KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 3, Articles 25-26, 22 March 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

ARMENIAN CHURCH DENIES SEEKING SPECIAL STATUS. The
recently signed Memorandum between the Armenian Apostolic Church and
Armenian government is intended to regularise relations dealing with property
restitution, education, army chaplains, and tax concessions, but not alter the
law on religion, according to church spokesmen. Minority churches reserve
judgment and await developments.

RUSSIA: LIPETSK AUTHORITIES REFUSE TO REGISTER JEHOVAH'S
WITNESSES. A state-appointed expert alleged in court that �foreign
intelligence services� played a �leading role� in the organisation of the
Jehovah�s Witnesses activity. Other experts stated that their practice of door-to-
door evangelism violated the law on religion.

Wednesday 22 March 2000
ARMENIAN CHURCH DENIES SEEKING SPECIAL STATUS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Despite the signature on 17 March of a Memorandum of Understanding
between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian government to
prepare the ground for an agreement between the Church and the state, an
Armenian Church spokesman has denied to Keston News Service that the
Church is seeking privileges that will not be available to other religious groups.
A senior Protestant pastor told Keston that he too did not believe the Armenian
Church would be given undue privileges, though he remained cautious,
declaring it was too early to say how the eventual agreement would affect his
Church.

The Memorandum was signed at the Armenian Church's headquarters in
Echmiadzin near the Armenian capital Yerevan in the presence of Catholicos
KAREKIN II, the head of the Church, the Armenian prime minister ARAM
SARKISSIAN and other leading Church and state officials. A statement from
Echmiadzin on 17 March announced that the Memorandum `will in the future
become the basis for an agreement clarifying and regulating the Church-State
relationship'. The two sides expect that an agreement - the first of its kind since
Armenia regained independence in 1991 - will be ready for signature within
nine months.

While recognising `the undeniable role and the significance of the Holy
Armenian Apostolic Church in the further development and strengthening of
Armenian statehood' and its past and present significance, the Memorandum
also noted the importance of `well-known principles and norms of the
international law on the human rights and main freedoms'. It went on to
highlight six areas that would be covered in the eventual agreement: `further
improvement and development' of laws regulating relations between the
Church and the state; solving property disputes; establishing tax concessions;
granting Armenian clerics status in state protocol; strengthening Church
educational and social work; granting the Church priority I religious broadcasts
in the state-controlled media; and strengthening Church work in the army and
in prisons.

Signing the Memorandum were Bishop NAVASSARD KTCHOYAN, the
vicar general of the Ararat Patriarchal Diocese, and Archbishop SHAHE
AJEMIAN, the dean of the theology faculty of Yerevan State University, on
behalf of the Church and SHAHEN KARAMANOUKIAN, the chief adviser to
the Prime Minister and chief of the government staff, and LEVON
MKRTCHIAN, the acting chairman of the State Council on Religious Affairs,
on behalf of the government.

However, in a telephone interview from Echmiadzin on 21 March,
ARSHAVIR KAPOUDJIAN, director of information services for the Church,
denied that the Church was seeking any advantages over other religious
communities in Armenia through the proposed agreement. `The aim of the
agreement is not to gain privileges,' Kapoudjian told Keston. `The main aim is
for the Church to be able to fulfil its mission completely. It is not important to
have any advantages.' He stressed that in all areas of life, people `should not be
under any obligation or enforcement and should be free to choose their faith'.

On the subject of `improvement of the laws', Kapoudjian mentioned changes
the Church desires not to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious
Organisations, last amended in September 1997, but to the laws on education,
specifically over education in schools. `We want courses of morality, especially
Christian morality, in schools. The Church has such a course on the agenda, but
the state does not,' he declared. `At the moment there is civic education, but it
has no religious content. The government told us it would wait to see our
proposal for the morality course. We have a working group drawing this up.'
Asked if the Church envisaged such courses to be voluntary or compulsory for
school children, Kapoudjian said he thought parents should be able to take their
children out of such classes if they wished. Asked what other religious
communities in Armenia might think of the courses his Church was planning,
he responded: `I think the Armenian Catholics and Evangelicals will agree with
them - they have no dogmatic problems.' Asked about non-Christians, such as
the Yezidi Kurds and the Jehovah's Witnesses, he replied: `I don't think the
Yezidis will have problems with them, but the Jehovah's Witnesses might,
though they are not recognised as an official religion. They will be free to opt
out of such a course.'

