RUSSIA: Re-registration: Muslim Organisations Officially Liquidated; Jehovah's Witnesses Appeal.

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 11 April 2001

District courts in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria have officially disbanded 37 Muslim religious organisations which failed to submit re-registration documents, although the groups continue to function without registration. Meanwhile three Jehovah’s Witness congregations have appealed against the refusal to re-register them. Keston News Service contacted officials and religious leaders in the republic to find out the result of court cases against religious organisations which failed to re-register with the justice authorities by the deadline of 31 December 2000 (See KNS 24 January 2001)

Yelena Uzbiyeva, the official supervising the registration of religious organisations at the Kabardino-Balkaria Ministry of Justice, told Keston on 12 March that all of the Ministry of Justice’s court actions to close down Muslim religious organisations had been successful and they had all been disbanded, adding that all the actions ‘were agreed with the Muslim Spiritual Administration’. The Muslim Spiritual Administration of Kabardino-Balkaria told Keston on 3 April that the congregations that had been officially closed were those that had not even attempted to re-register, probably because they did not understand what was required, despite the model statutes circulated to them. ‘It was difficult for their heads even to read these statutes. However, the congregations in these places exist and are functioning,’ said Mufti Shafig Pshikhachev’s deputy.

Uzbiyeva said that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had appealed against the refusal to re-register their three congregations and the case would go before the republic’s Supreme Court. However Artur Leontyev, the legal specialist of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administration Centre in St Petersburg, told Keston on 5 April that the Supreme Court had refused to accept the cases and that the hearing would take place in the district court of the republican capital Nalchik on 12 April.

Leontyev also said that the prosecutor in the town of Maisky had requested that the 2 April court hearing to rule on the closure of the local congregation be deferred, in order to allow a more thorough study of Jehovah’s Witness literature. A similar application was made by the Maisky prosecutor in 1998 but then withdrawn. In the town of Prokhladny the prosecutor has applied for the closure of the congregation there; the date set for the court hearing is 17 April.

The Kabardino-Balkarian authorities seem set against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yaroslav Sivulsky, press secretary of the Jehovah’s Witness St Petersburg Administration Centre, told Keston on 5 April that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been told in 1998 at the Ministry of Justice of Kabardino-Balkaria: ‘Bring us a court decision obliging us to register your congregations and then we’ll do it. So far not a single judge has taken it upon himself to examine this case.’

Khazmurat Yeziyev, the head of the Commission of the government of the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria for the affairs of religious associations, told Keston that the Jehovah’s Witnesses would not be registered since they ‘go round the houses and agitate’, which in his view puts their lives at risk in a republic with a predominantly Muslim population (END).