From - Mon Nov 03 12:01:27 1997

For Release on: October 30, 1997 RUSSIAN RELIGION LAW CLAIMS FIRST JEWISH VICTIMS UCSJ and other groups launch campaign to monitor religious persecution Scarcely a month after Russia's new discriminatory religion bill was signed into law, an Orthodox synagogue in the city of Bryansk (roughly 200 miles southwest of Moscow) has been informed by provincial authorities that its registration has been withheld, jeopardizing its future operation as a house of worship.  In a letter from the Bryansk Oblast Directorate of Justice, dated October 15, the synagogue's leadership was told that, "In accordance with Article 11, point 9 of the federal law 'On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations,' we are disregarding the application for registration of the Jewish religious congregation and are returning the documents presented by you." "What is happening in Bryansk is exactly what we predicted would take place in Russia's provinces under the auspices of the religion bill," argued UCSJ National Director Micah H. Naftalin.  "This law is in effect a hunting license, designed to intimidate and persecute Jews and Western-oriented Christians, despite all the assurances to the contrary from the Russian Orthodox Church and Communist sponsors in the Russian Duma (parliament). The Western media was duped into believing that Jews were exempted from the new restrictions, based on the non-binding declaration in the preamble that Judaism, as well as Christianity, is recognized as a 'traditional religion.'  Now the world knows the truth, but only after the Jews of Bryansk have suffered the indignity of being denied the freedom to worship."  Naftalin noted that, in recent weeks, local authorities have also moved against Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in Russia. UCSJ Director of International Bureaus Leonid Stonov, who first learned of this action from dissident and former prisoner of conscience Father Gleb Yakunin by phone this morning, stated that what is happening to the Jewish community in Bryansk will likely be replicated throughout provincial Russia.  "Several local and regional officials are zealously applying this discriminatory law in order to carry out their antisemitic agendas.  We predicted that the law would result in such widespread persecution of Jewish, as well as Christian, activity.  [Russian Chief Rabbi] Adolph Shaevich and the rest of the small faction of Moscow's Jewish religious leaders that backed this law should be ashamed of themselves." In a related development, UCSJ announced it is seeking funding to launch a new project, administered jointly with the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) and a coalition of Christian human rights organizations, to monitor religious persecution in Russia's provinces.  On October 21, these groups met at MHG's office to found the public movement "For a Secular State and Freedom of Conscience," whose stated aim is to consolidate Russia's legal civil society and guarantee the separation of religious organizations from the state and their equality before the law, and to monitor the implementation of the new law.   Alexander Lieberman, director of UCSJ's Russian American Bureau on Human Rights in Moscow, who represented UCSJ at the meeting, asserted that "the consolidation of all active religious and non-religious forces of the community is necessary in order to oppose the destruction of the fundamental basis of a secular democratic society.  That is why representatives from various faiths have banded together to monitor and fight religious discrimination in the provinces, where the rule of law is most fragile." UCSJ President Yosef I. Abramowitz stated, "the UCSJ has a nearly thirty-year record of on-the-ground monitoring of antisemitism, religious persecution, and human rights violations in the former Soviet Union.  Our long history of collegial partnership activity with Russia's human rights movement has thus positioned UCSJ to assist directly in the establishment of a systematic monitoring network in the vast provincial areas of Russia, where reliable information is currently sparse." In June, UCSJ published a comprehensive monitoring report, "Antisemitism in the Former Soviet Union, 1995-97." -30-