On taxation, Kapoudjian declared that the Church wanted exemption from
taxes on the production and import of religious books, as well as on services
such as electricity and water for religious buildings. However, he stressed that
he did not envisage that his Church should benefit solely from this exemption.
`If we speak of this for the Armenian Church we include all official Churches.'
He added that this held true also of property restitution. `The Church wants
back property confiscated during the Soviet period - we used to own a lot of
property, including lots of land.' He stressed that there are many villages with
no functioning church as the former church lies in ruins, adding that the Church
also needs centres to be able to run other activities, such as youth groups. `It is
not that the government is refusing to give back property, but this has not so far
been regulated by law.'

Kapoudjian confirmed that the Armenian Church is already working within the
armed forces, with about a dozen military chaplains, and that this work is
already regulated by law. `But it is very important to increase this work.' He
stressed that soldiers are `free to choose' whether to participate in religious
activities.

Kapoudjian did not demand changes to the 1997 law on religion, although
successive Catholicoses have demanded changes to it to prevent what they
believed to be `unfair' competition from other religious groups (such as the
Jehovah's Witnesses and some Protestant churches).

A senior Protestant pastor, YURI AVANESSIAN, President of the Union of
Evangelical Churches in Armenia, was cautious about the possible impact on
other religious communities of the Memorandum of Understanding between
the Armenian Apostolic Church and the state and the possible eventual
agreement. `We are calm about the Memorandum,' he told Keston in a
telephone interview from Yerevan on 21 March. `I don't think there will be
privileges for the Armenian Church. But time will show how it will turn out.'
However, he stressed that his Church does not have such an agreement with the
state and the issue has not been discussed. `I think time will show if we need
such an agreement and if it turns out to be needed we will think about it then.'

Asked about whether the Memorandum's references to Armenian Church work
in the army and in schools might disadvantage other religious groups,
Avanessian stressed that his Church currently has no access to the army and
schools. Would they like such access? `Of course. But we don't have official
permission.' He conceded that his Church had not asked for such official
permission, but said that they might one day do so. Asked where the hold-up
might lie, he admitted that it was both on the side of the Church and of the
state. On the question of access to the state-controlled media by the Armenian
Apostolic Church, Avanessian was also unsure how this would impact his
Church.

The Union of Evangelical Churches has some 40 to 50 churches across the
country, with some 3,000 members, and is the longest-standing Evangelical
group in Armenia. (END)


Wednesday 22 March 2000
RUSSIA: LIPETSK AUTHORITIES REFUSE TO REGISTER JEHOVAH'S
WITNESSES

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

A court hearing in Lipetsk on 10 February failed to overturn the decision of the
Lipetsk Regional Department of Justice to refuse to register the local
community of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The refusal, issued on 14 October
1999, was based on the nature of their preaching activity in public places and
residential buildings set down in the community's statutes, which is typical of
the practice of Jehovah's Witnesses. The case is now due to be heard in the
Lipetsk regional court on 29 March and may go to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, nationalist groups in Lipetsk held a demonstration on Cathedral
Square in Lipetsk on 12 March to protest against the activity of the Jehovah's
Witnesses and the Mormons and to call for the justice department to refuse to
recognise them.

Lawyer ARTUR LEONTYEV, who represented the Jehovah's Witnesses in
court with the leader of the community, VIKTOR BACHURIN, told Keston on
17 March that the community had first applied for registration in 1997, but had
four times been refused on matters of procedure. `A committee of experts was
appointed which was simply a play for time because according to the law the
department of justice should have given its decision within a month. For six
months or more the department of justice dragged its feet and gathered
additional information to provide grounds for refusal, even though the court
states that its decision was not based on the findings of the committee of
experts. The reason given for refusal hinged on two articles of the Statutes of
the organisation concerning the spread of Jehovah's Witness beliefs. We
suggested to the department of justice that we come to an amicable agreement -
to alter our statutes to suit their formula, but they refused. According to
unofficial reports a strong link exists between the local administration and the
Russian Orthodox diocese. The committee of experts was made up entirely of
officials from the Lipetsk local administration. Representatives of the [Russian
nationalist] Pamyat organisation were present in court and people even
demonstrated against us.'

