KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 4 December 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. RUSSIA: 300 AMENDMENTS TO RELIGION LAW UNDER
CONSIDERATION. Over the coming months some 300 amendments to
Russia's religion law are to be considered by a working group attached to
the government's Commission for Religious Associations, the group�s
chairman Andrei Sebentsov told Keston News Service on 28 November.
The group is comprised of representatives of various faith communities
and religious affairs officials from different government departments.
Once they have drafted some proposed amendments (a process which will
take some time, Sebentsov told Keston ) these must gain the approval of
the Duma religion committee before consideration by parliament itself.

II. RUSSIA: MAJORITY OF PROPOSED AMENDMENTS "AGAINST
CONSTITUTION". The majority of the hundreds of proposed
amendments to Russia's 1997 law on religion - including the introduction
of the term "traditional religion" - cannot be adopted because they
contradict the country's constitution, Andrei Sebentsov, vice-chairman of
the government's Commission for Religious Associations and chairman of
the working group currently considering them, told Keston News Service
on 28 November. Amendments have been suggested by subjects of the
Russian Federation, as well as by the Commission for Religious Affairs
and members of the working group.

I. RUSSIA: 300 AMENDMENTS TO RELIGION LAW UNDER
CONSIDERATION

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

Over the coming months some 300 amendments to Russia's religion law
are to be considered by a working group attached to the government's
Commission for Religious Associations, the chairman of the former and
vice-chairman of the latter, Andrei Sebentsov told Keston News Service
in his office in the Russian parliament - the White House - on 28
November. In order to avoid a situation in which passions are inflamed
and "out of which there is no reasoned exit," he explained to Keston, the
working group will take its time over its deliberations.

According to another working group member and secretary of the
presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations,
Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, this review of the law was proposed by a 29 May
gathering of the Council. Subsequently backed by the presidential
administration, Kudryavtsev told Keston on 7 September, the review was
entrusted to Sebentsov's Commission, which went on to found the
working group on 23 October. At the group's 16 November meeting it
was decided that Sebentsov alone would provide public commentary on
its work.

Speaking at a conference in Moscow organised by the religion faculty of
the Russian Academy for State Service (RASS) on 15 November,
Sebentsov told delegates that prior to the 23 October meeting Russian
Orthodox Patriarch Aleksi II had telephoned the chairwoman of the
Commission, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko, to say that
Russia's law on religion was perfectly satisfactory and that there was no
need to amend it. At his 21 November press conference, the head of the
Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations,
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, also stated that he
would not insist on amendments. Since the patriarch criticised the religion
law as "imperfect" on 26 September 2000, according to a report by
Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, this would appear to mark a shift in
the Church's position.

This development surprises Sebentsov: "The recommendation [to review
the law] was made by the presidential Council, which contains three
members of the Holy Synod [Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and
Kaliningrad, Metropolitan Yuvenali of Krutitsy and Kolomna and
Metropolitan Sergi of Solnechnogorsk], so they should have said
something then." Metropolitan Sergi is also a member of the working
group reviewing the law, which, unlike the government Commission, is
half comprised of religious representatives. The 14 participants in its most
recent meeting on 21 November included Russian Orthodox (2), Old
Believer (1) Pentecostal (1), Muslim (1) and Jewish (2) representatives, as
well as officials specialising in religious affairs from the Ministry of
Justice, the presidential administration, Moscow City Council, RASS and
the Duma (parliament) religion committee.

Interviewed by Keston, Sebentsov confirmed that once his working group
has drafted the proposed amendments, they must gain the approval of the
Duma religion committee before consideration by parliament itself. There
may well be attempts at that stage to introduce some of those privileges
for "traditional" confessions which Sebentsov considers anti-
constitutional (see separate KNS article) - committee chairman Viktor
Zorkaltsev hosted a parliamentary hearing devoted to the Russian
Orthodox Church's social doctrine in the Duma on 6 July, while earlier in
the year vice-chairman Aleksandr Chuyev voiced support for amending
the law to give "traditional" religious organisations special access to the
media and education. In view of this, Sebentsov stressed to Keston, the
working group would not propose some radical changes to the law which
he considered desirable, such as "completely doing away with the
preamble." (The preamble to the 1997 law highlights the "special
contribution" of Orthodoxy to the history of Russia and declares respect
for Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism.) Could the Duma
committee nevertheless not overturn much that the working group
proposed, Keston asked Sebentsov? Theoretically it could, he replied,
"but they won't manage it in practice - everything we propose will be very
well thought through." (END)

II. RUSSIA: MAJORITY OF PROPOSED AMENDMENTS "AGAINST
CONSTITUTION"

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

The majority of the hundreds of proposed amendments to Russia's 1997
law on religion - including the introduction of the term "traditional
religion" - cannot be adopted because they contradict the country's
constitution, Andrei Sebentsov, vice-chairman of the government's
Commission for Religious Associations and chairman of the working
group currently considering them, told Keston News Service in his office
in the Russian parliament building (the White House) in Moscow on 28
November.

