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Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe criticizes implementation of religion law

Resolution 1278 (2002)[1]

1. The new Russian law on religion entered into force on 1 October 1997, replacing and abrogating a 1990 Russian law ­ generally considered very liberal - on the same subject. The new law caused some concern, both as regards its contents and its implementation. Some of these concerns have been addressed, notably through the judgments of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation of 23 November 1999, 13 April 2000 and 7 February 2002, and the re-registration exercise of religious communities on the federal level successfully completed by the Ministry of Justice on 1 January 2001, but other concerns remain.

2. The law itself, while posing an acceptable basis of operation for most religious communities, could still be ameliorated. Although the Russian Constitutional Court has already restricted the application of the so-called "fifteen-year rule", which initially severely limited the rights of religious groups which could not prove their existence on Russian territory for at least fifteen years before the new law entered into force, the total abolition of this rule would be considered as an important improvement of the legislative basis by several of these groups.

3. Most reported problems concern the lack of uniformity in the implementation of the law. While no religious community has alleged systematic discrimination or harassment by the state, in some regions, difficulties plainly persist. One of the reasons mentioned for these difficulties is that some subjects of the Federation have adopted their own laws on religion, which are not always in conformity with the federal law. The Presidential Administration is reportedly looking into this problem.

4. Another problem seems to be posed by local officials, who, in certain cases (but not systematically), discriminate against or harass certain religious communities, in particular faiths which are in a minority in a certain locality. Sometimes a preferential attitude by local officials is displayed towards the Russian Orthodox Church, and other religious communities are obliged by these officials to obtain the agreement of the local representative of the Orthodox Church before they can realise their projects (such as the renting/building of a church or mosque). Sometimes complaints by religious communities filed with the competent authorities, such as the prosecutor’s office in the case of physical attacks or church torchings, are not followed up, and the communities in question are forced to take their complaints to court themselves.

5. Moreover, some regional and local departments of the Ministry of Justice have refused to (re)register certain religious communities, despite their registration at the federal level. The federal Ministry of Justice does not seem to be in a position to control these regional and local departments in accordance with the requirements of the rule of law, preferring to force religious communities to fight these local departments over registration in the courts, rather than taking remedial action within the Ministry. The case of the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army deserves particular attention in this respect, and should lead to an internal disciplinary inquiry by the federal Ministry of Justice into the workings of its Moscow department. The Moscow Department of Justice tried to close down this branch of the Salvation Army (despite federal registration), for allegedly failing to re-register by the law’s deadline. The Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the Salvation Army on 7 February 2002.

6. Therefore, the Assembly recommends to the Russian authorities that:

i. the law on religion be more uniformly applied throughout the Russian Federation, ending unjustified regional and local discrimination of certain religious communities, and local officials’ preferential treatment of the Russian Orthodox Church, and in particular their insisting in certain districts that religious organisations obtain prior agreement for their activities from the Russian Orthodox Church;

ii. the federal Ministry of Justice become more pro-active in resolving disputes between its local/regional officials and religious organisations, before disputes are brought before the courts, by taking remedial action within the Ministry in case of corruption and/or incorrect implementation of the law on religion, thus rendering it unnecessary to take such cases to the courts;

iii. when the courts close down a religious community in conformity with the law on religion, no property be forfeited until all legal avenues have been exhausted (including national and international judicial appeal mechanisms);

iv. in cases of differences between local authorities and other officials and religious communities within the Russian Federation, an independent, non-judicial control body be established on which religious communities would be represented, with a view to mediating, and resolving problems;

v. the current project being considered in the Russian Parliament for the setting up of an alternative civilian service to military conscription should be accelerated in order to offer an alternative to citizens whose religious convictions forbid them to do military service;

vi. as regards state media, religions are guaranteed regular air time.

7. The Assembly further calls on the authorities of the Russian Federation to take into account the principles contained in Recommendations 1396 (1999) on religion and democracy and 1412 (1999) on illegal activities of sects when dealing with issues concerning religion.

