RUSSIA: Criticism of Anti-Religious Extremism Proposals.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 5 February 2002

The explanatory notes to the proposed legislation outlawing "extremist activity" (See separate KNS article) argue that it is necessary since the individual Russian laws currently containing anti-extremist provisions "are not co-ordinated with one another, are in part obsolete, have in part not stood up in practice, and offer extremist organisations rather broad opportunities to evade liability." So far, however, the proposals have met with criticism from various quarters.

Speaking to Keston in the Russian Duma (parliament) on 29 January, aide to deputy Sergei Kovalyov, Lev Levinson, commented that the bills constituted "ideological legislation, which shouldn't exist in principle - one can talk about terrorism, but extremism is meaningless as a legal term." Director of the Institute for Religion and Law, Anatoli Pchelintsev similarly doubts the workability of such legislation. Addressing a conference devoted to state-confessional relations in Moscow on 25 January, he remarked: "As a lawyer, I cannot imagine how one can draw up a law on extremism - I'm certain it will be still-born."

Entitled "The State and Traditional Religious Organisations: Conceptual Bases for Mutual Co-operation After the Model of the Central Federal Okrug", the 25 January conference was chaired by the Okrug's authorised presidential representative, Georgi Poltavchenko. While the conference recommendations acknowledge that "the strengthening of measures opposed to religious extremism is one of the priority tasks in the sphere of church-state relations," they stress as one of the most productive ways of counteracting extremism not legislation but "co-operation between the state and traditional religious organisations."

Speaking from the presidium at the same conference, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad insisted that legislative amendments made in the sphere of state-confessional relations were "unacceptable without the consultation of religious organisations." This was particularly the case when draft laws were prepared "in secret," he maintained, "as has taken place with government amendments in connection with the draft law against extremism." The bill "contains norms for the liquidation of a religious organisation," he complained, "and religious organisations don't know anything about it."

Interviewed by Keston on 29 January, Aleksandr Chuyev, vice-chairman of the Duma Committee for Religious and Social Organisations, described the proposed legislation's definition of extremism as "too broad." He was particularly critical of the way in which the proposals "don't opt out traditional religious organisations but place strict control over all."

On 4 February Stepan Medvedko, adviser to the same committee, described the government proposals as "rather poor" and said his committee was working on an as yet unfinalised draft law - "Against the Propaganda of Religious Extremism" - in consultation with the Legislative Assembly of the Republic of Dagestan.

Lev Levinson maintained to Keston that, as the government proposals were supported by the presidential administration, there was a serious chance of their swift adoption: "There is the danger that they will try to pass them in one reading before the summer, and they will be given the go-ahead as a result of 11 September." Referring to legislative proposals in general at "The State and Traditional Religious Organisations:," an assistant to the governor of Kursk region commented that the US government was currently unlikely to criticise such initiatives in Russia: "Since 11 September they have passed a lot which goes against their own constitution." (END)