RUSSIA: Kabardino-Balkaria Rejects Jehovah's Witness Registration.

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 1 May 2001

Despite a court ruling that the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria in Russia's North Caucasus should proceed with the re-registration of three local Jehovah's Witness communities, the official responsible for registering religious communities at the justice ministry continues to reject their registration. Yelena Uzbiyeva told Keston News Service that the ministry will appeal against the court decision to the republic's Supreme Court. If the court decision is overturned, Sergei Svetkin, lawyer to the Jehovah's Witnesses, intends to appeal to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, where he believes the rights of the three communities will be protected from what he terms the `arbitrary decisions' of the regional authorities. 'We are completely convinced we will win this case there,' Svetkin told Keston.

On 24 April a court in Kabardino-Balkaria's capital Nalchik, chaired by Tahir Bichikuyev, upheld the suits brought by three Jehovah's Witness communities in Nalchik, Nartkala and Prokhladny over the failure to grant them registration. The three communities had submitted their re-registration applications in line with the 1997 religion law in the summer of 1999 and finally brought a suit against the justice ministry after waiting in vain for a response for a year and a half (see KNS 11 April 2001).

Uzbiyeva said the ministry had based its decision not to proceed with the registrations on the conclusion of a committee of experts it had appointed. This committee, which included representatives of various confessions, recommended that the Jehovah's Witnesses should not be granted registration 'because of the situation in the republic'.

Svetkin, a lawyer at the Administrative Centre of the Jehovah's Witnesses based in St Petersburg, who represented the communities in court, argued that if a community is proven to belong to a centralised religious organisation, which is the case for all Jehovah's Witness communities in the Russian Federation, the law does not sanction the appointment of a committee of experts.

Despite the positive outcome of the court hearing for the Jehovah's Witnesses, Svetkin is pessimistic about the immediate prospect of gaining the registrations. 'I have come to the conclusion that no-one takes any notice of the law in this republic,' he told Keston on 25 April. 'With the possible exception of Moscow, it is in Kabardino-Balkaria that our communities are encountering the most difficulties.' If officials at the justice ministry decide to delay the implementation of the court's decision, lawyers for the Jehovah's Witnesses intend to raise an implementation order in the court.

But Uzbiyeva insists her ministry is right to challenge the court ruling at the Supreme Court. 'Given the conclusion of the committee of experts, we cannot register these communities,' she told Keston on 25 April. (END)