Salvation Army appeals local court decision to high court


Reason for appeal is court decision to destroy 36 copies of the Bible

by Elena Mukhametshina

Vedomosti, 25 May 2017


The Christian organization Salvation Army appealed to the Constitutional Court against points of the law on freedom of conscience and the Code of Administrative Violations of Law, on the basis of which it was penalized for distribution of unidentified materials. In the opinion of the declarers, these rules, introduced by the antiterrorism package of Irina Yarovaya, contradict articles 28 and 55 of the constitution, which guarantee freedom of religious confession and permit restriction of rights and liberties only for protection of the constitutional structure. It is not clear from the law whether all materials must bear identification information that may potentially be distributed in the course of missionary activity, or only those that are being distribution at a specific moment; but law enforcement personnel are applying this rule to all literature that an organization has, says Sergei Chugunov, attorney for the declarers.


The law was adopted for combating terrorism, but it is being extended to religious organizations, which have the status of a legal entity but do not have extremist and terrorist organizations, the declarers emphasize. In addition, the rule provides for confiscation of materials, including sacred books, and the government's order No. 311 of 2003 permits their destruction, if they do not represent cultural value, the appeal says, but religious literature may not have value for a person who does not belong to a given religious organization.


Chugunov said that they had previously submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court in the interests of the Baptist Donald Ossewaard, who was fined 40,000 rubles for missionary activity without registration (he invited citizens to his home for Bible study). "The Constitutional Court refused to evaluate this rule. In this case there is a chance, since it may lead to the destruction of sacred books," the attorney says, adding that another series of appeals to the Constitutional Court is being prepared.


The chairman of the State Duma Committee on Matters of Public and Religious Associations, Sergei Gavrilov, thinks that the law is "exhaustive and sufficiently correct," although it also permits the possibility of diverse interpretations. The director of the legal service of the RPTs, Kseniia Chernega, also suggests that the disputed point of the law is clear and definitive: "Obviously, the prohibition applies to all literature that is being distributed by an organization in the course of missionary activity." At the same time, according to order No. 311, religious literature is not subject to destruction, Chernega is sure: "The court in Vladivostok exceeded its authority; the books should have been confiscated, but not destroyed. But this was the only case, which could hardly serve as a reason for appealing to the Constitution Court."


There is legal uncertainty in the law and appeals against it will continue to be sent to the Constitutional Court, thinks Mikhail Frolov, a lawyer of the Guild of Experts on Religion and Law: "The law is written in such a way that it is impossible for believers to determine the boundaries of their legal conduct. They have done in good faith everything in order to obey this law, but they are being penalized."


Originally, judicial practice regarding evangelism was constructed in their favor, rights advocate Pavel Chikov recalls: "Law enforcers of the Yarovaya Package will have difficulties finding victims. Some groups—Scientologists, Jehovah's Witnesses—have been criminalized and extremism legislation has been extended to them. Other groups have powerful patrons and good legal services, like the Krishnaites. Between these groups there is a layer that also will be prosecuted." The Constitutional Court must share political responsibility for repressive laws, Chikov thinks. "Either it distances itself from the deputies or mitigates the law in one way or another. Considering that such appeals will also go to the European Court of Human Rights, the Constitutional Court will be placed in an awkward position in any case." (tr. by PDS, posted 28 May 2017)

Background articles:
Court orders Salvation Army's literature destroyed
December 28, 2016
Appeal rescues Salvation Army's literature but not the organization itself
January 1, 2017

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