Thursday 10 February 2000

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

As of 31 December 1999, when the receipt of applications from religious
organisations for re-registration was halted, in accordance with the law `On
freedom of conscience and religious organisations', some forty per cent of
centrally registered religious groups and up to half those registered locally had
failed to achieve re-registration. The receipt of applications may now resume
only after the State Duma of the Russian Federation has ratified a bill to extend
the period for re-registration of religious organisations.

ALEKSANDR KUDRYAVTSEV, head of the department for registration of
religious organisations in the Ministry of Justice, told Keston News Service in
an interview in Moscow on 3 February that `at a federal level [i.e. those who
are registering with the Ministry of Justice] 191 organisations got through the
re-registration process, while 127 were left without re-registration. In the
provincial agencies of justice, 50 per cent of organisations have been re-
registered of the 15,000 on the list, though one needs to bear in mind that not
all of them still exist. The picture in terms of denominations is as follows:
Protestant cases are going well; the Orthodox recently put on a late spurt and
almost all have been re-registered. Islamic communities are in the worst
position of all - but this is understandable, in the North Caucasus it's not a
priority right now.' Kudryavtsev added that information from local branches of
the Ministry was still incomplete, as it arrived by post, which is unreliable.
Work in his department had also been hampered by the move to new offices in
Moscow which, as he told Keston, had meant that his department had been
unable to do any work for the whole of January - a crucial period in the
immediate aftermath of the expiry of the re-registration deadline.

The Ministry of Justice has been concerned that those organisations that have
not got through the re-registration process should not be legally wound up, as
the law had envisaged. A letter of 27 December 1999 (No. 10766-SYu), sent
`by way of information' to the leaders of the local agencies of the Ministry of
Justice and signed by the deputy Justice Minister STANISLAV YUDUSHKIN,
declared: `The State Duma of the second convocation [1995-1999] did not
consider the bill for a Federal law `On the introduction of reforms to point 4 of
article 27 of the Federal law "On freedom of conscience and religious
organisations" in the provisions devoted to extending the period for re-
registration of religious organisations´┐Ż, which was supported by the
government of the Russian Federation and the Council for cooperation with
religious organisations under the President of the Russian Federation, and
approved by the Council of the State Duma. In accordance with the regulations
of the State Duma, the said bill will immediately be considered by the newly-
elected State Duma.'

As Kudryavtsev told Keston on 3 February, `the head of the State Duma
Legislation Committee is now our former minister PAVEL
KRASHENINNIKOV, who did at one time propose an extension to the re-
registration period, and we're hoping that this will mean the bill may be
considered as soon as possible'.

In a bid to discover whether any religious groups have been closed down
Keston questioned the representatives of various central religious
organisations, including Father VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN, press secretary of the
Moscow Patriarchate; Father IGOR KOVALEVSKY, the chancellor of the
Apostolic Administration for Catholics in European Russia; BORIS
TANASOV, who is in charge of registration of member churches of the Union
of Evangelical Christians/Baptists under the leadership of PYOTR
KONOVALCHIK; and VLADIMIR SHARIKOV who is in charge of
registration of member churches of the Union of Christians of Evangelical
Faith/Pentecostals under the leadership of VLADIMIR MURZA. All reported
that there have so far been no cases where any religious organisation has been
closed down because of the expiry of the re-registration deadline.

However there was an attempt to close down the Church of Christ in the
Chuvash capital Cheboksary, a charismatic church which belongs to the
`Calvary Community' association and is also a member of the Russian Union of
Evangelical Christians/Pentecostals led by SERGEI RYAKHOVSKY (see
KNS 31 January 2000). The absence of re-registration emerged as one of the
accusations in the legal action. It appears that officials in the outlying republics
do not always pay attention to recommendations from the Ministry of Justice.
The Ministry of Justice's representative in the Chuvash Republic, VALERI
VAZYUKOV, who is responsible for the registration of religious
organisations, said in an interview with Keston that he observes the law, not

What is the outlook for re-registration of religious organisations in 2000?
Interviewed by Keston on 28 January, YEKATERINA SMYSLOVA, a lawyer
and head of the Esther legal centre in Moscow, reckoned that `everything will
now be calm and harmonious, so long as VLADIMIR PUTIN is not elected
president. His harsh declarations are not made casually - such as when he
declares that all laws guaranteed by the Constitution will be strictly
implemented.' Lawyers at the Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and
Justice, interviewed by Keston on 24 January, are so far refraining from
making any predictions. VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY, one of the Centre's
leaders, was cautious: `At the end of the year the situation could be described
as stable. But it is too early to say that all is well. It is possible that the
Cheboksary case is only the first sign.' Ryakhovsky's colleague, the lawyer
ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV, advised that the customary reason for refusing re-
registration is that officials are after bribes. (END)

VLAD CUBREACOV, the Bessarabian Metropolitanate's representative to the
European Court of Human Rights, was wrongly described as a 'former staff
member of the Soviet-era Council for Religious Affairs'. In fact he was the
head of the Department of Cults in the Ministry of Culture and Cults during the
term of office of the first independent post-Soviet Moldovan government.
Keston regrets the error. (END)

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