GOVERNMENT SUBMITS TO STATE DUMA AMENDMENTS TO LAW "ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS"
SOVA Center for News and Analysis, 22 July 2020
A draft bill of the Ministry of Justice was introduced to the State Duma; in the event of its adoption, religious groups will have to submit notifications more often and clergy studying abroad will have to undergo certification in Russia.
On 21 July 2020, the government of Russia sent to the State Duma a draft law on introducing changes into the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations."
It is proposed to make the following amendments to the law:
To indicate that the state does not interfere in the activity of religious associations "if it does not violate the legislation of the Russian Federation" (the current version states if "it does not violate the present federal law").
To indicate that the following cannot be a leader and participant of a religious group:
--a foreign citizen or a person without citizenship, regarding whom a decision has been made about the undesirability of staying in the RF;
--a person who is included in the Rosfinmonitoring list of extremists and terrorists;
--a person regarding whom a decision of a court has taken legal effect establishing that his actions contain evidence of extremist activity;
--a natural person whose accounts have been frozen by the Inter-agency Commission on Combating Financing of Terrorism.
Thereby it is suggested to apply already existing requirements on noncommercial organizations, including religious ones, to leaders and members of religious groups.
To establish annual periodic notifications about continuance of the activity of a religious group (at present it is every third year) and also to require in these notifications to provide information similar to information about the beginning of the activity of the group. At the same time, the Ministry of Justice will be required within five days to notify the applicant in writing about receipt and registration of notification about the creation or proposed activity of a group.
To indicate that religious organizations may join, leave, and be removed from a centralized organization if this is consistent with its internal requirements, but a ban on their leaving may be established.
To permit legal entities [juridical persons] created by religious organizations to use in their name information about the religious confession and to forbid its use by all other legal entities.
To determine that in the event of a religious organization's affiliation with a foreign religious organization, its name must be indicated in the charter.
To simplify registration of religious organizations: not to require information about the address of the permanent governing body of the organization and also to require agencies of the Ministry of Justice to independently request a copy of the charter from the founder of the organization, if it is not submitted by the applicant.
To establish that clergy who receive religious education abroad will undergo certification within a Russian religious organization and before beginning work in Russia will receive additional professional education.
To replace throughout the law the term "member" with "participant," and "forms of activity" (which are indicated in charters of religious organizations) with "kinds of activity."
That the Ministry of Justice was preparing such amendments was learned back in 2018. At the time, the change of the word "member" to "participant" evoked concern among a number of believers and lawyers: for Christians the concept "member of the church" is significant. In addition, adoption of the draft bill may create additional bureaucratic difficulties for religious groups (for them the procedure for submitting notifications is complicated) and religious organizations (many of them will have to reregister their charter to comply with the new version of the law).
Finally, the ban on participation in religious groups, including for persons on the Rosfinmonitoring list, is problematic, if not in direct contradiction with the constitutional right of professing a religion jointly with others. Such a restriction of freedom of conscience can hardly be seen as justified, especially in view of the fact that religious groups do not have their own property and consequently their leaders and participants cannot use it for purposes of financing terrorist or extremist activity. Besides, the Rosfinmonitoring list includes not only convicts but also defendants and even suspects on the basis of terrorism and extremism articles. (tr. by PDS, posted 27 August 2020)
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