Protestant attorney prompted Putin's order to Supreme Court


Religiia i zakon, 22 February 2019


On 21 February, on the basis of the results of the session of the Council on Human Rights, President V.V. Putin gave an order: "To recommend to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to conduct work aimed at the generalization of judicial practice in consideration by courts of cases on violation of legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession, and on religious associations. Report—by 1 July 2019. Person responsible: V.M. Lebedev."


Vladimir Riakhovsky, a member of the Council on Human Rights, welcomed the order by the president of the RF. He said that work on generalizing the judicial practice will be conducted with the active participation of the Council on Human Rights and this will help to see the basic problems that arise within the context of application, principally, of the Yarovaya Law in its part regulating missionary activity, and also anti-extremism legislation.


On 11 December 2018, a session of the Council on Development of Civil Society and Human Rights was held in the Kremlin under the chairmanship of the head of state, Vladimir Putin.


The session began with a minute of silence in memory of Liudmila Alekseeva, a member of the Council on Human Rights and head of the Moscow Helsinki Group.


The session was devoted to issues of the violation of the rights of citizens of Russia abroad, the intensification of efforts of the state and society for eliminating incidents of illegitimate violence in places of incarceration, and other questions relating to the implementation of human rights and liberties in Russia.


Vladimir Riakhovsky, a member of the council and administrative partner of the Advocates Bureau of the Slavic Legal Center, voiced in front of the president the question of holding citizens who disseminate their convictions accountable as for missionary activity, and also other questions of the practice of implementation of legislation.


Vladimir Putin supported Vladimir Riakhovsky's suggestion of instructing the Supreme Court to analyze law enforcement practice with respect to this category of cases and to review the question of the legitimacy of the legal regulation of missionary activity introduced by the Yarovaya Law.


V. Riakhovsky: Vladimir Vladimirovich, thank you very much.


To be honest, this is the first time in six years that I have had a turn. I have two questions; I will try to be brief and save time.


In July 2016 a federal law was adopted under the name "On introducing additional measures for combating terrorism," commonly called the "Yarovaya Law."


This law also introduced changes in the law on freedom of conscience. A chapter on missionary activity was added to the law on freedom of conscience. A definition of missionary activity was given and a procedure was established for its implementation all the way to the point of stating that for a person to be able to speak about his convictions he must be authorized by a religious organization and have a document of a certain form.


Article 5.26, concerning the establishment of accountability, was introduced into the Code of Administrative Violations of Law. A year and a half have already passed and I would very much like to ask the initiators of this law: has it achieved the goal that its authors had? Has even one extremist been held accountable on the basis of this law?


But nevertheless law enforcement agencies have initiated and taken to court more than 600 administrative cases against representatives of various religious confessions with really only one exception—the largest one. These cases are as incredible as can be imagined.


Here is simply one clear example: in Nizhny Novgorod, a woman student, a citizen of one of the African countries, a student in the sixth year of medical university with barely a month remaining before state exams. She gives an interview to one of the internet channels and describes herself, her family, her childhood, and the fact that she has been a believing person since childhood, a Christian, and she also attends church in Russia and this helped her in her studies.


Two administrative cases were initiated against her. The first one was for violation of the rules of missionary activity, and she received a fine, and the second was for violation of the purposes of her stay in the Russian Federation. She did not arrive on a missionary visa but here she said something about her own convictions. And for the second case she was fined and expelled from the Russian Federation. It was good that the appellate court apparently had common sense: they did not cancel the rulings but they postponed her deportation until she got her diploma, in literally a few months.


What is interesting is that at the base of these cases lay the conclusion of experts, who perceived in this video covert appeals, covert missionary activity.


That is, you understand, what is the issue? Covert. There were no clear indicators of missionary activity. And why were there none? Because she was covert. And because of this she was held accountable.


I could cite a bunch of such cases, since this is within the circle of my professional interests. The constitution has an established concept: when it expands the concept of freedom of conscience it speaks about the right to disseminate one's convictions. This measure, this rule of law seemed, to put it mildly, simply excessive; it does not facilitate the harmony of interconfessional relations but, on the contrary, leads to imbalance and to the violation of the constitutional rights of citizens.


Therefore, Vladimir Vladimirovich, I urgently request that you give an order to the Supreme Court simply to summarize practice. So many cases have already accumulated that one can simply draw caricatures. This has simply become ridiculous! I have cited just one case, but there are really a bunch of them. And raise the question of summarizing this practice on the basis of 5.26 with respect to religious organizations, and just raise the question of expediency, of the basis for still having such regulation. There is the concept of "dissemination of religious convictions." Why also introduce the concept of "missionary activity"?  Thank you very much.


V. Putin: Thank you. As regards your first case pertaining to this African student, this must be seen, of course, as some kind of nonsense. From what you describe, this is simply some kind of poppy-cock.


And of course it is necessary to do what you propose—to conduct an analysis of law enforcement practice. And if it is necessary, to introduce some kind of correctives.


V. Riakovsky: Regarding this girl, I have now been approached for the purpose of continuing to the European Court. . . .


V. Putin: I do not know what confession she belongs to; she is a Christian, but there are many denominations, too. Jehovah's Witnesses also are Christians, and for this they are persecuted and I also do not quite understand. Therefore it is necessary simply to analyze, it is necessary to do this. I will talk with Viacheslav Mikhailovich [Lebedev], and we will try to do this.


Source: Official website of the president of the RF.

(tr. by PDS, posted 22 February 2019)

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