DISCUSSION OF YAROVAYA-OZEROV PACKAGE HELD AT THE PUBLIC CHAMBER
Website of Public Chamber of Russian Federation, 29 June 2016
On 29 June in the Public Chamber of the RF, a round table, "Changes in Legislation on Freedom of Conscience. Contemporary Challenges to the Church," was held (within the context of an academic-practical conference, "Church and State: Challenges of the Present").
The moderator of the event, the chairman of the Commission on Harmonization of Inter-ethnic and Inter-religious Relations, Josif Diskin, noted the relevance of the conference and outlined the challenges that face the state and church in Russia.
"But I want to note that exaggerating the risks is just as dangerous as minimizing them, and it is necessary to be extremely cautious in adopting important decisions and toughening the law," he emphasized.
The basic topic of discussion was the high profile package of antiterrorism laws that were approved on Wednesday by the Federation Council, which in particular introduced into the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" the concept of missionary activity. From now on, missionaries who act in the name of a religious group are required to have in their possession permission of a general meeting of that group granting them authorization. At the same time, foreign missionaries have the right to work only in the name of a specific religious group that invited them. Violators are threatened with a fine of from 5 to 50 thousand rubles, and legal entities, of from 100 thousand to a million rubles. Before adoption of the bill, representatives of the largest religious organizations of the RF expressed concern that the changes will impose restrictions on their activity also.
A member of the Public Chamber, the ruling bishop of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) [ROSKhVE], Sergei Riakhovsky, spoke out with harsh criticism of the Yarovaya package. On the same day he sent an appeal to the chairman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian federation, Valentin Matvienko, requesting that this bill not be approved and suggesting its improvement. At the conference in the Public Chamber, Sergei Riakhovsky emphasized that the bill's suggested measures dealing with regulation of missionary activity introduce a contradiction not only with the constitution of the RF and federal legislation on freedom of conscience but also with Holy Scripture, which obliges every Christian to be a missionary. Even if the "Yarovaya package" is adopted now and approved by the Russian president, "any prohibitions on the preaching of the gospel will be ignored," Riakhovsky declared.
A lawyer from the Slavic Legal Center, Konstantin Andreev, said that the bill under discussion is an attempt to create "religious serfdom." This will be facilitated by the imprecision of the definitions: the concepts of "confession of faith," "spreading," and "evangelism" are intermixed and regulation with respect to missionary activity provides an opening for arbitrary interpretation. The lawyer suggested creating a movement of "Lawyers for Freedom of Conscience," which would unite not only Christian attorneys but also representatives of other religions.
Sergei Riakhovsky, Doctor of Legal Sciences Anatoly Pchelintsev, Alexander Zaluzhny, and Sergei Markovsky also spoke about the need for consolidation of the efforts of attorneys and legal scholars. The last named also noted that the new law, if it is adopted, "will strike a blow to arbitration courts," which he said includes also courts within religious organizations. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 July 2016)
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