RUSSIA: New Law Outlaws Religious Extremism.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 3 July 2002

A presidential bill banning religious organisations found to have committed "extremist activity" passed its third and final reading in the lower house of the Russian parliament (Duma) on 27 June, with 274 votes in favour and 145 against. To become law, the bill still needs approval from the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, and President Vladimir Putin, who proposed it.

"On Counteracting Extremist Activity" relates to the activity of religious as well as social and other organisations and the media. The law's definition of "extremist activity" is the same as in the second draft, which was passed on 20 June, but differs significantly from the first.

Article 1 now lists extremist activity as "the planning, organisation, preparation for or execution of actions aimed at the forcible change of the constitutional order or violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation; the undermining of the security or the assumption of the governing powers of the Russian Federation; the creation of illegal armed formations; terrorist activity; the incitement of racial, ethnic or religious discord or social discord in connection with violence or calls for violence; humiliation of national dignity; the organisation of mass unrest, hooliganism or acts of vandalism motivated by ideological, political, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or hatred towards a particular social group; the propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on account of their attitude towards religion, social status, race, nationality, religion, or language."

The other provisions of the new law broadly follow those of earlier drafts (see KNS 5 February and 7 June 2002). However, they also see the return of a couple of notable elements from the working text of the bill which were not included in the first draft officially adopted by the Duma's Legislation Committee on 29 April.

The first of these appears to indicate that a whole organisation may be liable for prosecution should only one of its subdivisions be found to have committed "extremist activity (extremism)". According to Article 7, an initial warning is to be sent to social, religious or other organisations "should facts come to light testifying to the presence of activity bearing the hallmarks of extremism in their activities, including in the activities of only one of their regional or other structural subdivisions."

The second feature reminiscent of the working draft stage of the bill relates to public statements made by its members. According to Article 15, if the leader or a member of the ruling organ of a social, religious or other organisation makes a public call for "extremist activity" without stating that it is his or her personal opinion, the organisation concerned must denounce the statements or actions of that person. If the organisation fails to do so, "this may be regarded as evidence of the presence of the hallmarks of extremism in its activity".

As with previous texts, there is an accompanying text introducing amendments to related legislation. Unlike the first draft of this text, however, the supplementary law includes changes to Article 14 of the 1997 law on religion, removing some of the specific grounds for liquidation but replacing them with the broader definition of "executing extremist activity". Omitted from Article 14's grounds for liquidating or banning the activities of a religious organisation are "undermining of state security," "violent change to the constitutional order or destroying the unity of the Russian Federation," "the creation of armed units" and "the propaganda of war, the igniting of social, racial, national or religious discord or hatred between people." These are superseded - and expanded - by the insertion of "the carrying out of extremist activity," which, as stated, includes not only the carrying out of but the planning, organisation and preparation of as well as calls for such activity.

Whereas Article 14 previously related only to the banning and liquidation of specifically religious organisations (and not unregistered groups), a new paragraph in Part 2 of the article now states "the activity of a religious association may be halted, a religious organisation may be liquidated, and the activity of a religious association which is not a religious organisation [i.e. a religious group] may be banned in accordance with the federal law 'On Counteracting Extremist Activity'." (END)