RUSSIA: Monday Hearing for Moscow Salvation Army.

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 5 July 2001

The Moscow branch of the Salvation Army was shocked and saddened to find that it was given only six days to prepare its defence against moves for its liquidation in court, two of which fall at the weekend. The branch was informed on 3 July of the hearing scheduled for 9 July in the Tagansky district court in the Central Administrative district of the capital. Vladimir Zhbankov, the deputy head of the Main Administration of the Ministry of Justice for Moscow city which has instituted the liquidation suit, told Keston News Service on 4 July that they had not warned the Salvation Army about the suit because it `wasn't our problem' and that the person responsible for it was the judge presiding over the case.

The Salvation Army is to be defended in court by the Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, whose lawyers Anatoli Pchelintsev and Vladimir Ryakhovsky are seeking an adjournment of the hearing to gain more time to prepare their case.

Zhbankov confirmed to Keston that the Main Administration instituted the liquidation suit because the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army had not achieved the required re-registration with the state under the 1997 religion law by the extended deadline of 31 December 2000. The suit was signed by A. Buksman, the head of the Main Administration, on 29 May, the day after the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice lodged a case against the refusal to re-register the branch at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Pchelintsev told Keston on 4 July that, besides its failure to be re-registered, the suit cites another reason for liquidation: the Salvation Army branch did not provide annual information to the registration agency about its activities. Article 8, point 9 of the religion law states that each year a religious organisation must tell the agency that registered it about its continuing activity and `a failure to supply the information required over a period of three years will be grounds for an appeal by the registration agency to the court with a suit for the religious organisation to cease its activity'.

According to Pchelintsev, the branch indeed failed to provide this information, but was in constant contact with the Main Administration of the justice ministry for the city of Moscow about re-registration.

Pchelintsev was optimistic about the Salvation Army's case at the European Court of Human Rights. `It's a scandalous infringement of rights and so we will try to ensure that the case is fast-tracked and does not have to wait its turn,' he told Keston. `We are convinced we will win.'

The Salvation Army was registered in Moscow in 1992. On 16 August 2000, an official rejection of its re-registration application was issued, whereupon the Moscow branch lodged an appeal at Moscow's Presnensky district court. However, the court approved the re-registration refusal, citing as grounds the fact that the Salvation Army was a military organisation subordinate to a foreign centre of authority. On 28 November 2000, Moscow city court refused to allow an appeal by the Moscow branch against the Presnensky court decision (see KNS 30 November 2000).

The Salvation Army has encountered such re-registration difficulties only in Moscow; on a federal level it has been registered as a centralised religious organisation (see KNS 26 February 2001). (END)