Monday, 9 February 1998

LOCAL AUTHORITIES THREATEN CATHOLIC PARISH IN SOUTHERN RUSSIA by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service Local authorities in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, about 1100 miles south of Moscow,  have ordered a Roman Catholic parish in the town of Prokhladny to apply immediately for a brand-new registration - even though the parish is already registered. Catholic sources in Moscow believe that the authorities are trying to create a pretext for restriction of the parish's activities. Citing what seem to be at most petty omissions in the parish's charter ('ustav'), the authorities have directed the parish to adopt a new one and to apply anew for registration.  Such an application might be rejected under Russia's restrictive new law on church-state relations, leaving the parish with no legal basis to function. 'This is the first step toward somehow making the work of the parish more difficult - we're not sure just how,' FR VICTOR BARTSEVICH of the Catholics' apostolic administration in Moscow told Keston News Service. Fr Bartsevich pointed out that the letter to the Catholic parish from the Kabardino-Balkaria authorities cites that province's own local law as well as the new national law.  Supporters of the latter have repeatedly claimed that such provincial laws would become inoperative once the national law was enacted. The parish in Prokhladny, like most Roman Catholic parishes in Russia, was founded in the nineteenth century, closed by the Soviet regime, and re-opened only in the 1990s.  Fr Bartsevich told Keston the parish's charter is 'typical' for Roman Catholic parishes in Russia, with no unusual features, and that the Catholics definitely will not yield to the pressure to write a new charter. He said that he is consulting the well-known Protestant legal scholars VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY and ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV: 'we think we would win a court case'. Attempts by Keston to reach the secular authorities in Prokhladny were unsuccessful, but FR ANDREI MOROZ, pastor of St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Prokhladny, told Keston in a telephone interview that he has had friendly relations with the Catholic parish.  He said that most of the latter's members are ethnic Poles and Czechs.  Some of these, while they always considered themselves to be Catholics, used to attend the Orthodox parish during the Soviet period when no local Catholic worship services were available. The letter from the Prokhladny procuracy to the Catholic parish, dated 5 December 1997 and signed by M. M. KARMOV, states that the parish's charter fails to specify its territorial sphere of activities.  It also demands that the charter be amended to forbid religious training of children without the consent of their parents, even dictating the specific text of such an amendment.  The letter makes no concrete allegation that the parish has actually engaged in such activities. (END)Monday, 9 February TEXT OF YAROSLAVL PROCURACY'S LETTER TO PENTECOSTALS To: V.I. TATACH, Head of the Christian Church 'New Generation' From: Procuracy of the Yaroslavl oblast 26 January 1998 A review of the activities of the 'New Generation' centre has been conducted by the oblast procuracy in accordance with the requirements of the law on freedom of conscience and on religious associations. According to that law, all religious organisations are required to undergo re-registration before 31 December 1999, and to bring their charters and founding documents into agreement with the requirements of the law. Until their charters are brought into agreement with the law, only those parts of them which do not contradict the current federal law continue to be valid. The law provides special requirements for those organisations which do not have documents confirming that they have existed on the corresponding territory over the course of at least 15 years. These organisations are to enjoy the rights of legal personalities only if they undergo re-registration every year until the stated 15-year period has expired. During that period they are subject to the limitations listed in Article 27, Point 3 of the law on freedom of conscience and on religious associations.  In particular, they do not have the right to produce, obtain, export, import or distribute religious literature; printed, audio or video materials; or other articles of religious significance. In spite of this, the 'New Generation' Christian Centre is engaged in the selling to believers of religious books and brochures - some received as charitable gifts from foreign missionary organisations, others published by the 'New Generation' church with its own money.  Since 1995 a studio for audio and video recording has been functioning at the 'New Generation' church, carrying out the mass reproduction and sale of a wide variety of these products.  Since 1997 an electronic journal has been distributing the church's teachings via a computer network. As established by the procuracy's review, the Department of Justice has no document confirming the existence of the 'New Generation' Centre on the territory of the Yaroslavl oblast for at least 15 years.  Therefore the organisation's activities listed above are not in accord with the requirements of the law on freedom of conscience and on religious associations. On this basis I hereby warn you of the necessity of obeying the law on religious associations.  Otherwise the organs of the procuracy have the right to file a court case seeking the prohibition of the activities of the religious organisation. First deputy to the procuror of the Yaroslavl oblast Yu. V. VERKHOVTSEV (END)