Speaking on 15 November at a conference in Moscow organised by the
religion faculty of the Russian Academy for State Service (RASS),
Sebentsov cited some of the 300 amendments that have been suggested
by subjects of the Russian Federation: priority treatment for religions
traditional to a particular territory, regulation of activity by religious
organisations in schools and kindergartens, monitoring of the foundation
and activity of religious groups (those without legal personality status
under the law), an increase from three to 10 in the number of local
religious organisations required to create a centralised religious
organisation, and an increase from 10 to 45 or 50 in the minimum number
of founders of a local religious organisation.

Further suggestions have been made elsewhere. Following the 23 October
meeting of the government Commission, news agencies quoted
chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko as saying that the government would
amend the 1997 law in order to curb "the penetration into Russia of
extremist religious preachers and sects." Interviewed by Keston on 28
November, however, Sebentsov stressed that this meeting had been of the
Commission and not the working group, which had received "no sensible"
propositions specifically concerning religious extremism. In his view,
Article 14 of the law already gives sufficient grounds for action, while,
moreover, "extremism is a separate problem not strictly related to
religion: it is sooner a topic for a separate law." Both Dagestan and
Tatarstan have proposed related features of their regional religion laws
that have been annulled as anticonstitutional, he told Keston, but it is
unlikely that either - a ban on Wahhabism (a purist brand of Islam) and a
restriction of one ruling body per confession respectively - will be
accepted by the working group. So far, said Sebentsov, the regulation of
missionaries has not been considered.

Some of the amendments already agreed by the working group,
Sebentsov told Keston, include a change from "drawing into"
("vovlecheniye") to "attraction" ("privlecheniye") of minors to religious
associations in Article 3, Part 5 - "'drawing into' clearly relates to
criminal activity and has no place in a law on freedom" - as well as, in the
same article, a change in the ban on teaching religion to minors from
"without the agreement of" to "in the absence of objections from" parents
or guardians. Due to "interesting and amusing cases," added Sebentsov,
the introduction of the right of a religious organisation to create its own
internal regulations would also be proposed. He cited the instance of one
woman who, after being told she could not enter an Orthodox monastery
without a headscarf, had considered taking legal action since the religion
law states that no one may be forbidden from taking part in religious
worship.

Speaking at a conference on church-state relations in Voronezh on 12
October, another working group member, Aleksandr Kudryavtsev,
pointed out that the Russian constitution enshrines equality of all religious
organisations before the law. However, he also outlined four different
levels of social co-operation between the state and, in descending order,
1) the Russian Orthodox Church "and other historical confessions", 2)
"traditional Gospel-based churches with a normal reputation in the world
- Lutherans, Baptists, Adventists and Pentecostals - those with
representatives on the presidential Council", 3) new religious movements,
and 4) "those which go against the law." At the RASS conference on 15
November, Kudryavtsev presented a similar scheme but cited different
categories: 1) the Russian Orthodox Church and, in certain areas, Islam,
2) "confessions deeply-rooted in Russian society", e.g. Old Belief, 3)
Protestant organisations with a history in Russia of more than 100 years,
and 4) new organisations which began their activities in Russia in the
early 1990s.

In his White House office on 28 November, Sebentsov told Keston that
he thought that this arrangement would not be subject to regulation by
law: "Agreements can be concluded in practice between ministries and
religious organisations, it is a question of desire on their part." When he
repeated this comment on 29 November at a round table devoted to the
legal defence of religious freedom in Russia, however, the Moscow-based
lawyer Galina Krylova, who has acted in a number of religious liberty
cases, suggested that the absence of such agreements with religious
organisations other than the Russian Orthodox Church was not so much
due to religious organisations' lack of desire as discrimination on the part
of the government bodies concerned. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.