by Elena Masiuk
Novaia Gazeta, 21 August 2016
Vladimir Riakhovsky, a member of the Council on Human Rights, along with Russian lawyers and legal scholars, has worked out methodological recommendations for religious organizations and believers in connection with the adoption of the "Yarovaya Law."
The "Yarovaya Package," against which more than 100,000 persons left their signatures on the website of the "Russian Public Initiative," is not just criminal liability for encouraging and justifying extremism on social networks, aiding terrorism, failure to report a crime, and lowering the age of criminal accountability to 14 years. And it is not just inspecting by the Russian postal service of parcels and packages to find weapons and drugs and the obligatory retention of telephone conversations and news media reports for six months. But it is also the struggle against the penetration into Russia of religious preachers of extremist movements who, in the opinion of the authors of the law, create a threat to national security.
--Vladimir Vasilevich, why has the need for explanations arisen?
--Because the so-called "Yarovaya Package," in the part pertaining to missionary activity, was completely unexpected for religious organizations and it evoked among them such a great resonance and all kinds of fears, including even some that have no legal bases to them.
In May, when the Yarovaya and Ozerov draft law was introduced for consideration, it did not have anything at all to do with missionary activity. However by the second and simultaneous third readings, amendments had been introduced into it, including those pertaining to missionary activity. At the same time, no consultations regarding the adoption of the law that substantially restricts the activity of religious organizations had been conducted. These amendments did not go through discussion in the standing Committee on Affairs of Public and Religious Associations. And what is most interesting, the bill was not even published in the data base of the State Duma. On the last day of the State Duma's work, when the deputies adopted approximately 160 laws, they simply were given the amendments to the law on freedom of conscience, which were included in the "Yarovaya Package," on paper.
This was a violation of the rights of religious organizations, which by the law on freedom of conscience (article 8, point 10) are guaranteed participation in discussions in governmental agencies of basic issues regarding the interaction of religious organizations and society. Recently such a means of lawmaking, when amendments are introduced into a law on second and third readings that substantially change the very structure of the law, has now become the norm in the State Duma.
--And why was it necessary to include in the "Yarovaya Law" points about missionary activity? And in such a hurry?
--I would like to draw attention to the title of this law: "Introducing changes into the law on combating terrorism and other legislative acts of the Russian federation for the purpose of establishing additional measures of combating terrorism and guaranteeing public security." No reasonable persons will have objections about the need for additional measures for combating terrorism. And extremism, also, sure. Does religious extremism exist? Yes. Is it necessary to adopt additional measures? Yes, it is necessary. If restrictions on missionary activity pertained only to extremist organizations, then this would be understandable and reasonable, but this pertains to everybody, including the most law-abiding religious organizations. Although representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church said that this is supposedly directed against sectarians and does not affect anybody else. Listen, the law has a formal character. And if it speaks about religious organizations and associations, then it affects absolutely everybody, including the RPTs.
--Your methodological recommendations say that the definition of missionary activity proposed by the parliament involves the convergence of five elements, in the absence of which religious activity cannot be considered to be missionary activity. Legal scholars already have dubbed these points the "Riakhovsky Line." Explain in more detail.
--The concept of "missionary activity" did not exist in the 1997 law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations." It appeared for the first time in the "Yarovaya Package." The constitution (article 28) guarantees to everybody the right of freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession, including the right to disseminate religious and other convictions. That is, there was the concept of the "right to dissemination of religious convictions." It is in accordance with international legal provisions. But now the concept of "missionary activity" has been separated out of this concept.
From what did we proceed in preparing our recommendations?
Indeed, we spoke out against this law. After the Duma adopted it, we issued a conclusion and sent it to Matvienko in the Federation Council; we appealed to Putin, including also from the Council on Human Rights, requesting that he not sign this law, particularly the provisions affecting missionary activity.
The law was written by people who have absolutely no understanding about the nature of religious activity. But it was adopted and took effect. That is, it exists today and above all the letter of this law exists.
