Russian president's council on human rights gives explanations of new law


"Religious" part of the "Yarovaya Package" is being interpreted in the regions too broadly

by Ekaterina Trifonova

Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 12 August 2016


The presidential Council for Human Rights distributed recommendations on the legal problems of that part of the "Yarovaya Package" that affects missionary activity. Attorneys specializing in religious organizations warn that discrimination against believers is possible, both intended and also as the result of ignorance on the part of law enforcement personnel. And actually there already is the first case.


In Cherkessk, a Krishnaite was convicted, who after a conversation on the street with people presented to them religious literature. On the basis of a statement by an alert citizen, he was called to account on the basis of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law, for missionary activity in violation of the Yarovaya Package."


It was to the toughening amendments to the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations that the package provides that the police appealed.


The director of the Slavic Legal Center, a member of the Council for Human Rights, Vladimir Riakhovsky, has already presented to religious associations recommendations about how to avoid such accusations. Incidentally, throughout the document runs the thought that spontaneous evangelism conducted by people in a private manner is their constitutional right and is not the object of the new legislation. However, as is evident, some representatives of the government have a different opinion.


Experts actually point out that there are no fundamentally new prohibitions in the "Yarovaya Package," but basic difficulties arise with its interpretation. That pertains both to believers and to law enforcement personnel.


Specialists describe the law as crude: "What occurred is a confluence of factors of  incompetence and haste in adopting a normative legal act." Co-author of the recommendations, attorney Konstantin Andreeev, explained for NG that the "Yarovaya Package" was prepared by people who clearly have a weak understanding of religious activity and it became ambiguous and therefore requires additional explanations. For example, several newly introduced rules contradict already existing rules and even themselves. Andreev declared that lawyers plan to defend their interpretations all the way to the Constitutional Court, hoping that the "religious" part of the "Yarovaya Package" will be, if not completely rescinded, at least corrected.


Andreev said that the manual is a kind of guide where in individual examples the fundamental rights and guarantees of believers in the new legal condition are explained. The recommendations describe what is meant by missionary literature and activity and what unregistered religious groups should do, whether to conduct services in residences and whether to invite foreigners for cooperation.


The document indicates what kinds of actions may be considered evangelistic. This is supposed to be activity specifically of a religious association through authorized persons or directly as a legal entity. "The law does not contain any direct indications of the condition of evangelism for individual citizens," the recommendations say. It is just information about the beliefs of a given association that should be disseminated "and not simply somebody talking about God in general or the Bible in general." At the same time, the belief is supposed to be public and conducted among people who are not members of a given association, and with the concrete goal of enlisting followers in the association. "If there is not a total convergence of these indicators, then the activity cannot be viewed as missionary for the purposes of this law," experts affirm.


Experts of the Slavic Legal Center recognize that the current provisions of the law will be frequently applied to the detriment of believers' rights. There now are already arriving from several regions complaints about prosecutorial actions connected with monitoring religious movements. Here is how the lawyers of the center describe this procedure: "Siloviki bar the entrances and exits of the premises where a worship service is going on and they allow nobody to leave until they receive the personal data of all in attendance." Then there follow demands for presenting lists of members of the organization. If such do not exist, that means (in the opinion of law enforcement) that missionary activity is going on.


Incidentally, yesterday the Constitutional Court recognized for the government the right to require the names of active parishioners. In the court's opinion, including in the minutes of a general meeting of religious organizations a list of the family names of its participants does not violate their right to freedom of religious confession. A suit had been filed by the "Nazareth" Church of Evangelical Christians. It asserted that "disclosure of a list forces the participants of a religious association to disclose their adherence to a specific religious confession," and that violates the constitutional guarantee of a prohibition on compulsion in expressing convictions. However the Constitutional Court did not agree with such an interpretation, although it reminded that state agencies are required to protect the confidentiality of the lists they receive. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 August 2016)

Background article:
Evangelicals lose challenge to requirement to identify members
July 19, 2016

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