CHERKESSK CASE. WHY WAS THE FOLLOWER OF THE SOCIETY OF KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS ACQUITTED?
by Roman Lunkin
Religiia i Pravo, 19 August 2016
After the adoption of the Yarovaya Law, it was unclear for a majority of experts how it could be implemented. And if it would be applied at all in practice or whether it had been adopted for effecting some policy in the future (as was the case with the law on combating extremist activity that was adopted in 2002 and the implementation of its provisions took place gradually).
However, in practice everything turned out more primitively. Law enforcement agencies began composing police records about administrative violations in accordance with the Yarovaya Law. The fact is that in contrast with other amendments, which had earlier been introduced into the law on freedom of conscience (in July 2015—regarding notification about their existence for religious groups), the amendments about missionary activity provide sanctions in the form of fines. And in this case law enforcement practice on such cases is much easier to work out.
Two days after the provisions of the Yarovaya Law about evangelism took effect, that is, on 22 July, someone in Cherkessk already knew about the necessity of implementing this law. A follower of the Society of Krishna Consciousness, Vadim Sibirev, at 1:00 in the afternoon, was giving out literature on the street and conversing with passers-by. It is most interesting that Sibirev was not arrested by police on the spot, and his interlocutors did not complain immediately after conversation with him. Several days later a certain Rashid Zitliauzhev addressed a statement to the police and also added photographs to the case. And only after this was Sibirev arrested for questioning. The police officer who composed the police record, A.K. Dzhanturiev, wrote this about the violation of law: "He was giving out literature of a religious nature."
Vadim Sibirev was defended in district court of Cherkessk by attorney Mikhail Frolov. And since the police record did not leave the judge space for maneuver, then the ruling by the magistrate judge of precinct No. 3 of Cherkessk of 15 August 2016 stated, in the main, the arguments of the defense. The judge dismissed the case of Vadim Sibirev and did not find the basic element of a crime in it.
In the ruling it is noted that Sibirev did not engage in missionary activity, and therefore it is impossible to apply to him part 4 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violation of Law of the RF regarding responsibility for conducting such activity in violation of legislation on freedom of conscience. Attorney Mikhail Frolov used as his argument the definition of missionary activity given in point 1 of article 24.1 of the law on freedom of conscience. The first point of this definition says that it is activity of a religious association that is evangelism.
Besides, Vadim Sibirev's statement also had decisive significance that he is not the representative of any religious association. In addition, he was not acting with a goal of involving anybody in any religious association. And this also "does not permit categorizing his activity as missionary," the ruling of the magistrate judge says.
From the start, the policeman thought that he simply was violating the law on freedom of conscience. During the judicial proceedings he said that he violated point 2 of article 24.1 of the law on freedom of conscience, which establishes where one may conduct missionary activity. However it turned out to be impossible to prove that it was missionary activity that Sibirev was conducting.
It is extremely important that the judge emphasized, following the defense, that a ban on distributing religious literature in Russia has not been legislatively established. And the follower of the Society of Krishna Consciousness was exercising his personal right to disseminate religious views on the basis of article 28 of the constitution of the RF.
Commenting on the Cherkessk case, Vladimir Riakhovsky, a member of the Council of Human Rights, emphasized that rights advocates have warned about possible arbitrariness in application of the Yarovaya Law. Moreover it should be noted that the arrest of the first believer occurred just two days after the notorious law took effect. Vladimir Riakhovsky said that certainly what happened is evidence of the ignorance of personnel of law enforcement agencies. The police officer, instead of reading the law on freedom of conscience, simply arbitrarily drew up a police record. However to a certain degree this saved the follower of the Society of Krishna Consciousness from punishment, since the police record contains nothing about missionary activity. The judge relied in the main on arguments of the defense attorney, Mikhail Frolov, drawing the conclusion that actions of a believer are not missionary activity. However there is not any kind of analysis in the ruling. Apart from that, Vladimir Riakhovsky said, the judge de facto reasoned that if an individual who is not related to an organization and is not authorized by it is distributing literature, then this is not missionary activity in accordance with the convergence of indicators.
No matter how the courts have defined missionary activity, the first case based on the Yarovaya Law has already shown that there may be an innumerable mass of diverse variations of the application of the norms of the law on evangelism. And it is good that in this case the court did not want to try to examine the literature being distributed and to establish a link between the defendant and one or another society. The source of provocation may be vigilant citizens or people who specifically look after those whom they consider "sectarians." And police personnel will, by default, consider any manifestation of religious activity in the public space to be violation of the law. I am not sure that this is explained merely by ignorance (there are few police who have read the law on freedom of conscience), since that is the way the Yarovaya Law in written. It is accusatory in spirit. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 August 2016)
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