CAN COMMISSIONER WITHDRAW REGISTRATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES?
Forb [Freedom of Religion and Belief], 3 February 2016
"The commissioner for affairs of religions and nationalities of Belarus, Leonid Guliako, does not rule out the possibility of withdrawing, in the future, the registration of several congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses for violations of legislation." He declared this today at the collegium of the staff of the commissioner for affairs of religions and nationalities of Belarus, a BELTA [Belorussian Telegraph Agency] correspondent reports.
It is possible to suppose that in speaking about "withdrawing registration" the commissioner for affairs of religions and nationalities had in mind the liquidation of religious organizations. If we look at the norms of the law of the republic of Belarus "On freedom of conscience and religious organizations," then we will see that the question of the liquidation of any religious organization cannot be decided by a stroke of a bureaucrat's pen, and even the registering agencies cannot issue a decision on the compulsory liquidation of a religious organization. Of course, a religious organization may be liquidated at its own pleasure, and also on other bases provided by article 23 of the law*.
But as is evident from BELTA's information, at the collegium they were talking about liquidation (withdrawal of registration) because of alleged violations. I make the qualification that they are alleged, inasmuch as in the report there are no specific instances of violations established in a proper form.
Let's turn to the said law and see what it says about the instances where registering agencies may pose the question of the liquidation of a religious organization.
Article 37 of this law provides that "In the event of violation by a religious organization of legislation of the republic of Belarus or conduct of activity violating the charter of the religious organization, the registering agency issues a written allegation which is sent within three days to the administrative body of the religious organization.
"If the violations indicated in the first part of this article are not eliminated within six months or occur repeatedly in the course of a year, the registering agency has the right to submit to a court an application for the liquidation of the religious organization. At the same time, the registering agency has the right to make a decision suspending the activity of the religious organization until the issuance of a judicial decision"
Thus, before a registering agency will send to a court a lawsuit for the liquidation of the religious organization, there must have occurred the following instances and actions:
1) the occurrence of a violation of legislation or conduct of activity contradicting the charter has been established in an appropriate way; this instance must be established by a competent agency and proven by an appropriate document by a procedure defined by law;
2) there must be a written allegation of said incident. Here it should be noted that a religious organization has the right to appeal the written allegation both in a higher agency or in a court. The written allegation may be upheld or overturned.
3) violations indicated in a written allegation have not been eliminated within six months or are committed repeatedly in the course of a year. If they are committed repeatedly in the course of a year, then this must be established in an appropriate way (see point 1). The fact that violations have not been eliminated also must be established/proven. How this may look in practice is another question and requires additional arguments and explanations.
If all the said instances and actions occur completely and all are formulated in proper form, then the registering agency may initiate the liquidation of the religious organization in court.
Article 23 of the law also provides other grounds for the liquidation of a religious organization in court—advocating war or extremist activity; conducting activity involving violation of the rights, freedoms, and legal interests of citizens, as well as the fulfillment by citizens of their civil, social, or family obligations or causing harm to their health and morality; and in other cases provided by legislative acts. The right to file in a court a lawsuit for the liquidation on said bases is possessed by governmental bodies that have the appropriate authorization.
A second point in the BELTA report which attracts attention is the reference to incidents of violation of law provided by Leonid Guliako, which are expressed in distribution of literature of religious contents without appropriate permission from local government agencies. In this case it is not entirely clear what should be the subject of permission from local government agencies and what kind of violations he is talking about. On the basis of the norm of article 26 of the law, it is possible to draw the conclusion that in a certain sense "permission" is provided with respect to religious literature that is imported into the republic of Belarus and other printed, audio, or video materials on which a required state religious studies expert analysis has been conducted. A religious studies expert analysis of these objects may be conducted on the basis of a decision of a republican agency or a state organ on religious affairs. At the same time, the law does not establish other procedures for permission for the distribution of religious literature from local agencies of government.
*NOTE: "Article 23. Liquidation of a religious organization
A religious organization may be liquidated:
by decision of its founders or a body authorized by the charter of the religious organization;
by decision of a court in the event of:
repeated violations within the course of a year of this law, other legislation of the republic of Belarus, or conduct by a religious organization of activity violating its charter;
conducting propaganda of war or extremist activity;
conducting activity involving violation of the rights, freedoms, and legal interests of citizens, and also preventing the fulfillment by citizens of their civil, social, and family obligations or causing hard to their health and morality;
other cases provided by legislative acts.
The agency that registered a religious organization has the right to apply in court for its liquidation, as do also other agencies (or officials) in accordance with legislative acts.
Cases for the liquidation of religious societies that are registered by provincial or Minsk city executive committees are considered by corresponding provincial or Minsk city courts, and for the liquidation of religious organizations that are registered by the republican agency of state administration for religious affairs, by the Supreme Court of the republic of Belarus, if not otherwise provided by legislative acts." (tr. by PDS, posted 8 February 2016)
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