Christian attorney gives advice for staying on good side of law


by Vladimir Ozolin, attorney

Religiia i Pravo, 1 June 2021


The city of Ulianovsk is renown for the large number of cases connected with holding [persons] administratively accountable for so-called cases of illegal evangelism. I defended a church here for the first time in 2017, and we had to traverse the long path to the Supreme Court in order to prove our position of innocence and to get a decision of acquittal.


The year 2021 has been no exception. In early April, personnel of the Center for Combating Extremism [CCE] of the directorate of the Russian M.V.D. summoned a young man "for conversation," who attends one of the Christian churches; the result of this was the composition against him of an affidavit concerning administrative violation of law. Let's call this young man [molodoi chelovek] citizen "M."


At first, he was charged with violating part 3 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law, for posting on the social network VKontakte an audio recording without an identifying label showing the full official name of a religious organization. But apparently recalling the ruling of the Supreme Court which was issued in just one of my cases in the city of Ulianovsk, which stipulated that the specific party subject to accountability by the aforesaid regulation must only be a religious organization and not a natural person, it was corrected to part 4 of article 5.26 of the code, that is, he was charged with violating the procedure for conducting missionary activity.


However, that accusation still turned out to be preposterous and it was issued literally thus: "On 2 April 2021, at 9:10 a.m., in the city of Ulianovsk, in violation of article 8 of the federal law 'On freedom of conscience and religious association,' specifying that a religious organization must indicate its full official name when conducting activity, according to which literature, printed matter, and audio and video materials produced by a religious organization must have an identifying label with its full official name. It has been established that 171 audio recordings with lectures, sermons, and services were posted by the religious organization of Evangelical Christians by the administrator named 'M' during the conduct of missionary activity, without an identifying label showing the full name of said religious organization, in violation of the requirements of legislation."


But I had thought that such responsibilities required citizens with advanced law education, who could clearly and distinctly lay out the essence of the charges. It turns out I was mistaken.


Even the judge who was reviewing the case did not understand right away just what violation had been committed by citizen M.


The agent of the Center for Combating Extremism also was not able to answer right away any question posed in the judicial session but merely repeated that public calls for missionary activity using social media are forbidden. To my logical inquiry about what requirement of the law makes the activity forbidden, the agent of the CCE tried to find the needed information on his telephone, but he could not do that.


We did not agree with the affidavit and the actions that incriminated citizen M. The actions intended to hold him accountable were illegal, unreasonable, and based on an incorrect understanding of the law. In addition, citizen M had the pertinent authorization for conducting missionary activity, for whose existence the police officers did not bother to inquire about.


After analyzing the position of the defense, the magistrate judge came to the conclusion that M, as a citizen, may bear administrative responsibility under part 4 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law only for conducting missionary activity in the name of a religious organization without having in his possession a document issued by the administrative body of a religious organization confirming his authorization to conduct missionary activity.


Also the official of the CCE accused M, without a basis, in accordance with part 4 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law, of producing, distributing, and posting audio recordings containing lectures, sermons, and services accessible to the public on the social network VKontakte, while conducting missionary activity, without identifying labels indicating the full official name of the religious organization.


Thus, it was not proven that citizen M was guilty of conducting missionary activity in violation of the requirements of legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession, and religious associations.


Proceedings on the case of administrative violation of law were halted because of the lack of elements of an administrative violation of law in the actions of citizen M.


It is important to note that in the majority of such cases it is illegal to hold someone accountable. A timely appeal for qualified legal aid will permit minimizing the risk of being held accountable for alleged illegal actions that personnel of various agencies charge, taking their wish for reality, and will protect the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession guaranteed by law. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 June 2021)

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