KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 31 May 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist and
post-communist lands.

EXTREMISM. In late April the regional parliament of Russia's northern
Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria (1200 miles - 1900 kilometres �
south of Moscow) passed a local law banning extremist religious activity,
Keston News Service has learned. The law - which is awaiting approval by
the republic�s president - appears intended to prevent a conflict similar to
that in nearby Chechnya by curbing radical Islam, but contains harsh
provisions which could be used against almost any religious organisation.
Concerns about security along Russia's Caucasian border seem to override
the fact that the law directly contradicts Russia�s federal law on religion.


by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

In late April the regional parliament of Russia's northern Caucasian republic
of Kabardino-Balkaria (1200 miles - 1900 kilometres � south of Moscow)
passed a local law banning extremist religious activity. Although due for
approval by the republic's president, Valeri Kokov, within two weeks of
passage, it is unclear at what stage he received the text of the law, which still
awaits his signature.

Extremist religious activity, according to the law, `directly or indirectly
propagandises violent change to the foundations of the constitutional order
and/or violation of the integrity of Kabardino-Balkaria and/or the Russian
Federation, the undermining of state security, the creation of illegal armed
formations, religious intolerance, incitement of social, racial, national or
religious hatred or the break-up of family relations.' It also `damages a
person's psychological and/or moral state.'

Fines ranging up to 100 times the minimum wage are imposed upon the
organisers of and/or participants in different forms of such activity. In
addition, the activity of a religious organisation may be terminated if certain
forms of religious extremism are carried out under its auspices.

The law appears intended to prevent a conflict similar to that in nearby
Chechnya by curbing radical Islam. Cited in local newspaper `Gazeta Yuga'
on 3 May, deputy Muradin Kardanov, a participant in the drafting of the law,
encouraged the Kabardino-Balkaria parliament to adopt it due to `the
penetration of the republic by Wahhabi activists on the pretext of bringing
humanitarian aid and reviving Islam.' According to Kabardino-Balkaria
Interior Ministry officials, maintained Kardanov, there are 400 followers of
Wahhabism in the republic, 40 per cent of whom `either have previous
convictions or warrant surveillance as potential offenders'.

Those seeking the forceful establishment of Islamic sharia law are not the
only targets, however. Continuing the parliamentary discussion, deputy
Gumar Murzakanov commented that `for some reason the emphasis is being
placed upon one branch of Islam. This is wrong - Jehovah's Witnesses are no
better.' Jehovah's Witnesses are experiencing particular difficulties in
Kabardino-Balkaria, where their communities in Nalchik, Prokhladny and
Nartkala face liquidation (see KNS 1 May 2001). In response to
Murzakanov, Kardanov gave assurances that the law `makes provision for
the struggle against all forms of religious extremism'.

No mention - still less definition - is made of Wahhabism in the law, while
there are a number of provisions open to broad interpretation and application
against even a nonviolent religious organisation should it be deemed
undesirable by the local authorities. According to Article 4, for instance,
incitement of social, racial, national and religious hatred also includes
`degradation of national worth' and `propaganda of the exclusivity of a

Provisions which may relate specifically to Jehovah's Witnesses' stance on
military service and blood transfusions include the imposition of fines for
activity encouraging `refusal to carry out civil obligations for religious
reasons' and `refusal to administer medical assistance for religious reasons to
persons in a life- and health-endangering state' (Article 9). Jehovah's
Witnesses, as well as any organisation with a strong missionary element,
would also be affected by Article 14, which prosecutes `pestering citizens
with the aim of drawing them into a religious organisation'.

Other harsh provisions which could be applied against almost any religious
organisation include Article 16, which fines `gatherings of citizens for
religious purposes (except religious cult rites) without written notification of
a local organ of government', and Article 13, according to which a fine
and/or ban may be imposed upon `pedagogical activity, including the
teaching of the principles of a religious belief, by a person without
professional pedagogical and religious education or a person whose
documentation attesting foreign professional pedagogical education has not
been notarised in the Russian Federation.'

The law was not adopted earlier due to its evident contradictions with
Russia's federal law on religion, a fact freely admitted by Murzakanov when
proposing it to the Kabardino-Balkaria parliament: `Everything in this law
contradicts federal law from the outset.' The federal authorities' security
concerns along Russia's Caucasian border now appear to be overriding
considerations of unconstitutionality of the region's local laws, however, as
the Kabardino-Balkarian president's representative to the local parliament
Zalim Kashirokov pointed out during the discussion prior to the law's
adoption: `Such laws now exist in other republics of the northern Caucasus.'

In addition to the passage of laws against religious extremism in Dagestan
and Ingushetia, local journalist Oleg Guseinov suggested to Keston that the
security organs' support for the law may have influenced its adoption.
Speaking by telephone from Nalchik on 28 May, Guseinov explained that
during meetings of the Ministry of Defence and FSB at Southern Federal
Okrug level in the Kabardino-Balkarian town of Yessentuki on 10 and 11
May, representatives of those bodies called for a similar law at the federal
level. (END)

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