RUSSIA: MOSCOW SALVATION ARMY RISKS CLOSURE

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 30 November 2000

Exactly two years after it first applied for re-registration, the Moscow Corps of the Salvation Army has lost a second court battle to overturn the rejection of its application. The Salvation Army now risks being closed down in the Russian capital. Since the deadline for re-registration of religious organisations runs out in a month, the Moscow Corps' only hope of staving off official closure is if the Salvation Army manages to gain registration as a centralised religious organisation by the 31 December deadline.

On 28 November the Moscow City Court rejected the Moscow Corps' appeal against the decision of the Presnenski district court of Moscow. Having been refused re-registration by the Moscow City Department of Justice, the Moscow Corps appealed to the Presnenski district court. However, the court confirmed the refusal on the grounds that the Salvation Army is a `militarised' organisation subordinated to a foreign central body.

Colonel Kenneth Baillie, the head of the Salvation Army in Russia and the CIS, told Keston News Service that he was concerned that two Russian courts had made decisions based not on the law but on the reasoning of ill-disposed officials.

The Salvation Army was registered in Moscow in 1992 and, as required by the 1997 amendments to the religion law, submitted documents for re-registration in November 1998. The Moscow City Department of Justice demanded amendments to the application and additional documentation, which dragged out the application until February 1999. Then the process stalled, since, according to the deputy head of the Moscow Department of Justice V. Zhbankov, religious affairs experts were examining the documents. On 16 August 1999 re-registration was officially refused.

The co-director of the Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, Vladimir Ryakhovsky, who represented the church this week in court, told Keston on 21 November that the Moscow Corps was refused re-registration on formal grounds (lack of clarity in the Statute and minutes). Another reason given was that since it is subordinated to a foreign central body it cannot be re-registered as a religious organisation but can exist only as the representative office of a foreign religious organisation. However, this contradicts last April's ruling of the Constitutional Court relating to the Jesuit order (see KNS 26 May 2000).

During hearings at the Presnenski district court, the court did not examine the essence of the case and ruled that the refusal of re-registration was in accordance with the law. As well as the grounds cited in the original refusal the Presnenski court included in its ruling the explanations submitted to the court by the Moscow Department of Justice, in particular that the Salvation Army is a militarised organisation subordinated to a foreign central body. The Moscow City Court also failed to examine the essence of the case and simply refused the Moscow Corps' appeal.

In the European part of Russia there are 14 corps of the Salvation Army, of which five have been registered under the 1997 law. At present the registration of a central organisation of the Salvation Army on the basis of three local organisations is being considered by the Justice Ministry. If a central organisation is registered, this will solve the problem of the registration of all the other local congregations, including the Moscow corps.

The department for the registration of religious organisations at the Ministry of Justice told Keston on 30 November that a meeting of the committee of experts on 28 November had considered the Salvation Army's application. An expert ruling was being prepared and a decision would be taken by the end of December.

The Salvation Army is not the only organisation established by a foreign religious organisation to have encountered problems in Moscow. The Church of Christ has also been refused re-registration and it too is submitting an appeal to the courts. The court action in the Golovinski district court seeking to close the Moscow congregation of the Jehovah's Witnesses has already lasted several years. The next court session - after an adjournment of eight months - is to take place on 6 December.

In response to Keston's written request for information on progress in re-registering religious organisations in Moscow, the deputy head of the Moscow City Main Department of the Ministry of Justice replied on 10 November that `the Federal Law on freedom of conscience and religious organisations does not require registering bodies to provide information about religious organisations which have been re-registered or which have not succeeded in re-registering'. (END)