IRINA KONOVALOVA, representing the Lipetsk department of justice, was
present in court. `The stated aims of the Jehovah's Witnesses do not comply
with the Federal Law on religious organisations, which allows preaching
activity only in specially designated places,' she claimed to Keston in a
telephone interview on 20 March. `We suggested that they comply with the law
by removing these points but they refused on the grounds that this would
deprive their activity of any meaning since these preaching methods are a
fundamental part of their religious practice.' She claimed that citizens of
Lipetsk opposed granting registration to the Jehovah's Witnesses, citing a
demonstration against them. `This was not the main issue, however, the main
issue is that the law is against this.' Asked whether officials at the Lipetsk
department of justice were aware that the Ministry of Justice and departments
of justice in other Russian regions had registered communities with identical
statutes, Konovalova replied that they were, but that officials at the department
of justice did not agree with this. `On 29 March there will be a hearing at the
regional court and then it will no doubt be referred to the supreme court and
then it will be decided who is right'.

On 13 April 1999 Bachurin submitted the statutes of his organisation, as well
as documentation confirming membership of a centralised organisation, the
Regional Administration of the Jehovah's Witnesses, to the department of
justice for registration. On 12 May he was informed by the department of
justice that a committee of experts had been appointed to study his application.
On 14 October 1999 the department of justice informed him that his
application for registration had been refused on the grounds that points 2.2.1.
and 2.2.3. of the community's founding statutes did not comply with articles 3
and 16 of the 1997 law on religion, stating also that `the regional committee of
experts on religion considers that the information supplied by the Jehovah's
Witnesses about their faith and practices is incomplete and therefore not
trustworthy'.

In an appeal to the department of justice, Bachurin cited articles 9 and 10 of the
European Convention of Human Rights and articles 28 and 29 of the Russian
Constitution, both of which affirm the right freely to choose, express and
spread one's religious convictions, including the right to obtain and disseminate
information and ideas without any interference from the state. Article 6.1 and
Article 16.2 of the Federal Law both affirm that the profession and the
dissemination of a faith is both the aim and informs the activity of any religious
organisation, and that religious services may be held in places of residence.
Regulations governing the activity of state appointed committees of experts on
religion state that such committees are appointed only in cases where a
religious organisation cannot prove that it belongs to a centralised religious
organisation of the same confession. Bachurin also declared that to refuse to
register the Lipetsk community of Jehovah's Witnesses is not logical when the
centralised organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses in St Petersburg has already
been registered, following an April 1999 decision in its favour by the
committee of experts at the Ministry of Justice, as well as 300 local Jehovah's
Witness communities in 63 regions of the Russian Federation.

In its ruling on 10 February rejecting the Jehovah's Witnesses' appeal the
municipal court in Lipetsk declared: `One of the main activities of this
organisation as laid down in point 2.2.1. of its statutes is the "profession and
teaching of the faith in public places and residential homes following the
example of Christ and his apostles, while observing the rights of citizens and
the requirements of public order". This contradicts article 16 of the Federal
law, which states that religious organisations have the right to establish and
maintain cult buildings, other places and objects needed for the conduct of
religious rituals, ceremonies, prayer meetings and to maintain places of
pilgrimage. A religious service, however, consists of the study of the Bible and
preaching and must be held in places specially designated by law. Since
preaching activity presupposes contact being made between members of the
organisation and citizens who profess another faith it may be considered to be
an infringement on the rights of citizens and can be interpreted as a deliberate
assault on the religious feelings of citizens. Point 2.2.3. of the Statute states
that the organisation will conduct services in nursing homes and hospitals,
children's homes and so on.. Article 16 of the law affirms the right to perform
religious rituals, not services. In the opinion of the court, therefore, the
community's statutes do not comply with the law.'

