RUSSIA: Salvation Army Must Cease Its Activities in Moscow.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 6 December 2001

Colonel Kenneth Baillie, commanding officer of the Salvation Army in Russia, has vowed that the group's Moscow branch will "keep on working" despite the court ruling today (6 December) that it must cease all its activities in the Russian capital. Speaking to Keston News Service outside the courtroom in Moscow immediately after the verdict was handed down, he said he had been hoping that the municipal court would at least have delayed a final decision in view of the pending Constitutional Court case, which will consider the constitutionality of Article 27, Part 4 of Russia's 1997 law on religion. The prosecutors claim the Salvation Army's Moscow branch had violated this article.

The Moscow municipal court upheld the September ruling by Tagansky district court ordering the withdrawal of legal personality status from the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army and the cessation of its activities in the Russian capital (see KNS 5 October 2001). The church's appeal against the September ruling having thus failed, it will now come into legal force.

It was on 12 September that Tagansky district court ruled that the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army should lose its legal personality status due to 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. The court also ruled that the church's activities be declared to have ceased due to a violation of Article 8, Part 9 of the same law, under which a religious organisation 'is obliged to inform annually the organ registering it of its activities,' including its location, title and details concerning its leaders.

Addressing three judges in a packed courtroom of no more than eight square metres, the Salvation Army's defence lawyer, Vladimir Ryakhovsky of the Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, today argued that even if it were formally the case that the church had not re-registered by the 1997 law's deadline of 31 December 2000, it had been "trying to use all possible methods to comply" ever since the submission of its finalised re-registration papers to Moscow city justice department in February 1999. He also reminded the judges that the church had referred its case to both the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and the European Court of Human Rights.

Addressing the second part of the Tagansky district court ruling, Ryakhovsky pointed out that, according to Article 8, Part 9 of the 1997 law on religion, the failure of a religious organisation to submit information regarding its activities annually must be over a three-year period in order for the registering organ to have grounds to appeal to a court to declare that it has ceased its activities. Since all the necessary information was submitted in the church's re-registration application less than three years ago and as the organisation was clearly still functioning, argued Ryakhovsky (he showed the judges copies of the branch's financial accounts for the last three years), Tagansky district court "had no grounds for ordering that the Salvation Army cease its activities."

No representative from the Moscow city justice department was present at the hearing.

When the court ruled to reject the church's appeal following a brief recess, Ryakhovsky branded the decision unlawful: "Why would anyone want to close down the Salvation Army?' he remarked outside the courtroom, "Because they feed the homeless? I'm ashamed that this is happening in my country." (END)