[1] Assembly debate on 23 April 2002 (10th Sitting) (see Doc. 9393, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, rapporteur: Mr McNamara, Doc. 9407, opinion of the Political Affairs Committee, rapporteur: Mrs Gatterer and Doc. 9409, opinion of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education, rapporteur: Mr Roseta). Text adopted by the Assembly on 23 April 2002 (11th Sitting).
(posted 2 May 2002)

Moscow court rules against Moscow government's restriction of minority religion

Associated Press, 1 May 2002

The Church of Scientology has won a ruling in a Moscow court preventing authorities from using a widely criticized religion law to stop the group from registering, church officials said Wednesday.

The ruling draws on a Constitutional Court decision this year over the same 1997 law in a case involving the Salvation Army, which also had been targeted for liquidation. In a one-day trial Tuesday in a Moscow district court, judges used the Salvation Army verdict to argue that liquidating a religious organization that doesn't pose a threat to public order is a violation of freedom of religion, the church said.

Leisa Goodman, human rights director for the Church of Scientology, said by telephone from Los Angeles that the ruling "opens the door not only to scientology but to thousands of other religions."

The religion law, championed by the dominant Russian Orthodox Church, requires all religious groups to register with Russian authorities. Several groups, particularly foreign-based ones, have met with legal troubles since its passage and say it limits religious freedoms Russia that were won with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Church of Scientology said it has tried to register eight times since 1998, but was either ignored or met with refusals. In Russia, the church has 200,000 members and 73 centers.

Authorities have 10 days to appeal the ruling to a higher court, Goodman said. (posted 2 May 2002)

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European criticism of Russia unbalanced

Mir religii, 29 April 2002

The Moscow patriarchate made a critical assessment of the resolution of the April Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that accuses the governments of a number of Russian regions of preferential relations toward the Russian Orthodox church, "Interfax" reports.

"The words to the effect that bureaucrats in the countryside, as the document says, display preference to the Orthodox church and supposedly insist that other religious organizations obtain from it permission for their activity evoke amazement," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the vice chairman of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, stated today in an interview with the agency.  He said, "actually this is not done and the authorities, including those in the countryside, as a rule organize their relations with one or another religious organization independently."

At the same time, the representative of the church noted, "it is still necessary to have in view that the authorities should heed the opinion of the majority of the population. If the majority professes the Orthodox faith and, for example, in some city the Orthodox believers oppose the building around the corner from where they live of, let's say, a Catholic church which would be just about the tallest building in the city, then the authorities are obligated to pay attention to this opinion."

In passing, Vsevolod Chaplin recalled that "in the majority of countries of Europe preference is given to one or another religious organization not only at the level of local government, as the PACE resolution discusses, but on the levels of the constitution and legislation, and so on."

Thus, the priest added, "if one says that in our country preference has been shown to the Orthodox church, then PACE would be obligated to raise still more serious charges against, say, England, where the Anglican church is a state church, or against Greece, where the position of the Orthodox church is specifically written into the constitution, or against the majority of European countries where the church receives enormous financial support from the state." However, Vsevolod Chaplin noted, "this has been done on a selective basis; that is, by no means against everybody and by no means on an equal basis." (tr. by PDS, posted 2 May 2002)

by Olga Kostromina
ITAR-TASS, 1 May 2002

Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexy II on Tuesday denied accusations by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that the Russian Orthodox Church is seeking to get back the status of national religion.

According to the Orthodox Encyclopedia's web site, the patriarch emphasized that "these PACE statements are groundless. The Church should be separate from the state, in order to have the right of moral position to judge what happens in the country and the society."

"Over the past decades, the Russian Orthodox Church has repeatedly criticized the authorities.. The separation of the church from the state does not at all mean its separation from the society and people. The society and people make up the backbone of our church," the patriarch stressed. (posted 2 May 2002)

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Demonstrations against Catholics to be Sunday

Catholic dioceses equated to foreign military bases
by Ivan Balashov,
Vek, 26 April 2002

Next Sunday the People's Party of Russia with the support of the Union of Orthodox Citizens (SPG) plans to conduct an action in support of Russian statehood, the Russian Orthodox church, and other traditional confessions. Processions of the cross and prayer vigils will be conducted in thirty cities of the country. Demonstration participants intend, inter alia, to condemn the Roman Catholic church decree on establishing a metropolia and four dioceses in Russia.

