RUSSIA: Kabardino-Balkaria Outlaws Religious Extremism.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 31 May 2001

In late April the regional parliament of Russia's northern Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria (1200 miles - 1900 kilometres – south of Moscow) passed a local law banning extremist religious activity. Although due for approval by the republic's president, Valeri Kokov, within two weeks of passage, it is unclear at what stage he received the text of the law, which still awaits his signature.

Extremist religious activity, according to the law, `directly or indirectly propagandises violent change to the foundations of the constitutional order and/or violation of the integrity of Kabardino-Balkaria and/or the Russian Federation, the undermining of state security, the creation of illegal armed formations, religious intolerance, incitement of social, racial, national or religious hatred or the break-up of family relations.' It also `damages a person's psychological and/or moral state.'

Fines ranging up to 100 times the minimum wage are imposed upon the organisers of and/or participants in different forms of such activity. In addition, the activity of a religious organisation may be terminated if certain forms of religious extremism are carried out under its auspices.

The law appears intended to prevent a conflict similar to that in nearby Chechnya by curbing radical Islam. Cited in local newspaper `Gazeta Yuga' on 3 May, deputy Muradin Kardanov, a participant in the drafting of the law, encouraged the Kabardino-Balkaria parliament to adopt it due to `the penetration of the republic by Wahhabi activists on the pretext of bringing humanitarian aid and reviving Islam.' According to Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Ministry officials, maintained Kardanov, there are 400 followers of Wahhabism in the republic, 40 per cent of whom `either have previous convictions or warrant surveillance as potential offenders'.

Those seeking the forceful establishment of Islamic sharia law are not the only targets, however. Continuing the parliamentary discussion, deputy Gumar Murzakanov commented that `for some reason the emphasis is being placed upon one branch of Islam. This is wrong - Jehovah's Witnesses are no better.' Jehovah's Witnesses are experiencing particular difficulties in Kabardino-Balkaria, where their communities in Nalchik, Prokhladny and Nartkala face liquidation (see KNS 1 May 2001). In response to Murzakanov, Kardanov gave assurances that the law `makes provision for the struggle against all forms of religious extremism'.

No mention - still less definition - is made of Wahhabism in the law, while there are a number of provisions open to broad interpretation and application against even a nonviolent religious organisation should it be deemed undesirable by the local authorities. According to Article 4, for instance, incitement of social, racial, national and religious hatred also includes `degradation of national worth' and `propaganda of the exclusivity of a religion'.

Provisions which may relate specifically to Jehovah's Witnesses' stance on military service and blood transfusions include the imposition of fines for activity encouraging `refusal to carry out civil obligations for religious reasons' and `refusal to administer medical assistance for religious reasons to persons in a life- and health-endangering state' (Article 9). Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as any organisation with a strong missionary element, would also be affected by Article 14, which prosecutes `pestering citizens with the aim of drawing them into a religious organisation'.

Other harsh provisions which could be applied against almost any religious organisation include Article 16, which fines `gatherings of citizens for religious purposes (except religious cult rites) without written notification of a local organ of government', and Article 13, according to which a fine and/or ban may be imposed upon `pedagogical activity, including the teaching of the principles of a religious belief, by a person without professional pedagogical and religious education or a person whose documentation attesting foreign professional pedagogical education has not been notarised in the Russian Federation.'

The law was not adopted earlier due to its evident contradictions with Russia's federal law on religion, a fact freely admitted by Murzakanov when proposing it to the Kabardino-Balkaria parliament: `Everything in this law contradicts federal law from the outset.' The federal authorities' security concerns along Russia's Caucasian border now appear to be overriding considerations of unconstitutionality of the region's local laws, however, as the Kabardino-Balkarian president's representative to the local parliament Zalim Kashirokov pointed out during the discussion prior to the law's adoption: `Such laws now exist in other republics of the northern Caucasus.'

In addition to the passage of laws against religious extremism in Dagestan and Ingushetia, local journalist Oleg Guseinov suggested to Keston that the security organs' support for the law may have influenced its adoption. Speaking by telephone from Nalchik on 28 May, Guseinov explained that during meetings of the Ministry of Defence and FSB at Southern Federal Okrug level in the Kabardino-Balkarian town of Yessentuki on 10 and 11 May, representatives of those bodies called for a similar law at the federal level. (END)