Wednesday 9 February 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Romania's new prime minister MUGUR ISARESCU appears to have decided
to withdraw the controversial bill on religious organisations that has divided
religious communities in Romania. Human rights activists and religious leaders
reported these rumours to Keston News Service, while a leading official in the
State Secretariat for Religious Cults confirmed that the government is likely to
take a decision on withdrawing the draft `within a few days'.

Many non-Orthodox religious groups had opposed the bill on the General
Status of Religious Cults, presented by the government to parliament in
September 1999 (see KNS 22 November 1999). The bill would have separated
religious groups into three categories, making it all but impossible for new
groups to attain the status of government-recognised `religious cult', a group
with the highest status. Unrecognised groups would have been illegal and their
leaders liable to fines for conducting unregistered activity.

`The withdrawal of the draft law is declared, but is not yet a confirmed
decision,' GABRIEL ANDREESCU, chairman of the Romanian Helsinki
Committee APADOR-CH told Keston on 9 February from Bucharest.
Andreescu reported that he had received a call on 3 February from a minister
who had told him that the prime minister had indicated that he had already
withdrawn the draft. Andreescu had also spoken at the end of January to an
advisor to the prime minister who was also convinced of the need to withdraw
the bill and who reported two days later that the process had already been set in
train. `The decision has not yet reached the parliament bureau,' Andreescu told

Pastor OTNIEL BUNACIU, deputy general secretary of the Romanian Baptist
Union who is currently teaching in the United States, told Keston on 9
February that he too had heard reports that the bill was being withdrawn.

An official of the State Secretariat for Religious Cults confirmed to Keston in a
telephone interview on 9 February that it had recommended at the end of
January that the government should withdraw the bill. MONICA LOTREANU,
a counsellor to the head of the State Secretariat Minister NICOLAE BRANZA,
declared: `I can confirm only the fact that we made a proposal to the
government on the withdrawal of the draft law on the General Status of
Religious Cults, but as far as I know the government has not given its decision
yet. It is up the government to withdraw the bill. Until the government makes
its decision it is just a proposition, speculation.' However, she believed the
withdrawal was almost inevitable. `There is no doubt it is now a matter of just
a short time, a few days, although I cannot speak for the government and its
agenda.' She stressed that when the government issues its decision it will be
published in the Official Monitor.

Asked why the government seems set to withdraw the bill, Lotreanu
responded: `There are a number of reasons. We are not the only institution to
recommend its withdrawal, churches, the commission on human rights and
minorities of the Chamber of Deputies and other groups also recommended
withdrawal.' Asked whether pressure from abroad had played a part, she
declared: `To a certain extent.' She stressed that the political situation was very
different in Romania to a year ago and the country was taking seriously
reforms to bring it into line with European Union practice. `The European
Union has changed our vision regarding freedom of religion in the context of
human rights,' she affirmed. `There are new political and diplomatic aspects of
the country.' But she was also keen to underline that many local religious
groups had also proposed the withdrawal of the bill. She indicated that a new
draft will have to be drawn up if the government goes ahead and withdraws the
current draft.

Bunaciu welcomes unequivocally the apparent moves to withdraw what he
considered `this unjust law proposal'. `This is good news for evangelicals in our
country,' he told Keston.

Andreescu also welcomed the apparently imminent withdrawal. `I don't
forecast the reaction of the Orthodox Church,' he declared. `The other religious
groups will, of course, be happy. As regard to the explanation of the decision,
this is clearly the result of the exceptional solidarity among freedom of religion
defenders all around the world.' Andreescu is already working on proposals for
what he would like to see in a new draft. `I started now the work for another
draft law on the freedom of religion. It is strategically important now to fill the
gap.' (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000