NEW RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM STALLED IN RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT

by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service, 5 May 1997

The push to repeal Russia's 1990 law on freedom of conscience is at least temporarily bogged down. Confirming the latest of many postponements, a source in the Duma's committee on religion told Keston News Service on 11 April that there would definitely not be a bill ready for the committee's formal consideration in April, though he was still hoping for one in May. A source in the executive branch thought that the current stalemate would continue for the rest of the year.

While an informal working group convened by the Duma committee has supposedly reached consensus, new amendments continue to be proposed by groups which do not have representatives in the working group - and even by some which do. A group of activists opposing 'totalitarian sects' want to create a new state agency to monitor religious life in Russia, while others fear that this could turn into a new version of the repressive Council for Religious Affairs of the soviet period. Deputies from VLADIMIR ZHIRINOVSKY'S ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party want the law to specify four 'traditional religions' as entitled to special advantages: the Orthodox, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists.

Yet another proposal would radically revamp the procedural rules for registration of churches. It would authorise the secular authorities not merely to analyse the application form and other documents submitted by a new religious group seeking registration, as they already do, but also to mount a police-type investigation into the group's actual activities. One version of this proposal would give the authorities as long as 25 years to decide whether to grant full-fledged registration. (END)