RUSSIA: Moscow Salvation Army Loses Liquidation Case.

by Xenia Dennen, Keston News Service, 13 September 2001

A Moscow district court ruled yesterday (12 September) that the branch of the Salvation Army in the Russian capital is to be liquidated. The Salvation Army’s legal team told Keston News Service immediately after the ruling that they were mounting a challenge in Russia’s Constitutional Court, stressing that the liquidation ruling would not go into effect until the Constitutional Court has heard the appeal. The Salvation Army has also lodged a case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (see separate KNS article). An official of the Moscow city justice department, which brought the suit, claimed the Salvation Army lost because it used what he alleged were ‘unscrupulous’ lawyers and denied there was any ‘ideological’ basis to the case.

The hearing began on 11 September before Judge Svetlana Grigoreva at the Tagansky district court, but was adjourned until 2 p.m. on 12 September after statements from the prosecution and defence.

On 11 September the defence moved that the case be deferred until after the Constitutional Court had ruled on the appeal submitted by the Salvation Army on 10 September, while the prosecution argued for liquidation based on their claim that the Salvation Army had failed to re-register before the December 2000 deadline and had not submitted annual reports during a three year period prior to the deadline. Judge Grigoreva rejected the defence's request and adjourned the hearing until the next day, saying she needed to obtain documentation from the tax authorities.

The many journalists and television cameras present on 11 September were absent on 12 September due no doubt to the media coverage of the terrorist attacks in the United States the previous day. The court was sparsely attended except for four journalists, including one from Keston, Colonel Kenneth Baillie of the Salvation Army with his lawyers Vladimir Ryakhovsky and Anatoli Pchelintsev of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice and the prosecution. Because Ryakhovsky was held up in a traffic jam and arrived ten minutes late, Judge Grigoreva, after listening to a statement from the prosecution, withdrew to consult the rest of the bench. She re-emerged after Ryakhovsky had arrived and, without listening to a word from the defence, ruled that the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army was to be liquidated.

Colonel Baillie, visibly distressed, told Keston outside the courtroom, 'It is a supreme irony that the 5 July hearing of our appeal on our original application went against us. It should have been in our favour as there was no lawyer from the city present. To our surprise the city submitted its case in writing after the hearing. The city lawyer doesn't show up, but the judgement goes against us.' Pchelintsev was equally dismayed. 'Yesterday the hearing was delayed for forty minutes and we waited,’ he told Keston. ‘Today the judge refused to wait. What does this show? The judge had predecided the outcome. She was not willing to listen to the defence. It was purely formal, there was no investigation of the case.’ He pledged to continue the arguments in the Constitutional Court. ‘We shall go on fighting.'

Ryakhovsky said that a mass of further documentation had been brought on 12 September. 'But the decision was taken yesterday.' The court had asked to see tax documents and therefore, according to legal procedure, these should have been considered during the 12 September hearing. 'Unfortunately, the judge was not interested in additional documentation.' The decision, however, he said had no force in law until the Salvation Army's Constitutional Court appeal - submitted and acknowledged by the court on 10 September - had been heard. 'All the material we could not present today, we will present in the appeal. It is too early to place a full stop on this case. We will not stop. We will show the justice of our case.' He felt personally insulted as a lawyer in the way the judge had behaved towards him: 'She treated me like a schoolboy. Even in Soviet days I never experienced anything like it. She disregarded the right of the defence.'

In the immediate aftermath of the Tagansky court's decision, the deputy head of the Moscow city justice department, Vladimir Zhbankov, told Keston by telephone that if the Salvation Army had followed his advice, as had the Moscow Anglican parish when it was threatened with losing its registration (see KNS 28 January 2000), and employed the lawyers he had recommended, 'the case would have been sorted out in three to five days'. The Salvation Army's re-registration application documents were not in order, he claimed: 'They employed unscrupulous lawyers [nechistoplotnye yuristy]. There is no ideological element to the case against the Salvation Army. There were contradictions in their statutes: in one place they called themselves a charitable organisation, in another a religious organisation. I didn't state that they were a military organisation, I simply asked them to explain why they had military ranks and they didn't answer the question. In Stalinist times you would have been arrested for wearing a uniform. Find yourselves respectable lawyers [prilichnye yuristy], I told them.' (END)