Friday, 20 June 1997

AMENDMENT TO ELEVATE ISLAM by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service In what appears to be last-minute manoeuvring to secure Muslim support of the Russian Duma's new bill restricting religious freedom, the chairman of the Duma's committee on religion has agreed to add new language symbolically elevating the Islamic faith above Judaism and Buddhism. The agreement, which according to a well-placed source was personally approved by PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW ALEKSI is now scheduled to be addeed to the bill when the Duma takes it up for a 'third reading', probably on 23 June. The exact wording of the new version has still not been publicly released as of late Friday, 20 June. According to a source in the Duma the bill's preamble would state that the parliament respects Islam with its millions of member equally with Orthodoxy, and by implication ahead of Buddhism and Judaism. In other developments, the Duma has released a list of the deputies who voted for and against the bill in the 'second reading' on 18 June. Of the 46 deputies in the pro-reform 'Yabloko' bloc headed by GRIGORI YAVLINSKI, only four voted against the bill; seven voted in favour, and the rest did not vote. The only other vote against the bill was cast by a militant Marxist deputy who considered it too pro-religious. Surprisingly, one of the deputies voting for the bill was MIKHAIL MEN, son of the celebrated Orthodox priest ALEKSANDR MEN. Deputy Men told Keston News Service that public opinion in his constituency and in the country as a whole is running strongly against foreign religious groups. 'If this parliament were given a bill to expel all non-Orthodox and all non-Muslims from Russia, they would vote for it,' he said. Men said that PRESIDENT YELTSIN is now certain to sign the bill rather than veto it. But other Duma sources disagreed with Men's prediction. VYACHESLAV POLOSIN, the religion committee's chief specialist on church-state relations, said that two features of the bill which Yeltsin is especially likely to reject are the 15-year period before a newly formed religious body can acquire the rights of a 'legal person', and the provisions denying non-citizens such basic rights as the right to form even an unregistered prayer group. Both he and his colleague LEV LEVINSON told Keston that the struggle within the presidential apparat is still undecided. (END)