In the opinion of the leader of the People's Party, Gennady Raikov, the Vatican's decision is one of the threats to Russian statehood. He considers it to be a phenomenon of the same order as the deployment of foreign military bases around Russia in a number of republics of the CIS under the pretense of conducting an antiterrorist operation. A joint declaration of SPG and the People's Party says that "the expansion of the mission of the Roman Catholic church in Russia is more disturbing in that it is being done against the background of clear pressure on Russia from the West." Literally a few days ago delegates of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a memorandum in which they declared that the Russian government "has permitted the Russian Orthodox church to play a special, dominant role in the social and political life of the country."

Nevertheless, as the paresident of the Union of Orthodox Citizens, Valentin Lebedev, told a "Vek" reporter, the response of the participants in the upcoming action to the western critics will be strictly peaceful. "We wish to stress that under no circumstance do we intend to take recourse to methods which have been used by our Catholic opponents:  administrative pressure, physical violence, and political terror. Although there is an example--the destruction by Uniates (Catholics using the Orthodox rite) of several Orthodox dioceses in western Ukraine."

--"To what extent does it seem that the goal of your demonstrations is not only a protest against Catholicism?"

--"We intend to remind Russian citizens that the preservation of faith and traditions is a vitally important matter and that Orthodoxy for us is not merely a 'national custom,' but a force that can conceive, revive, and transform political, social, and personal life.  We do not ask of the government that it restrict Russian Catholics, but we can and must demand effective support of the Russian Orthodox church. The Vatican should guarantee that its financial aid will not be used to the detriment of the Orthodox majority. Resistance to the unrestricted spiritual expansion from abroad, including Catholic expansion, is a necessary condition for the preservation and development of our own culture. There will be nobody to preserve and develop it for us.

"I would call special attention to the situation regarding the Russian Orthodox church. It is the object of a very real war. For example, in the Volga region we see violations of the rights of Orthodox citizens. These include the burning of a chapel in Naberezhnye Chelny, the ban on the construction of the church of the Nativity in this city, refusal to  restore to the church the noteworthy Annunciation cathedral of the Kazan kremlin, and many others. We spoke before of the political support from the Vatican to anti-Russian forces in Ukraine. Where are the guarantees that having strengthened its position in Siberia Catholicism will not begin propaganda for Siberian separatism in the manner of the Ukraine scenario? After all, the Catholic bishop of eastern Siberia already has the title bishop of Karafuto, as southern Sakhalin is called in Japanese. To call attention to this is another goal of our action." (tr. by PDS, posted 26 April 2006)

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Leftist politician attacks Catholics

Religiia v Rossii, 26 April 2002

The head of the republic of Altai, the leader of the Agrarian Party of Russia, Mikhail Lapshin, banned the construction of a Catholic church in the vicinity of Teletsky lake. As Mikhail Lapshin said at a press conference on Wednesday in Moscow, he suggested to the initiators of construction that they revive discussion of this topic when "the pope of Rome and the patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus are reconciled."

In addition, Mikhail Lapshin noted that he would not want for Catholics to come into their region and begin "abusing minors, as in America." The leader of the Agrarian Party stressed that the period of evangelism had passed and he recalled that such traditional religions as Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, and a small Jewish community exist in the republic. This was reported by the "" site. (tr. by PDS, posted 26 April 2002)

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Deputy's attempt to defend Catholics rebuffed

Religiia v Rossii, 26 April 2002

State Duma deputies refused to discuss the question of the situation of the Catholic church in Russia. As "Ekho Moskvy" reports, the majority of deputies voted against the suggestion to investigate this question.

Union of Right Forces deputy Vladimir Semenov maintained that Catholics are being hounded in Russia. However the head of the International Committee, Dmitry Rogozin, declared to deputies that there are no restrictions on Catholics in Russia whatsoever.

Moreover, according to Rogozin, the number of Catholic churches in Russia has increased every year and an attempt to inflame the question about the Catholics' situation in an artificial manner "will harm our national interests." (tr. by PDS, posted 26 April 2002)

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