Issue 9, Article 14, 19 September 2000

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

Tuesday 19 September 2000

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

At a hearing held on 5 September, an Irkutsk court recognised as unlawful the refusal of the justice
administration to re-register a Pentecostal church, the Irkutsk Prayer Centre. The fundamental reason for
the refusal was the fact that the church�s documents named a foreign citizen as the leader of the religious
organisation which, the justice administration argues, contradicts Russia�s 1997 religion law, but the court
ruled in the church�s favour. The justice administration disagrees with the court�s decision and intends to
take its appeal against the ruling to the Constitutional Court if necessary.

The Irkutsk Prayer Centre submitted its re-registration documents to the justice administration of Irkutsk
region in 1999, in line with the requirements of the 1997 law. The justice administration refused to re-
register the church, arguing that in its view several provisions in the church�s statute contradicted the law.
Additionally, the justice administration decided that the fact that the church�s pastor, VIKTOR BARUS,
was a US citizen, conflicted with the law, insofar as �foreign citizens may not hold any position of
responsibility in a religious organisation�.

An initial court hearing took place in Irkutsk on 9 June this year, but the case was then adjourned until the
end of the holiday period. At the reconvened hearing on 5 September, the court ruled that the justice
administration had incorrectly interpreted the religion law.

The regional justice administration based its interpretation on the procedural recommendations for the
application of several provisions in the 1997 religion law, drawn up by the Ministry of Justice�s
Department for the affairs of public and religious organisations and distributed in January 2000. In point
6, headed �May foreign citizens be founding members, members and leaders of religious organisations?� it
states: �Only citizens of the Russian Federation may be founding members�; �foreign citizens may be
members if they are permanently resident, on lawful grounds, on the territory of the Russian Federation,
i.e. if they have permission to live there and a residence permit issued by the internal affairs authorities�.

This point also states that �religious organisations have the right to invite foreign citizens according to
established procedures, to carry out professional, proselytising and religious activities. Additionally,
foreign citizens temporarily resident in the Russian Federation have the right to carry out such activity, so
long as they do not hold any responsibility in its governing bodies, insofar as they cannot be members of
religious organisations.�

VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY, one of the co-leaders of the Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and
Justice which represented the church in court, declared that the church�s leadership was the focus of a
�long-running dispute� with the Ministry of Justice. �The instructions circulated by the Ministry of Justice
do indeed state that a foreign citizen may not be an ordinary member or a founding member of a Russian
religious organisation or hold a position of responsibility in governing bodies, and may only be invited to
carry out religious work,� he told Keston on 11 September. �I do not agree with this - it does not reflect the
law.� Ryakhovsky maintains that although the religion law specifies that foreign citizens cannot be
founding members or ordinary members of a religious organisation, it does not say that the leader has to
be drawn from among the founding or ordinary members. �In many public organisations, a director is
simply hired to carry out the work. And now the Irkutsk court has confirmed the justice of our stance.�

However, the Irkutsk Prayer Centre is set to face a fresh legal challenge. �We believe the legal decision to
be unlawful and we do not agree with it,� declared NINA KOKOUROVA, the official responsible for the
registration of religious communities at the justice administration of Irkutsk region. �As soon as we have
received official notification of the ruling, we will appeal against it,� she told Keston on 14 September.
Her position is unchanged � the leader of a religious organisation may not be a person temporarily
resident in Russia, as the leader represents the organisation on various bodies and is a signatory to
financial documents. As for the re-registration of the Irkutsk Prayer Centre, Kokourova declared that
church representatives had approached her after the court hearing and that this question had been
discussed. As soon as Pastor Barus had applied for his residence permit, the church would be re-

For Kokourova the most important matter is not the registration of the Pentecostal Church. �It sets an
important precedent for us,� says Kokourova, �There are many instances where people temporarily
resident in Russia carry out religious activity and take part in the running of a religious organisation, even
when they have come to the country not for religious objectives but, for example, to teach. We believe that
they do not have the right to do this, and so we are going to take our appeal as far as we can, even to the
Constitutional Court. We must know whether we are right or not.� (END)

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