RUSSIA RELIGION NEWS


Meeting of Russian presidential advisors concerning religion

QUESTIONS OF IMPLEMENTATION OF FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE IN RUSSIA AND APPLICATION OF LAWS IN RELIGIOUS SPHERE DISCUSSED IN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION.
SOVA Center for News and Analysis, 16 October 2019

 

On 16 October 2019, a joint session was held in the Presidential Administration of permanent commissions for the development of noncommercial organizations and civil liberties and civil activity of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights and of the commission of the Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations under the president of the RF for issues of the harmonization of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional relations.

 

Participants in the discussion included members of the councils, representatives of governmental agencies, and invited experts.

 

Vladimir Riakhovsky, a member of the Council on Human Rights and a lawyer, described the implementation in Russia of the right to freedom of conscience in the context of changes in the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations."  He called attention of the participants to the repressive legislative innovations of recent years and described their application, placing fundamental stress on the anti-evangelism amendments. He noted that the Supreme Court—despite the presidential instruction to deal with the implementation of legislation on freedom of conscience—has given insufficient attention to this topic.

 

One of V. Riakhovsky's suggestions was to raise the question of the creation of an office of commissioner for the rights of believing citizens of Russia. In addition he sees it necessary to include the topic of freedom of conscience in the National Plan of Action on Human Rights being created on the order of the president.

 

Alexander Kudriavtsev, a member of the Council on Religious Associations, also sees the flaws in the anti-evangelism amendments.

 

He reacted positively to the review already done by the Supreme Court, and he proposes holding a plenum of the Supreme Court, devoted to freedom of conscience and the protection of believers' rights, based on the future recommendations of the two council under the Russian president. At the same time, A. Kudriavtsev supports the recommendation of the Russian Association of Centers for the Study of Religions and Sects to create a federal body for religious affairs. He is sure of the necessity of restrictions and control in the religion field (as an example he cited the "spreading of sects" in the 1990s) and he suggests restricting the privileges of religious organizations that have been created quite recently ("new growths").

 

Hegumena Ksenia, the director of the legal department of the RPTs, called attention to the 2019 order concerning antiterrorism safety for buildings of religious organizations.

 

Alexander Verkhovsky, a member of the Council on Human Rights and director of the SOVA center, spoke about problems of the exercise of freedom of conscience in the context of anti-extremism legislation and related laws.

 

Svetlana Borisova, the deputy director of the Department for Affairs of Noncommercial Organizations of the Ministry of Justice, reported on the work of the Ministry of Justice, particularly calling attention to charging documents based on article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law (violation of legislation on freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession and on religious associations).

 

She said that in 2018 37 charging documents were composed on the basis of this article and in 2019 (based on data as of October), 21 charging documents. The greater portion of protocols were composed on the basis of part 3 of article 5.26 of the CAVL (conducting activity of a religious organization without displaying its full official name, including publishing or distributing during missionary activity literature and printed, audio, and video materials without identification indicating the name or with incomplete or deliberately false identification).

 

Invited experts also spoke during the session.

 

Mikhail Shakhov, a professor of the department of state-confession relations of the RANKhiGS [Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration], called attention to the fact that existing legislation on freedom of conscience does not give a definition of the concept of a "member of a religious group" or "adherent of a religious association" and in some sense it establishes the existence of religious groups based on the presence of several believers, which creates additional difficulties.

 

Anatoly Pchelintsev, an attorney and editor in chief of the journal "Religiia i Pravo," supported the idea of the creation of a position of ombudsman for freedom of conscience and the introduction of qualification requirements for experts on problems of religion. He also called attention to contradictions in the practice of application of legislation on use of premises for other than intended purposes. In his opinion, the use of a private home for worship services is in no way distinguished from the use of government buildings for worships services (that means one may pose the question regarding chapels located in buildings of state agencies).

 

Lev Simkin, an attorney and professor of the RGAIS [Russian State Academy of Intellectual Property], also supported the establishment of a position of ombudsman for freedom of conscience, but not of a governmental body for religious affairs, and he called attention to restriction on freedom of conscience in Russia, including by means of rules about visa regulations for foreigners. Once again he noted that on the whole there is no centralized state policy in Russia in the area of freedom of conscience.

 

A separate discussion was devoted to just how the work of an ombudsman would be organized and whether his own convictions would conflict with the protection of the rights of believers of other religions. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 October 2019)

 

R.P.Ts. ASKS TO MITIGATE ACCOUNTABILITY OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS FOR VIOLATION OF ANTI-TERRORISM LAWS

Interfax-Religiia, 16 October 2019

 

The Russian Orthodox Church (RPTs) is asking for the introduction of changes in a draft law being discussed in the State Duma concerning responsibility for violation of anti-terrorism legislation, so as to reduce fines for religious organizations, the director of the legal department of the Moscow patriarchate, Hegumena Ksenia Chernega, reported.

 

"There is in the State Duma, and should be adopted in the near future, a draft law on introducing changes in the Code of Administrative Violations of Law. It provides for administrative accountability for noncompliance with requirements of anti-terrorism legislation. For all organizations it provides for accountability in the form of 100 to 500 thousand rubles. The RPTs initiated, and the Inter-Religious Council supported the initiative, for lowering the fines for religious organizations to 50 to 100 thousand rubles," the hegumena said at a session of commissions of the councils under the Russian president on human rights and cooperation with religious associations.

