MOLDOVA: Moratorium on Registration of New Faiths

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 24 June 2002

A government session on 12 June ruled that no new faiths will be registered until the religion law is amended, a government official has told Keston News Service. Ion Rabacu, the official handling religious issues within the government, told Keston from Chisinau on 24 June that under the new amendments, which are still being formulated within the Justice Ministry, responsibility for registering faiths is likely to be transferred from the government to the State Service for the Affairs of Cults, a body that at present appears to have little power or influence over such decisions.

Serghei Ostaf of the Moldovan Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, who has defended the rights of a number of religious communities, believes the transfer of responsibility to the State Service - if it eventually goes through - would be an improvement. "The government's decisions over registration have always been political," he told Keston from Chisinau on 24 June, pointing particularly to the denial of registration to the Bessarabian jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church. He complained that the current system is far from transparent. "It is unclear who actually takes the decisions on registration within the government."

However, Ostaf fears that the moratorium on new registrations could be protracted, as it remains unclear how long it will be before any amendments to the religion law are approved by parliament and enter into force. "This could just be an excuse for some delaying tactics. The government should move faster."

Under Moldova's religion law, recognition of religious faiths is granted by government decree, signed by the prime minister and published in the official gazette. Unregistered religions cannot buy land or obtain building permits for places of worship or educational institutions.

The government has recognised and registered 20 religious faiths, mostly Christian denominations but also including Jews, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'is and the Hare Krishna community. As well as the Bessarabian Church, it has denied registration to the True Orthodox Church and the Spiritual Organisation of Muslims in Moldova (see separate KNS article). The Mormons applied for registration in 2000, but have so far not achieved it.

Rabacu told Keston that the justice ministry has not yet sent its proposals to the government, which must approve them before they are sent to parliament.

There have been plans for some time to amend the religion law. Ostaf told Keston that Gheorghe Armasu, the previous head of the State Service who was replaced by Sergei Yatsko last March, had told him months ago that amendments were likely to take their cue from the "anti-sect" law adopted in France in May 2001. This law has been bitterly opposed by minority faiths in France and by religious freedom advocates. (END)