Critics of anti-evangelism law propose interpretations


The Public Chamber of the Russian federation will work out instructions for applying standards on missionary activity

by Olga Nikitina

Kommersant, 21 September 2016


The part of the "Yarovaya Package" that regulates missionary activity needs additional instructions on its implementation, the Public Chamber of the Russian federation thinks. Representatives of religious organizations state that in the two months of the law's working, dozens of precedents when law enforcement agencies have given an incorrect assessment of the actions of citizens have accumulated, by arresting them for "missionary activity.  The office of the prosecutor general considers the chamber's conclusions to be premature for now.


On Tuesday a hearing was held in the Public Chamber on the question of the practice of enforcement of the federal law "On introducing changes into the federal law 'On combating terrorism' and individual legislative acts of the Russian federation for establishing additional measures of combating terrorism and guaranteeing public security" with respect to missionary activity. Members of the Public Chamber and representatives of religious organizations again focused their attention on shortcomings of the law regulating missionary activity and urged the working out of methodological recommendations and of clarification of the wording of the law for law enforcers. "In two months there already are nine precedents that we characterize as the practice of law enforcement in the sphere of interpretation and implementation of the amendments to the law on freedom of conscience and another number of laws," Bishop Konstantin Bendas, the first deputy of the ruling bishop administering the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), declared. Mr. Bendas said that the last of such cases occurred a few days ago in Kaluga, where three foreign citizens with tourist visas were in attendance for a celebration in the church. They were arrested and fined 3,000 rubles each, without deportation, with the wording "establishing illegal religious contacts." "What this means, I do not know, and nobody knows, and the law does not provide an answer," Konstantin Bendas reported. He also noted that the amendments on missionary activity equate evangelism with extremism and terrorism to some extent.


The deputy director of the Chief Directorate for Combating Extremism of the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs], Vladimir Makarov, stated that "those persons whose activity is not aimed against our people and our motherland have nothing to fear," and he noted the value of the law: "In our country not long ago if someone wanted something then he spoke, and we recall well what that led to. Thirty-seven hundred of our people are already in the IGIL ("Islamic State," an organization banned in Russia—Kommersant), and more than 200 (of those who returned—Kommersant) have already been convicted. This also is the result of missionary activity of particular comrades."


Vsevolod Chaplin, a member of the Public Chamber, also spoke in favor of the law. "Today war is being conducted not only on the field of battle, but also on a unified field. Such dangers as conspiracies, coups, and the so-called color revolutions may be conducted through religious channels, among others."


Several Public Chamber members recalled, not without regret, the precedent of a court decision of acquittal. Vadim Sibirev became one of the first to be accused of violation of the law on freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession, and on religious associations (article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law) because the young man discussed religion (Vishnaism) on one of the streets of Cherkessk, but he was not punished. "One should figure it out; in Cherkessk, in a Cossack city! It is all the same as if someone began engaging in the dissemination and agitation of Islam beside the Wailing Wall," Archpriest Alexander Pelin declared. (Cherkessk is the capital of the Karachay-Cherkess republic, of which the majority of the population consists of Muslims.) The amendments pertaining to evangelism themselves Mr. Pelin calls mild, but he also sees the necessity of developing instructions on their implementation and also of the creation of professional standards for specialists in religious and inter-ethnic relations: "It is entirely insufficient to prepare a letter with recommendations. It will be sent to some comrade and who has taught him to understand it?" According to Alexander Nenashev, the deputy director of the Directorate for Strengthening National Unity and Preventing Extremism on Ethnic and Religious Grounds of the Federal Agency for Affairs of Nationalities, a draft of new professional standards has already been sent to the Ministry of Labor, in early September.


The lawyers treated with skepticism an initiative for developing methodological recommendations. "The laws do not establish primary concepts. They should be clearly and precisely established by the parliament, because law enforcement agencies will be obedient only to the parliament," maintains the head of the legal service Paraclete, Irina Chepurnaia. "Law enforcers, as a rule, are not guided in practice by any methodological recommendations and clarifications on a level lower than the Constitutional Court."


The prosecutor of the Department of Management of Monitoring  Compliance with Laws on Federal Security, Inter-ethnic Relations, and Combating Extremism and Terrorism of the office of the prosecutor general, Tatiana Lazareva, considers that analyzing the practice of implementation of the law two months after it took effect is premature: "At least a year should go by."


Amendments to the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" that regulate missionary activity were a part of the so-called Yarovaya Package, a collection of amendments introduced by State Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya and Senator Viktor Ozerov, aimed, in the intention of lawmakers, at the strengthening of national security and signed by the president on 7 July. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 September 2016)

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