Konovalova told the hearing that the her department had received `many
complaints from citizens about the anti-social activity of the Jehovah's
Witnesses', adding that representatives of this group forced their way into
residential buildings, caused annoyance by their preaching activity and were
attempting to recruit children, going from house to house. `The law provides
for the existence of designated places where it is possible to preach according
to one's religious convictions. Religious rites, baptisms, and extreme unction
are not services - rites and services are two different things.'

The state-appointed committee of experts for the Lipetsk region, chaired by
V.V. ZOLOTAREV and including invited expert Father IGNATI
KONDRATYUK, secretary to the Orthodox diocesan administration of
Voronezh and Lipetsk, convened on 12 July 1999 to examine documents
pertaining to the local Jehovah's Witness community. These included details
about the foundations of their faith and its practice as well as proof of the
community's membership of a centralised Jehovah's Witness organisation. The
committee decided that `members of the organisation conduct preaching and
teaching activity in public places and residential buildings, deliberately causing
offence to the religious sensibilities of citizens. In such cases it is right to
charge a denomination with infringing the rights of citizens in accordance with
article 3, point 6 paragraph 3 of the Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience
and Religious Associations. Religious services should be conducted in prayer
houses or some other building specially designated for the purpose; anything
else can be seen as a disruption to public order.' The committee of experts
concluded that: `information received about the foundations of Jehovah's
Witness beliefs and practice is incomplete and is therefore not trustworthy, it
does not reflect that fundamental teachings of their faith, which has overtones
of preaching superiority over other (Christian) confessions. Information
received about the financing of the local organisation appears to conceal the
actual sources of funding.' The committee recommended that the Lipetsk
regional department of justice refuse to register the community.

Zolotarev was the first to address the committee of experts, speaking about the
`real aims of the Jehovah's Witness religious organisation', alleging `the
leading role played by foreign intelligence services in the organisation of their
activity'. Executive secretary of the committee, O.N. FEDOROVA, specialist
on religious organisations at the information department of the Lipetsk
administration, complained of the `concealment of the real foundations of
Jehovah's Witness teachings, their doctrines and practice connected with their
beliefs about the end-times and the outbreak of universal conflict'.

The experts' report concluded that the `use of the term "Christian" allows this
religious organisation, which is directed from Brooklyn (USA), to conceal its
true intentions while breaking into Christian territory, where the majority of
citizens identify with Orthodoxy'. The committee concluded on the basis of
their study of materials about Jehovah's Witness beliefs that `the claim made by
Jehovah's Witnesses that they are Christians is incorrect and is designed to lure
people into their organisation who currently consider themselves to be
Orthodox Christians. By claiming that Jehovah's Witness beliefs and
Christianity are the same the Jehovah's Witnesses are creating an open
confrontation with all Christian communities which may be interpreted as an
attempt to preach superiority over them.'

Rejecting the Jehovah's Witness beliefs on the end of the world, the committee
declared that the organisation `presents a potential threat both to the state and
its citizens, as it may be ready to act at any time at the behest of its masters in
Brooklyn.' In its conclusion the committee of experts stated that it received this
information not from documents submitted by the local community of
Jehovah's Witnesses about their beliefs and practice, but from various
published sources both in Russia and abroad.

Opposition to registering the Jehovah's Witnesses in Lipetsk is being
orchestrated by various right-wing groups. `A meeting took place on 12
February at the Church of the Nativity in Lipetsk attended by members of the
People's Patriotic Union, the Pamyat movement, the Pole Kulikovo society, the
Lipetsk Cossack association, members of Orthodox churches and inhabitants of
the town,' the local paper De Facto reported on 15 February. `Participants
expressed their deep sorrow that in addition to the activity of Baptists,
Evangelicals and Seventh Day Adventists, other sects, with their headquarters
abroad, have now begun to work towards the destruction of Orthodoxy.
Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, who began their preaching activities in
large Russian towns and cities have now reached Lipetsk. They are deceiving
susceptible young people, luring them into their networks and brainwashing
them.' Reporting on the demonstrations against such groups, the paper noted:
`It is only thanks to the vigilance of Lipetsk citizens that the registration of
these sects has been stopped.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.