Wednesday 1 September

by Nabi Abdullayev, Keston News Service

Muslim extremists failed in their appeal for mass indigenous support during the recent hostilities in Dagestan, and came to depend more heavily than they had expected on invading forces from neighbouring Chechnya. When BAGAUDIN MAGOMEDOV, the leader of Dagestan's indigenous Wahhabite Muslims, launched his August incursion into the south Russian province's Tsumadin region, he was counting on the support of what is the province's second largest Wahhabite community. (The largest is in Karamakhi.) However, only an insignificant minority of the community supported the incursion - the overwhelming majority of the Tsumadin Wahhabites distanced themselves from the fighting.

Several days later the so-called 'Islamic Peacemaking Battalion', under the command of Chechnya's most influential field commander, SHAMIL BASAYEV, entered the neighbouring Botlikh region of Dagestan. (Basayev had told Keston News Service in a 1995 interview that he intended to fight for the independence not only of Chechnya but of all the historically Muslim provinces in the northern Caucasus.) Joining Basayev's expeditionary force was a unit of foreign combatants commanded by the Jordanian warlord EMIR-EL-KHATTAB and said to include Arabs, Afghans, Sudanese, Ukrainians and Balts.

The subsequent battles, ending in the invaders' retreat to Chechnya, were widely covered in the press. However, the internal political squabbles within Dagestan concerning attempts by the state to arrest the growth of Muslim extremism have been much less widely reported.

On 23 August the presidium of the People's Assembly of Dagestan met and declared the province's 1997 law 'On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations', already intended to restrict Wahhabite activity, to be too lenient. The presidium decided that even stricter legal norms should be drawn up in the near future.

At the outset of the recent conflict the head of the State Council of Dagestan, MAGOMEDALI MAGOMEDOV, publicly declared that the republic's authorities had tolerated Wahhabism for too long and that henceforth state structures would adopt a less conciliatory position. RADZHAB BAGIROV, Head of the Department for the Affairs of Social and Religious Organisations and Social Relations attached to the Ministry of Justice of Dagestan and chairman of the Commission to Counteract Political and Religious Extremism in the republic, gave the following comments concerning relations between the state and the Wahhabite community: 'As far as we are concerned they do not exist. For the state to take measures in relation to one or other subject of the law, thelatter must be registered. We have an imperfect law on religious organisations which has no power when it comes to communities without registration.' Indeed, the Wahhabites do not register their communities - the very idea of registration runs against their religious principles, as they do not recognise the acting secular state in Dagestan.

Even in the absence of legal grounds, however, repression has already begun. In several villages heads of administration and traditionalist Muslim clergy have already wrecked several Wahhabite mosques and are trying to drive Wahhabites out of the villages or place them under house arrest. The houses of religious leaders and scholars not entirely in line with the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims in Dagestan have been searched for extremist literature. Rural areas have seen the destruction of local television transmitters which had been used for religious broadcasts.

So far the result of such repression has been to make the indigenous Wahhabites more numerous and more militant. The Wahhabite enclave in Karamakhi has seen a sudden increase in numbers. Its members have set up armed patrols in the adjacent hills and are forming a defensive fortification around the village for fear of possible attacks.

Dagestan now has good reason to fear new upheavals in the near future. Outright persecution of the Wahhabites may turn their moderate majority into radicals, in which event the training camps for fighters in Chechnya are always at their disposal - as are arsenals of every type of weapon and foreign specialists in terrorism. (END)

Wednesday 1 September

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

VIKTOR ZORKALTSEV, chairman of the Duma's committee on religion, has formally proposed a motion to extend the period of reregistration for religious organisations by one year, MIKHAIL OSADCHEV, assistant to Duma deputy VALERI BORSHCHEV, told Keston on 26 August. According to Osadchev, the proposal would be considered by the Duma Council first. If this Council passed the motion, it could 'propose one of the parliamentary committees, probably ours, to prepare the text of the amendment. Like any other amendment to a law, it will have to undergo three readings, but I think that this will take place quickly.'

Although the proposal to extend the reregistration period originated at the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, the Ministry does not have the power to initiate changes in legislation. However, the proposal was taken up by Zorkaltsev's committee. On 25 August ALEKSANDR KUDRYAVTSEV, who is responsible for the registration of religious organisations at the Ministry of Justice, told Keston: 'Our proposal was to introduce an amendment to Article 27 Part 4 [of the 1997 law on religion], which concerns the procedure for registration of religious organisations, that is to extend the reregistration period. The Presidential Administration - ANDREI LOGINOV in person - supported us. An extension of the reregistration period would satisfy both the organs of justice and religious organisations. It is hoped that the Duma will deal with it in September.'

When Keston asked why the Ministry of Justice had made such a proposal, Kudryavtsev replied: 'We are not managing to reregister everybody. More than half the organisations have not gone through this process - after all, 16,000 organisations were registered [under the 1990 law on religion]. We receive dozens of applications every day.'

On 26 August renowned lawyer GALINA KRYLOVA gave the following commentary on the situation concerning the reregistration of religious organisations: 'The situation is complex. Approximately 30 per cent of organisations have been re-registered. Many organisations simply do not want to submit documents as they know that they will be refused registration. For example, if an organisation was registered seven years ago its application will be rejected because it has not been in existence for 15 years. An official refusal is undesirable for a religious organisation; if there are grounds to suppose that it has violated the law the Ministry of Justice is obliged to initiate legal proceedings for the liquidation of the organisation. It is better not to attract attention. Perhaps [an unregistered organisation] will not be able to import literature or visit prisons. But they can live with that.'

The Ministry of Justice's original proposal, put forward by its former minister PAVEL KRASHENINNIKOV, would have extended the reregistration period by two years, but Zorkaltsev's committee did not support it.

According to Osadchev, the compromise amendment extending the deadline by one year 'is the result of a wide-reaching international campaign against the 1997 law on religion. Recently the authors of the law publicly admitted that the law is repressive and anticonstitutional - I am referring to the speech by Andrei Sebentsov at the Chamber of Human Rights this spring. On that occasion he promised that the government would work on the law.' Soon afterwards the former justice minister, Krasheninnikov, made a proposal to extend the registration deadlines for social and religious organisations.

The chief of staff of the Duma's committee on religion, VYACHESLAV POLOSIN, advised Keston not to look for any hidden ideological motives behind the proposal: 'The issue was raised within the Ministry of Justice and the Presidential Administration, there are no hidden ideological motives here, it is just that the registering organ is unable to cope with the huge quantity of work.' (END)

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(c) Keston Institute 1999