The law introduced the concept of missionary activity. This is not at all what, say, Christians or Jews or Muslims understand by evangelism. If one follows Christ's command: "Go and teach all nations," then it is the duty of every Christian to go and teach, go and speak.
But since we now have the letter of the law, then let's proceed from this. Let's learn to live within the conditions of this law without compromising our religious principles. How does it define missionary activity? First of all, "it is activity of a religious association which conducts it either immediately by the religious association itself or by persons who are authorized." This activity is intended to spread the teachings of a specific religious organization. It is activity that is conducted among persons who do not belong to that organization or with the goal of drawing these persons into the activity of this religious organization, and this activity is conducted publically. These are the indicators of "missionary activity," according to the law. That is, if I am talking somewhere, with someone, even in a residence, about my faith or about my church, but I am not authorized by a religious organization—this is not missionary activity.
--But believers will be unlikely to explain the "Riakhovsky Line" to a police officer, who comes to an apartment (for example, because of a neighbor's call). At best the affair will end with an administrative fine.
--I think that the policeman not only will not want, but probably will not even be able to fully understand. Therefore we proceed from the fact that there will be abuses. But it is necessary in the first place to know how to protect one's rights.
In our country, according to the "Yarovaya Law," missionary activity is not permitted only in residences, with the exception of conditions provided by point 2 of article 16 of the law on freedom of conscience, which says that worship services, rituals, and ceremonies are conducted without hindrance in residences. What is this without hindrance? That is, no kind of consent, permission, and the like is required.
--Well, I still do not understand what one can and what one cannot do in a residence. Actually according to one law, one can, but according to the "Yarovaya Law," one cannot.
--But that's how the law is written. It is not permitted, as a general rule. But if it is not a matter of missionary activity, but worship services, rituals, and ceremonies, then it is unhindered. But I agree that this law may be read by different people in different ways. Therefore it is unknown how this will be understood by a police officer.
--In your brochure you write that now even a present of a book can be viewed as missionary activity.
--Perhaps it is missionary activity, or perhaps not. Let's say if I simply as a private individual go out into a public place and I talk to people about my faith and I offer some brochure, then will this be missionary activity? No, it will not be. But if a person who is authorized by a church and in the name of the church talks about religious belief among other persons with the aim of drawing them into the activity of their religious organization and at the same time gives out books or booklets, then this will be missionary activity. (The first victim of the "Yarovaya Law" in late June was a Krishnaite from Karachay-Cherkessia, Vadim Siberev. A resident of Cherkessk, Rashid Zitliauzhev, complained about him to the police; he was displeased that Siberev presented to him and to one other passer-by a book and talked about his faith. Zitliauzhev's statement was taken by the local Center for Combating Extremism, which determined that Siberev was engaged in missionary activity. An administrative case was opened. However the magistrate court of Cherkessk closed the investigation regarding Siberev, since it did not see in his actions indicators of evangelism—E.M.).
--One other point to which you also call attention: "Drawing . . . in participants, members, or followers of a religious association." This is a new concept for Russian law—"followers." How are they defined?
--In the law on public organizations and the law on freedom of conscience there is the concept of "membership," and there is the concept of "participants." But who is a follower, the law does not explain. This is how I understand it. Membership or participation, this is defined somehow, but a follower, this apparently is simply a person who holds to some views. But again this is not legal terminology. Unfortunately, recently our legislature inherently uses wording that does not have legal certainty.
--In your recommendations you give the advice: "Do not voluntarily provide 'aid' to the establishment of the existence of a violation of law, always challenge the actions of inspectors, remember that their rights do not necessarily engender your duties." That is, do you urge not cooperating with the agencies?
--Why do we give the advice not to automatically sign the police report in which you are accused of violating this law? Because by legal practice, if a person who is held to administrative accountability signed a report that he admits committing a certain violation of law, then most likely this will be turned against him, simply because at the time of drawing up the report, you admitted your violation of law.
--Even if later a person renounces the original statements?
--Well, of course. The more so because the law is contradictory and ambiguous. Such a law should not exist at all. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 August 2016)
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