

As the expert from the Institute of Human Rights, Lev Levinson, explained in a conversation with "Gazeta.ru," newly created religious structures will be required to be registered as local organizations, if they are not a part of centralized organizations like, for example, parishes of RPTsMP.  "At the same time, for a period of ten years they will not have the right to create educational institutions and Sunday schools, or to invite foreign citizens for professional purposes, or to open foreign representations, or to conduct religious ceremonies in hospitals, prisons, and boarding schools, or to publish and distribute religious literature or create news media," the rights advocate explained.  All these things will be able to be done only by those religious organizations that are members of a centralized structure. In Levinson's opinion, this will make any alternative religious movement impossible:  "It turns out that religious and spiritual development will be banned."

Levinson thinks that the draft law effectively protects large church structures from schisms and it is they who will primarily be pleased with the law.  "I would not rule out that this draft law was made with the participation or with lobbying of religious confessions who are trying thereby to resolve their own internal problems or conflicts," an "Agora" analyst, Ramil Akhmettaliev, concurs with Levinson. "So far as I understand it, this is also pleasing to the state. This makes it convenient for it to communicate with religious persons. Through the center. This is the vertical of power, transferred to religious organizations."

In Akhmettaliev's opinion, the draft law proposes to restrict the right of freedom of religious confession. In addition, thanks to it centralized religious organizations, such as for example RPTsMP, will be able to establish control over regional religious organizations.

"This will create barriers for the existence of local organizations that do not agree with the policies of the large centralized associations. This applies to all confessions. Such a trend was evident long ago. This position of the Ministry of Justice has already been existing in practice. We have received complaints from local organizations who wanted to exit from large organizations and have tried to register, and everything came down to the fact that either you remain under the roof of the centralized organization or we will refuse you," the rights advocate explained. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 October 2011)


"CONSCIENCE IS FREED FROM ASSOCIATIONS. MINISTRY OF JUSTICE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO LAW TOUGHENING REQUIREMENTS ON RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS"
by Andrei Melnikov
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 7 October 2011

The Russian Ministry of Justice published a draft of amendments to the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." The draft is available for study on the Web site of the ministry. Until 10 October citizens will be able to discuss the document. Experts have noted a trend toward greater regulation of religious associations and restriction of free confession of faith.

An analysis of the proposed amendments reveals several substantive innovations. The concept of a religious group has been eliminated, that is, an association of people on the basis of a single religious confession; groups have not been required to have governmental registration. Thus the principle of the functioning of religious associations will change from an informational basis to one of strict authorization. At the same time, the list of reasons for which an organization can be denied registration has been expanded. According to existing law, groups of three to ten persons may assemble for confession, preaching, and worship without applying for registration but merely informing a state office of their existence.

The requirements for centralization of associations have been further intensified. Local religious organizations that have not established the fact of their membership in centralized organizations are restricted in their rights, including the right of creating educational institutions. In addition, the requirement of a state religious studies expert analysis has been instituted. Finally, the role of registration agencies has been strengthened.  Apparently it is being proposed that decisions with regard to the activity of one or another association will be made not on the basis of governmental action but as administrative actions of the Ministry of Justice, which makes the decision regarding registration, and of the taxation service, which maintains the register of legal entities. However there are no precise formulations in the document and one can only guess what the authors of the amendments have in mind on this particular point.

Mikhail Odintsov, the head of the Department for Protection of Freedom of Conscience of the apparatus of the Plenipotentiary for Human Rights of RF, identified in the proposals of the Ministry of Justice several changes that refine the wording. Although regarding the rest the expert had several comments. In his opinion, the law should reflect current practice of legal relations, but these additions eliminate from the legal field religious groups, which today constitute 20 to 30% of religious associations. Odintsov recalled that even soviet legislation contained the provision for religious groups, although it required their compulsory registration. In addition, the expert noted, the standard for conducting a state religious studies expert analysis is not prescribed sufficiently clearly. "Who will conduct the expert analysis? How? Within what period of time?"—such questions remained with the expert after he studied the document. "The word 'association' should be removed from the title of this law and be replaced by the word 'organization,' Odintsov added.

"The essence of the draft law is to create new impediments for the activity of associations of 'nontraditional' religions," thinks State Councilor First Class Andrei Sebentsov. "Elimination of religious groups from the law effectively creates a situation of a ban on religious activity without registration, and the remaining proposals violate so much the spirit of decisions of the European Court for Human Rights that it is simply amazing how much we (in the person of the Ministry of Justice) are managing to create precedents for worsening the problems in the guise of solving them," the expert concluded.

It is interesting that almost immediately after the publication of the draft law there appeared the news that the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of the European Part of Russia (Moscow muftiat) filed suit in the Abitration Court of the capital for finding the registration of the Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of Moscow and the Central Region of Russia (Moscow muftiate) to be illegal. In the opinion of the former board, the borrowing of a part of the title is a violation of the law and is not in accord with the requirements of the law on the procedure for registration of centralized religious organizations. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 October 2011)

Russian original posted on site of Interfax-Religiia, 7 October 2011


Russia Religion News Current News Items
If material is quoted, please give credit to the publication from which it came.

It is not necessary to credit this Web page. If material is transmitted electronically, please include reference to the URL, http://www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/.