Tuesday 6 October



By Tatiana Titova, Keston News Service

Keston News Service has learned from various sources that recent

amendments which seemingly soften Russia's harsh new rules on

visas for foreign religious workers are being widely ignored in

practice. Contrary to the impression created by the Russian

Foreign Ministry, in practice many officials are still granting

visas only for three-month periods.

FR ANTONI GEI of Moscow's Roman Catholic parish of Ss Peter and

Paul told Keston that 'for us everything is still as it was

earlier: they are granting only three-month visas and not

extending them'. VALENTINA LEBEDEVA of the Mormons' office in

Moscow said the softening amendments had been circulated only

among officials of the Foreign Ministry, who were using them to

issue one-year visas. But she pointed out that it was OVIR (the

Directorate for Visas and Registration), an organ of the Ministry

of the Interior, that handled applications from missionaries to

extend three-month visas. Although a representative of the

Ministry of the Interior was present at the August session of an

inter-agency commission which discussed the amendments, that

Ministry has not distributed the document to its own subunits.

Therefore, said Mrs Lebedeva, foreigners visiting OVIR offices

to request extensions of their three-month visas in accordance

with the new document were still being met with refusals. The

result: as before, missionaries often find that they have to

leave Russia every three months just to apply for new visas.

SERGEI BUSHMARINOV, an official of the Foreign Ministry's

Directorate for International Cooperation and Human Rights, told

Keston that the amendments were discussed at an August session

of the government's inter-agency commission on the status of

foreigners. He said that this session took place on 19

August--not later in August, as stated by some other sources. In

his words, 'nobody can now have doubts about the possibility of

getting extensions on visas'. He left unclear just how often this

'possibility' would be realised in practice.

Moscow human-rights lawyer LEV SIMKIN, who advises the Mormons

on legal issues in Russia, told Keston in August that he had

received the text of the amendments from the Foreign Ministry's

consular directorate. In his view, he said, the amendments were

being circulated specifically to improve the atmosphere during

the visit to Russia of America's PRESIDENT CLINTON.

Simkin gave Keston a copy of the amendments, according to which

the new rules' 'Point 54' on 'Religious Affairs' is now to read

as follows: '(1) Foreigners present for religious activities with

the goal of missionary work, or service in religious

organisations: up to three months with subsequent registration

of the visa by the organs of internal affairs for a period of

work exceeding three months. (2) Foreigners present for religious

activities, for negotiations with religious organisations, with

the goal of pilgrimages, and similar activities: (a) single-entry

or double-entry up to three months. Registration by the organs

of internal affairs and by hotels. (b) multiple-entry up to 12


ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV of Moscow's Institute of Religion and Law

gave Keston a more optimistic view. He said that an official of

Russia's Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists--the Protestant

umbrella organisation created during the STALIN years--had

confirmed to him that for at least some missionaries, one-year

visas were indeed now being granted. (END)

Tuesday 6 October


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

President ROBERT KOCHARYAN of Armenia made an unequivocal

affirmation of religious liberty during a visit to California.

Speaking at a press conference in Glendale on 27 September, he

said that restrictions on religious groups were unseemly in a

democratic country, and not a step in the right direction. He was

responding to a question about whether Armenia's government

should place restrictions on proselytising religions in Armenia,

such as the Mormons, Hare Krishnas, Jehovah's Witnesses, and


'We have to be open and it is up to the Armenian Church to do its

best to serve the population without restrictions imposed on

others. It does not befit a democratic country to place

restrictions on who and what religion the people should follow,'

he said in remarks quoted by the California Courier Online.

Kocharyan repeated his commitment to religious liberty at a press

conference on 29 September while visiting Utah, where the

headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

(Mormons) are based. He said that Armenia was an independent

country that ensured such individual freedoms as speech and

religion, the Deseret News of Salt Lake City reported the

following day. Kocharyan's Utah trip included a meeting with the

First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day

Saints, which has provided substantial humanitarian aid to


Kocharyan's statements will be welcomed by members of Armenia's

minority religious communities, who suffered state-sponsored

violence and harassment under the rule of former president LEVON

TER-PETROSSYAN. In particular, there was a series of violent

assaults in April 1995 on Pentecostal, Evangelical, Baptist,

Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness, Hare Krishna and Bahai

communities. Armed men from the Yerkrapah paramilitary group

loyal to Defence Minister VAZGEN SARKISSYAN were involved in the

coordinated attacks, which caused some of these communities to

abandon their work in Armenia and their members to flee the


The Armenian Church, which has long lobbied the government for

'protection' from such 'sects', was reluctant to condemn these

attacks outright. It continued to lobby for a revision to the law

on religion. Such lobbying paid off in September 1997, when

parliament passed a revision to the 1991 law on Freedom of

Conscience and Religious Organisations. Although the final

version watered down provisions of the version approved by

parliament three months earlier, which Ter-Petrossyan had vetoed,

many provisions still favoured 'traditional' faiths.

Although baptised in the Armenian Catholic Church as a baby, Ter-

Petrossyan was close to the Armenian Church leadership and,

despite his veto of the June 1997 draft new law, supported

restrictions on what were considered non-traditional faiths. In

December 1993 he had issued a presidential decree imposing sharp

restrictions on minority religious faiths.

Robert Kocharyan, who was elected president in March 1998 after

the surprise resignation of Ter-Petrossyan, may be changing

Armenia's state policy on religion. He had already demonstrated

a greater respect for religious liberty than some of his

colleagues when he was the leader of the self-declared Nagorno-

Karabakh Republic, an unrecognised entity run by its local

Armenian population with close ties to Armenia itself. Although

Kocharyan backed restrictions on pacifist religious communities,

including Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists and Pentecostals, and

even the imprisonment of several members in Karabakh in 1993 and

1994, he reportedly took a softer line than many in the military


Although a number of Jehovah's Witnesses remain in prison in

Armenia, all have apparently been sentenced for refusing military

service. The Jehovah's Witness community has been repeatedly

denied official registration because of its pacifist stand. Until

the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is resolved,

groups that advocate an alternative to compulsory military

service are likely to face continuing government and societal

hostility. It is not yet known if Kocharyan is prepared to

reverse the refusal to register the Jehovah's Witnesses and to

allow those with conscientious objections to military service to

perform an alternative, unarmed service. (END)