 

She noted that the RPTs intends to ask the State Duma to support such amendments.

 

She said that the requirements of anti-terrorism protection provide for installing video cameras for all buildings accommodating more than 1,000 persons. According to the proposed changes, a special commission may replace video surveillance with inspection on the part of personnel who are members of a religious organization and also exempt individual buildings from installing systems of video surveillance, if services are conducted less often than once a week.

 

"There are rural and provincial parishes which cannot pay 500,000 rubles for failure to install cameras," Chernega said. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 October 2019)

 

MEMBER OF C.H.R. SUGGESTS CREATING OFFICE OF COMMISSIONER FOR DEFENSE OF BELIEVERS' RIGHTS

TASS, 16 October 2019

 

A member of the Council on Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (C.H.R.) under the president of the RF, Vladimir Riakhovsky, suggested exploring the question of the creation of an office of commissioner for defense of the rights of believers. He reported this on Wednesday at a session of permanent commissions of the C.H.R. and the Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations under the president of the RF.

 

"We have a commissioner for human rights, we have a commissioner for the rights of the child, we have a commissioner for protection of the rights of business persons. Perhaps, really, there is sense in raising the question before the president of the creation of an office of commissioner for protection of the rights of citizens and protection of religious confession," Riakhovsky opined.

 

At the session, members of the councils, experts, and representatives of federal agencies of government considered critical problems in the context of the federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious association," questions of elevating the level of religious studies knowledge of civil servants, and the topic of exercising the constitutional right of citizens to joint profession of religious convictions. The event was conducted on the initiative of permanent commissions of the C.H.R. for development of noncommercial organizations and for civil liberties and civic activity. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 October 2019)


HEAD OF C.H.R. DOUBTS THE POSSIBILITY OF THE APPEARANCE OF AN OMBUDSMAN FOR BELIEVERS

Interfax-Religiia, 16 October 2019

 

The chairman of the Council on Human Rights (C.H.R.) under the president of the RF, Mikhail Fedotov, thinks it impossible to establish a position of ombudsman for protecting of believers' rights.

 

"You are suggesting the establishment of a position of commissioner for exercising freedom of conscience. Doesn't it seem to you that here an inevitable conflict of interests will arise? Everybody has his own convictions. One is a Christian, another is a Muslim, and a third is a nonbeliever. Who should be authorized to defend religious liberties? Someone who professes all religions? I do not know such a person," Fedotov said on Wednesday at a session of commissions of the councils under the Russian president for human rights and cooperation with religious organizations.

 

Before that, the idea of an ombudsman for believers was expressed by a professor of the RGAIS, Lev Simkin. "I support the creation of an ombudsman for believers as a conductor of policy in this sphere, to whom believers and religious organizations could reach out and whose word would be heeded by law enforcement agencies," Simkin said.

 

In his turn, a member of the C.H.R., Andrei Babushkin, disagreed with Fedotov's position and supported the creation of such an office. "This could be any person of any confession, but he would need personal integrity and his rights protection position should be above his religious views."

 

"There are people who deal with the rights of prisoners. This does not mean that they love prisoners and share their values, but for them human rights are above personal convictions, and they go into the prisons and defend the rights of prisoners," Babushkin explained. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 October 2019)

 

RIGHTS DEFENDERS SUGGEST ARRANGING CERTIFICATION OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES EXPERTS

***For now, for composing a religious studies expert analysis for a court, random individuals are recruited—arithmetic teachers, psychiatrists, medical examiners.

Interfax-Religiia, 16 October 2019

 

Rights advocates are concerned with the practice of involving in a trial nonprofessional religious scholars for composing expert analyses and they suggest creating a uniform professional standard for such religious studies experts.

 

"The need has grown for the creation of a professional standard for religious studies experts and the centralization of the religious studies community into a self-regulating organization, which will verify and certify religious studies scholars, taking into account length of work, possession of an academic degree of kandidat or doctor of sciences in the respective sphere, existence of publications, and experience of working in this area," attorney Anatoly Pchelintsev said on Wednesday at a session of commissions of the councils under the Russian president on human rights and cooperation with religious organizations.

 

He said that this is necessary in order "to cut off haphazard experts."

 

"As of now, in practically every expert analysis a teacher of mathematics in elementary school is employed. Why is she invited? Because she will give the conclusion that law enforcers need," Pchelintsev said.

 

In his turn, the chairman of the presidential Council on Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, suggested that the recruitment of nonprofessional religious studies experts for composing an expert analysis is connected with the fact that "according to law, an expert is accountable for composing a deliberately false expert conclusion, but you never can blame an arithmetic teacher for deliberately making a false religious studies expert analysis; this is what she thought, but she was mistaken."

 

Pchelintsev noted that both psychiatrists and medical examiners are recruited for drawing up a religious studies expert analysis. "Well, medical examiners are understandable; they also deal with the afterlife," Pchelintsev joked.

 

Fedotov continued the joke: "No, so far as I know medical examiners do not deal with the afterlife; it is not the body but the soul that makes it to paradise, but maybe I'm wrong." (tr. by PDS, posted 16 October 2019)



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