Thursday, May 16, 1996 3:28:10 PM

by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service PRESIDENT YELTSIN'S chief of staff NIKOLAI YEGOROV is pushing for an executive order placing new restrictions on foreign missionaries, according to sources in both the executive branch and the parliament.  Taking a surprisingly active approach to his new role as the president's top adviser on church-state relations, Yegorov wants to issue the executive order within the next few months even if the parliament has not yet enacted legislation in this area.  The proposed order has already been drafted, but other officials in Yeltsin's staff are trying to block it. Yegorov raised the topic of the executive order at a 25 April meeting of the presidential 'Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations'. The meeting was the council's first since its creation last summer; some have accused Yegorov of having deliberately delayed convening it until it was firmly under his personal control (see 'Purge in Yeltsin's Religion Council', Keston News Service, April 1996).  One participant in the meeting told Keston News Service that the draft order was not discussed in detail, and that what he and others found most striking was not the meeting's agenda but the fact that Yegorov actually chaired it from beginning to end.  Many had expected the chief of staff, who is the head of a huge apparat dealing with the entire range of domestic policy, to delegate this task to a subordinate. The proposed executive order consists of two documents: a half-page presidential decree ('ukaz') ordering the government under PRIMEMINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN to issue new regulations on foreign religious missions, and the four-page regulation ('polozehniye') to be issued in response to that order.  The latter draft, a copy of which was obtained by the Keston News Service, is entitled 'Procedure for the Opening of Representative Bodies of Foreign Religious Organisations in the Russian Federation' ('Polozehniye o poryadke otkrytiya v Rossiiskoi Federatsii predstavitelstv innostrannykh religioznykh organizatsii'). Provisions of the draft regulations include the following: --Permission to open representative bodies in Russia is available to foreign religious organisations which are 'officially functioning (registered)' in their home countries (point 1 in the draft document).  The draft says nothing about religious groups from countries which do not have a system of official registration of churches. --The 'issuing of permission' ('vydacha razreshenii') to open a representative body and its 'state registration' are conducted by the 'subjects of the Federation', i.e. Russia's provincial governments (point 5). The draft does not specify whether a religious group would have to receive permission separately from each of the Russian provinces in which it plans to function. During the last 18 months the provincial governments have taken the lead in enacting legislation restricting the rights of foreign missionaries. --The representative body must state in advance, in its application for permission to open, how many foreign employees it will have.  It must include a petition from the corresponding Russian religious organisations with which it has links and cooperative relationships ('khodataistvo sootvetstvuyushchikh rossiskikh religioznykh organizatsii, osushchestvlyayushchikh vzaimosvyaz i sotrudnichestvo') (point 7).  The draft does not clearly state whether a foreign group without such domestic Russian partners could get 'permission' at all. --The registering organ in a provincial government also 'has the right' ('vprave') to demand additional documents if necessary (point 8).  If the registering organ's decision is positive, it issues a certificate which then serves as the legal basis for the representative body's activities.  The federal Ministry of Justice is to maintain a registry of all rep bodies which have been allowed to open. (point 13)  The provincial government's certificate is also the basis on which the representative body can apply for visas for foreign citizens (point 16).  The draft says nothing about the foreign religious group's having any right to open or operate if there is no specific cause to the contrary; instead its operations seem to depend entirely on provincial 'permission', a word which the draft uses repeatedly. --In return for permission to open the representative body must pay a fee, the amount of which is left unspecified (point 11). The permission to open is valid for only three years; the representative body must specifically apply for it to be renewed and must then pay another fee (point 14). --The representative body is not a legal personality under Russian law.  It may open a bank account, but may not engage in entrepreneurial activities ('predprinimatelskuyu deyatelnost') (point 6).  It would appear from this point that the representative body does not have the right to own real estate. Whether it could engage in publishing or broadcasting, even on a non-profit basis, is not clear. --The draft forbids the opening of representative bodies of religious organisations with 'goals and activities directed toward...the stirring up...of religious dissension' (tseli i deistviya kotorykh napravlenyna...razzhiganiye...religioznoi rozni' (point 22). Duma member VALERI BORSHCHOV told Keston that he does not expect this draft order to be issued until after the parliament has passed some version of the legislation now before the Duma's committee on religion.  Disagreeing with Yegorov, he said that it would be illegal for the executive branch to act unilaterally in this area. Also disagreeing with Yegorov, according to a source in the executive branch, is the legal directorate within the presidential staff.  The legal directorate's head, RUSLAN OREKHOV, is said to be resisting the new executive order because he is convinced that it would violate the religious freedom of foreigners. (END) MORE NEWS: According to Baptist legal scholar ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV, the number of Russian provinces which have enacted laws or executive decrees restricting foreign missionaries has now reached 17--about one-fifth of all the provinces in the Federation.  The most recent include the Khabarovsky and Primorsky krais in the Far East and the Yaroslavskaya oblast near Moscow.  Swimming against the tide is the city of St Petersburg, where in mid-March Mayor ANATOLI SOBCHAK vetoed an anti-missionary law passed by the city council.  Pchelintsev observed that most of the new provincial laws are strikingly similar to each other, and charged that the Orthodox Patriarachate of Moscow has been coordinating them.  Fr Vsevolod Chaplin of the Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations vigorously denied this charge in a meeting with Keston on 30 April. A source in the federal Duma told Keston that provincial authorities in Tula recently requested the Duma's committee on religion to supply them with the legal definitions of terms such as 'foreign religious organisation' and 'missionary activities'--terms which appear repeatedly in the anti- missionary law enacted by the Tula oblast in late 1994.  'They passed their law without understanding it themselves,' said the Duma aide.  In late April the Constitutional Court declined to consider an appeal from about 90 current and former Duma members to review the constitutionality of the Tula law. (END)