RUSSIA: Proposed Ban on Religious 'Extremist Activity'.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 5 February 2002

A new draft law would ban religious organisations in Russia found to have committed "extremist activity."

"On the Struggle Against Extremist Activity" is the Ministry of Justice's reworking of a 1999 Russian government legislative initiative, adviser to the Duma (parliament) Committee for Religious and Social Organisations, Stepan Medvedko, told Keston on 4 February. The draft has yet to come before parliament, having been returned to the government for additional reworking on 26 December 2001 by the Duma Committee for Legislation, which will review the text subsequently.

The bill defines extremist activity as "socially dangerous acts aimed at violent change to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, the violent seizure or retention of power, the violation of the sovereignty or territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, the creation of illegal armed units, the violation of the rights and freedoms of citizens on account of their race, nationality, language or attitude to religion or convictions, and incitement of national, racial or religious hatred, as well as public appeals to commit socially dangerous acts with these aims." (Article 1)

Criminal charges would be brought only against individual members found to have committed concrete violations of the law. (Article 5, Part 8) However, if a religious (or other) organisation, its subdivisions, leaders or members are shown to have conducted extremist activity (including distribution of "extremist materials") either at the direction or with the knowledge of even one of its ruling organs, the organisation as a whole is to be ruled extremist and banned. (Article 5, Part 3) Similarly, if leaders or members of religious (or other) organisations do not stress as their personal opinion statements that are ruled extremist and fail to retract them subsequently, their whole organisation runs the risk of being declared extremist and banned. (Article 5, Part 2)

For the organisation, a ban constitutes not only loss of legal personality status, but complete cessation of all its activities (Article 5, Part 5).

Accompanying the draft law is a supplementary bill - "On the Introduction of Amendments and Additions to Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in Connection With the Adoption of the Federal Law 'On the Struggle Against Extremist Activity'."

Most of the bill's proposed amendments and additions relate to Article 14 of Russia's 1997 law on religion. This currently lists grounds for liquidating or banning a religious organisation, such as forcing a family to disintegrate, encouraging the refusal of medical aid to the critically ill on religious grounds, and hindering the receipt of compulsory education. The newly-proposed wording for Article 14 states that these "and other extremist activities, including those carried out with the knowledge of the ruling (co-ordinating) organ of a centralised religious organisation, a local organisation within its structure or an institution of professional religious education created by a religious organisation" constitute grounds for recognition of a religious organisation as extremist. (Article 2, Part 3)

Under the new proposals, responsibility for implementation of the law is also changed. An amendment to Article 25 of the 1997 law would oblige the Ministry of Justice and its departments (which are currently responsible for registration of religious organisations), rather than the organs of the procuracy, to monitor "compliance by a religious organisation with the legislative requirements of the Russian Federation." To this end, continues Article 2, Part 4 of the proposed amendments, a registering organ has the right "to request the management documents of a religious organisation and to send its representatives to its religious rites, ceremonies and other events." The same proposed amendment states that "financial organs" (it is not specified which) are to "monitor a religious organisation's sources of income."

An amendment to Article 14, Part 2 would additionally oblige the registering organ to curtail the operations of a religious organisation immediately on finding that it had committed any of the "extremist activity" stipulated by the newly-worded Article 14, Part 1, and to file suit with the federal or local branch of the Supreme Court within three days for the religious organisation's ban. (Article 2, Part 3)

Also affecting religious organisations is a proposed amendment to Article 282, Part 1 of the Criminal Code, according to which leadership or participation in a banned extremist organisation is punishable by a fine of up to 1000 times the minimum wage or confiscation of received or other income for up to ten months or arrest for up to six months or deprivation of freedom for up to five years. (Article 3) (END)