RUSSIA: Salvation Army To Appeal Against Liquidation Ruling.

Geraldine Fagan and Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 5 October 2001

The lawyers representing the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army in the latest stage of its battle to remain active in the Russian capital finally received the written ruling of the 12 September liquidation hearing (see KNS 20 September) on 28 September. On 3 October Vladimir Ryakhovsky of the Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice told Keston that the church’s appeal against this ruling - which liquidates the legal personality status and halts the activity of the Moscow branch - would probably be lodged on 5 October.

The undated document setting out the ruling of the Tagansky district court and signed by Judge Svetlana Grigoreva cites as grounds for liquidation of the branch its violation of Article 27 Part 4 of the 1997 Russian law on religion, according to which all religious organisations failing to re-register by 31 December 2000 are liable to liquidation by court order. Although the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army did indeed not re-register by this deadline, it submitted re-registration documentation to the Moscow city justice department in November 1998. Re-registration was refused by the Moscow city justice department on 16 August 1999 on the grounds that parts of the branch’s charter and other documentation did not conform to Russian legislation and that the Salvation Army’s headquarters are situated outside the Russian Federation. Although the Salvation Army challenged the justice department’s reasons for refusal, Judge Grigoreva points out that its appeal was rejected by Presnensky District Court on 5 July 2000, and that this ruling was upheld by Moscow Municipal Court on 28 November 2000.

The Tagansky district court decision gives an additional, new reason for liquidation. The Moscow branch of the Salvation Army, it states, has also violated Article 8 Point 9 of Russia’s 1997 law on religion, under which a religious organisation ‘is obliged to inform annually the organ registering it of its activities,’ including its location, title and details of its leaders. According to this same article, however, in order for the registering organ to appeal to a court to declare that the organisation in question has ceased its activities, it must fail to provide this information over a three-year period. In the case of the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army, it could be argued that the three-year period does not expire for another month, since the relevant information is contained in the re-registration documentation which it submitted in November 1998.

Speaking at a press conference held at the British Embassy in Moscow on 4 October, the international leader of the Salvation Army, General John Gowans, said that he was surprised by the Tagansky district court’s decision: ‘I would have hoped that after ten years the Salvation Army would have proved to any wise observer that it is a useful thing to have around - why Moscow would prefer to see a Christian church with a strong social conscience liquidated doesn’t appeal to my intelligence.’ He emphasized the Salvation Army’s legitimacy by pointing out that the church was a founder member of the World Council of Churches, whose representative was invited to lead all other Christian churches in prayer for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in America during a service in London’s Westminster Abbey on 30 September. General Gowans told Keston that he was unable to recall any country in the world where the Salvation Army had encountered difficulties similar to those in Moscow. Although asked to curtail its work in Algeria, he said, the church could be considered active in China since it was functioning in Hong Kong, and has even managed to operate for a long time without compromising its principles in Cuba.

 The Salvation Army’s appeal against the unconstitutionality of Article 27 Part 4 of the law on religion was acknowledged by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation on 10 September. Vladimir Ryakhovsky told Keston that he was informed on 2 October that this appeal has already passed the secretariat of that court. Currently under consideration by one of the court’s judges, he said, a hearing date for the case should set in two months’ time. (END)