RUSSIA: Work in Progress On Religion Laws Leaked.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 2 April 2002

On 19 March Articles 1-16 of work in progress on amendments to Russia's 1997 religious law were published on an internet site maintained by the Institute for State-Confessional Relations and Law (ISCRL) in cooperation with the religious faculty of the Russian Academy for State Service (RASS) and the Moscow City Department of Justice. The amendments are currently being drafted by a working group attached to the Russian government's Commission for Religious Associations.

Perhaps the most substantial alterations as published on the website (www.state-religion.ru) concern centralised religious organisations. These are currently registered on the federal level and must contain a minimum of three local religious organisations. According to the website's amended text, a centralised religious organisation must contain a minimum of ten local religious organisations of a single confession (Article 7, Part 4) which may not belong to another centralised religious organisation. (Article 7, Part 2) A new provision states that if a centralised religious organisation has fewer than ten local religious organisations and fails to reach this minimum in the course of three years from the date of adoption of the amendments, "the centralised religious organisation and all the religious organisations which it founded may be liquidated by court order." A local religious organisation must have its charter corroborated by a centralised religious organisation in order to belong to it (Article 10, Part 1) and may be refused registration in the case of failure to do so. (Article 12, Part 1)

Several clarifications to the status and rights of religious associations are also introduced. A religious organisation must be noncommercial (Article 8, Part 1) and should be characterised by possession of a doctrine (veroucheniye) "based upon belief in God, other supernatural forces and a person's obligations towards them." (Article 6, Part 1) An organisation created by religious organisations for co-ordinational or other non-religious purposes is not to be recognised as religious. (Article 8, Part 1)

Participants in a religious organisation are stipulated as "all adults participating in the activity of the religious organisation in accordance with its internal statutes." (Article 6, Part 2) It is specified that a religious group - which, according to the current law, is not obliged to register with the authorities - may operate in rented premises provided by its members (Article 7, Part 1) and may give religious instruction other than to its own followers. (Article 7, Part 3) A local religious organisation may have as its address the place of residence of one of its founders. (Article 11, Part 5)

A further set of the leaked text's provisions relates to registration of religious organisations. Both religious groups wishing eventually to transform into religious organisations (Article 7, Part 2) and religious organisations (Article 8, Part 9) must inform the registering organ annually about the continuation of their activities. Entirely absent, however, are parts 2 and 3 of Article 11, which stipulate the registering organ for religious organisations. Speaking at a Moscow conference entitled "Religion, Politics and Human Rights" on 19 March, Viktor Korolyov, head of the department for registration of religious organisations within the Ministry of Justice, announced that, in connection with forthcoming legislation on the registration of legal personalities, his ministry and its departments might in future bear responsibility only for deciding whether or not to register an organisation and not for the actual procedure. He emphasised that the nature of any such changes was as yet entirely unclear, however.

According to the website text, a religious organisation may have its registration annulled by the courts if "inauthentic information" is discovered in its application after it has been registered. (Article 11, Part 10) If a registering organ declines to consider a religious organisation's registration application because it does not comply with registration requirements, however, it is to inform the applicant of the substance of any breaches. (Article 11, Part 9)

In addition to the discovery of "inauthentic information" in its registration application, Article 14's grounds for the liquidation of a religious organisation may in future include a drop to below the minimum of the required number of participants (this is nowhere stipulated, but the minimum number of founders, as before, is cited as ten) and the de facto cessation of the organisation's activity as featured in its charter. While the grounds for an outright ban remain identical in all but one respect (attempts aimed at forcibly changing the foundations of the constitutional structure or destroying the unity of the Russian Federation may include calls to do so), such activity must be shown to be either "a consequence of the religious upbringing and/or instruction which participants have received in or the execution of demands of the leaders of the religious organisation." (Article 14, Part 2)

With reference to religious sites, it is stipulated that the situation of gambling and amusement arcades and the trade of alcohol, tobacco and pornography in their vicinity "is restricted (prohibited)." (Article 3, Part 7) It is also stated that religious organisations "have the right to establish rules for the visitation of cult buildings and structures and other objects of religious devotion belonging to them and corresponding behaviour in them." (Article 15, Part 2) Without further elaboration, Article 4, Part 3 stipulates that "the state renders financial, material and other assistance to religious organisations in their carrying out of charitable and other socially useful activities."

The other suggested changes to the law, according to the website text, relate to the status of minors and religious education. As chairman of the working group, Andrei Sebentsov, told Keston News Service last November, one proposed amendment removes "drawing into" (vovlecheniye) and "without the agreement of" from Article 3, Part 5, which now reads: "In accordance with legislation on the family, parents have priority rights over the education of their children. Attraction (privlecheniye) of minors to participate in services, religious rites, ceremonies and other activity by religious organisations, as well as the instruction of religion to minors, is permitted with the knowledge and in the absence of objections from their parents or guardians." According to Article 5, Part 4, provision of the opportunity for religious organisations to give children extra-curricular religious instruction to pupils of state and municipal educational institutions may be granted "taking into account the rights of the child" (previously "with the agreement of") and "in accordance with the procedure established by the federal organ of executive power for education" (previously "by agreement with the appropriate organ of local government.")

Having repeatedly but unsuccessfully tried to contact Andrei Sebentsov, Keston on 29 March spoke to another working group member and secretary of the presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations, Aleksandr Kudryavtsev. Aware of, but not having seen the website text of the working group's work in progress, Kudryavtsev pointed out that although ISCRL's chairman Igor Ponkin was not a member of the working group, he could well have been passed the material by one of its members. Kudryavtsev emphasised most strongly to Keston that the text of the amendments would be "reworked 100 times" before being submitted for consideration, and even then it was far from a foregone conclusion that they would be adopted. "It is ridiculous to discuss raw material in this way," he remarked. (END)