RUSSIA: Salvation Army Precedent Saves Pacific Baptist Church.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 21 October 2002

Recently received by Keston News Service, the text of a local court decision not to liquidate an independent Baptist Church for failing to re-register appears to mark a significant victory for the observation of legal precedent in such cases.

The local department of justice of the far eastern Russian region of Khabarovsky Krai had sought liquidation of the independent Baptist church in the Pacific port of Vanino for failing to re-register by the 31 December 2000 deadline stipulated by Russia's 1997 law on religion. When the case was finally heard on 29 August, however, Judge Tamara Afanasyeva ruled against liquidation (see KNS 30 August 2002).

The court's written ruling, which the Vanino Baptists eventually managed to obtain, confirms parishioner Inna Vaulina's assumption that the local court had decided in the church's favour due to a related ruling by Russia's Constitutional Court earlier this year.

Having failed to avert a liquidation ruling for similarly failing to re-register by the 1997 law's deadline, the Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army appealed to the Constitutional Court, which determined that liquidation of a religious organisation registered prior to the 1997 law on religion is permissible only if "it is properly proven to have ceased its activities or to be conducting activity in violation of its obligations as a legal personality according to the Russian Constitution".

Like the Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army, Vanino Baptist Church had legal personality status prior to the adoption of the 1997 law. Founded by U.S. missionary Dan Pollard, it was registered on 23 April 1996, but had its re-registration application refused by Khabarovsky Krai department of justice on 25 October 2000 on the grounds that the church's legal address is also registered as living accommodation.

Khabarovsky Krai department of justice did not appeal against the court's decision within the prescribed ten day period and so it came into legal effect on 9 September. Specifically referring to the Constitutional Court's ruling concerning the Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army, the Vanino court states that it considers the Constitutional Court's interpretation of the relevant parts of the law to be "generally binding and excluding any other interpretation in judicial practice," so that it "finds no basis" for the liquidation of the Baptist church.

If the church had been liquidated, it would have been able to register anew independently of any other church structure under the 1997 law, but only after a 15-year wait, during which it would be deprived of such basic rights as distributing literature and inviting foreign citizens. (END)