Russia replies to ECHR regarding appeal of Russian Evangelical


by Natalia Demchenko

RBK, 4 July 2017


In response to an inquiry from the European Court of Human Rights, Russia confirmed its position according to which collective reading of the Bible in a cafe must be agreed with authorities. The Ministry of Justice explains this as necessary to guarantee the safety of the event.


Reading the Bible in a café must be agreed with authorities inasmuch as this is necessary to ensure the safety of citizens, both participants in the proclamation and bystanders. This was stated in an official answer to an inquiry by the ECHR regarding an appeal by a leader of a group of Evangelical Christians, Aleksei Koliasnikov, who in 2014 was fined in Sochi for conducting "a public event" without  permission, Vedomosti reports. The document was signed by the commissioner at the ECHR, deputy minister of justice Mikhail Galperin.


The "public event" for the arranging of which Koliasnikov was fined in 2014 was a group reading of the Bible in a café without preliminary agreement with authorities. The meeting of Evangelicals was dispersed by the police and a police report was drawn up for Koliasnikov himself for failure to notify authorities about the public event.


According to the Vedomosti report, Koliasnikov turned to the Strasbourg court in March 2017. In his appeal, the leader of the group of Evangelicals noted that he and his fellow believers did not disrupt public order, did not create a threat and inconvenience to bystanders, and were within premises that they occupied on a legal basis.


However according to Russian laws religious organizations may conduct services only in houses of worship. A public worship service in a secular institution is a rally and for it it is necessary to receive permission of the authorities.


At the same time, the amendments of Deputy Irina Yarovaya and Senator Viktor Ozerova to the law "On freedom of conscience," which restrict the activity of missionaries in Russia, were adopted in 2016, which was after Koliaznikov was fined.


After registering Koliasnikov's appeal, the ECHR sent to the government of Russia a request to explain the government's position. Strasbourg reminded Moscow that back in 2014 the ECHR issued a decision in a similar case, "Krupko and others v. Russia," that recognized a violation of the rights to freedom of religious confession by a fine imposed on a group of Jehovah's Witnesses for participation in a group prayer (several members of a congregation in 2006 were arrested and fined for participation in a prayer meeting).


In a response by Russia's commissioner at the ECHR, Mikhail Galperin, it was said that the "Krupko case" is different from the "Koliasnikov case," Vedomosti writes. In the "Krupko case" violations were identified: thus, for example, there were arrests and no police report was composed about the arrests, and therefore there were no grounds for taking the Jehovists to the police station.


However, in the incident with the Evangelicals from Sochi nobody was arrested; simply a police report on Koliasnikov was composed for failure to notify about the arrangement of a public event, the Russian commissioner at the ECHR pointed out. He emphasized that audio equipment was used in the Sochi café, that is, it was a public event that was conducted and therefore the organizer was supposed to notify agencies of government about its conduct.


Believers have the right to freedom of assembly, but this right is not absolute and when necessary it may be restricted for ensuring safety. Conducting preaching without consulting with authorities violates the interests "of bystanders who become involuntary participants" of the event, the newspaper quotes the reply of the deputy minister of justice.


At the same time, Koliasnikov does not deny the necessity of notifying the authorities about the meeting, Galperin points out, but his religious group was not registered and he does not want to do that.


The document also points out that information about conducting preaching in the café was received from the regional directorate of the F.S.B. The reply of the commissioner also states that in Sochi Koliasnikov was visited by a leader of the neopentecostal movement, Vladimir Muntian, who is allegedly associated with satanists and conducts "ideological manipulation" of people and "public services" in large cities of Ukraine "under the guise of the propaganda of Christianity"


An attorney of the international rights advocacy group "Agora," Alexander Popkov," in a commentary for Vedomosti declared that the assertion of differences of the "Koliasnikov case" from the "Krupko case" applies only in the part about the illegal arrests, and "as to the fact of violation of freedom of conscience, the results are identical." He said that at the entrance to the café, where the group reading of the Bible was organized, a guard was sitting who warned drop-ins that a service was going on inside, and that as a result of the prosecution by the authorities, Koliasnikov had been forced to cease his pastoral activity.


In the opinion of the director of the "SOVA" rights advocacy center, Alexander Verkhovsky, if the criterion of a public event is the use of sound equipment, then this would also include weddings that are conducted in the café.


In its notification to Russia, the ECHR pointed out that the dispersal of a peaceful gathering by police cannot be viewed as "necessary in a democratic society," even if they did not notify the authorities about conducting a public event while no threats to public order were posed.


According to the Vedomosti report, this same argument was presented in his appeal by Koliasnikov: he appealed to the decision of the Russian Constitutional Court of 2012 which ordered that the requirement of prior notification of authorities about such events, if they do not require special measures aimed at ensuring safety, violates the constitution. (tr. by PDS, posted 5 July 2017).




RIANovosti, 04 July 2017


The Russian Ministry of Justice said that there was distortion in the presentation in some news media of the position of the Russian authorities regarding the situation regarding the public reading of the Bible in a café, which is now being considered by the Strasbourg court.


Earlier news media, citing the response of Russia regarding the on-going review by the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] in the appeal of "Koliasnikov v. Russia," reported that the Ministry of Justice equated the collective reading of the Bible in a café with a rally and considered it necessary to agree such actions with authorities.


"Information published today in the news media about the substance of the position of RF authorities regarding the ongoing review by the European Court of Human Rights of the appeal 'Koliasnikov v. Russia' is distorted in the part that pertains to the claim of the necessity of permission for the collective reading of the Bible," the press service of the ministry reported.


A Russian court fined a man not for "collective reading of the Bible," but for violating the requirements of the law "On meetings, rallies, demonstrations, parades, and picketing," the Ministry of Justice explained.


The ministry added that its position on this matter is based on provisions in the law on rallies, and the force of judicial orders issued with respect to the petitioner. This position cannot be viewed as a restriction of the right of freedom of conscience and religious rights of citizens, guaranteed by the constitution, the Ministry of Justice declared. (tr. by PDS, posted 5 July 2017)

Background articles:

European court has several cases against Russian violation of human rights
March 20, 2017
European court accepts complaint from Russian pastor
December 14, 2015

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