KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 17 January 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

RUSSIA: MORMON REGISTRATION IN TATARSTAN AT A
STALEMATE. Nearly three years after it lost its registration, the
congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
(Mormons) in Tatarstan's capital Kazan appears no nearer to gaining
registration. Two missionaries from the United States discovered in
Kazan by officers of Tatarstan's internal affairs ministry had their visas
curtailed and had to leave the country, Keston News Service learned on
11 January. The two were denied registration in Tatarstan � one of the
autonomous republics within the Russian Federation - because their
congregation did not have registration. The Mormons' Russian lawyer
told Keston that the decision violates the constitutional principle of
freedom of movement by foreign citizens.

RUSSIA: MORMON REGISTRATION IN TATARSTAN AT A
STALEMATE

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Nearly three years after it lost its registration and two and a half years
after it lodged a further application, the congregation of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) in Tatarstan's capital Kazan
appears no nearer to gaining registration. Two missionaries from the
United States discovered in Kazan by officers of Tatarstan's internal
affairs ministry had their visas curtailed and had to leave Russia on 10
January, Michael Jenson, a lawyer of the Mormons' Central European
representation, told Keston News Service on 11 January. A ministry
official told Keston that the two had been denied registration in Tatarstan
� one of the autonomous republics within the Russian Federation -
because the congregation did not have registration. The Mormons'
Russian lawyer Lev Simkin told Keston that the Tatarstan authorities'
decision violates the constitutional principle of freedom of movement by
foreign citizens.

The Kazan congregation's registration application has made no progress
in two and a half years even though the registering body is obliged to
decide on registration within a month, or within six months if an expert
commission is appointed. Contacted by Keston on 16 January, Gulnara
Abdurakhmanova, the head of the department for the registration of
religious organisations at the Registration Board of the Tatarstan Ministry
of Justice, refused to explain why. She declared that the Board has no
current application from the Mormons, adding that "the subject was
closed long ago". However, a Mormon representative told Keston that the
Council for Religious Affairs should have sent their application to the
Registration Board last November.

Renat Nabiev, the head of the Tatarstan Council for Religious Affairs,
told Keston from Kazan the same day that the Council has the documents
and will be sending them for expert assessment. He said the Tatarstan
government order creating the expert commission was expected within a
week and the Mormon Church would be considered at the first meeting.
Asked by Keston how this corresponded with federal law, Nabiev
responded that since he was sure the Mormons would be recognised as a
religious organisation it did not matter.

Tatarstan's Ministry of Justice registered the Kazan congregation on 10
January 1999. However, on 8 February 1999 the decision was reversed, in
effect closing it down without a court hearing on the grounds that the
organisation which had provided a juridical address for the congregation
had withdrawn its letter of guarantee - under pressure from officials,
according to the congregation. On 29 June 1999, having bought premises
as a juridical address, the congregation submitted another application. In
September 1999 the Registration Board replied that the application had
been sent to a commission of experts on religion, a decision that
contradicted the 1997 federal religion law, since the Mormons' central
religious organisation had already been registered by the federal Ministry
of Justice.

Tatarstan's own law on freedom of conscience and religious associations,
signed by President Mintimer Shaimiev on 21 July 1999, limits the
teaching of newly-arrived faiths and the activity of religious associations
newly-established in Tatarstan "in the interests of public order and public
safety" (article 5, point 2). In November 2001 the law was brought into
line with the federal law, but at the same time Tatarstan included many
provisions from its own law, including the invitation of foreign religious
personnel only with the agreement of the state authorities, as corrections
to the 1997 federal law, as the head of the amendments commission
Andrei Sebentsev put it.

An article in the local paper Eastern Express of 21-27 December 2001
entitled "Baptism of dead citizens of Kazan" claimed that "American
Mormonism" is a "totally improbable and wild form of religious
delusion" and that "this sect is founded on both commonplace deception
and utter delusions". In Tatarstan the Mormons "are busy buying up
archival records of all deceased persons with the purpose of posthumous
baptism". According to the paper it is possible to baptise posthumously
not only one's relatives who were not Mormons but anyone at all,
therefore "Mormons subscribe to the names of dead women and marry
them so that after death all these women will form their harem". "To the
credit of Tatarstan it should be noted that we are almost the only region of
Russia that has refused to register this sect."

Meanwhile, Jenson told Keston, the congregation, with over 100 active
members, cannot invite foreign missionaries to work, although nobody in
Kazan objects to receiving humanitarian aid from Americans, including
equipment for the city's children's hospital. The two US missionaries
(who asked that their names not be mentioned) had to leave the country
without having spent even half the time allowed by their visas. Jenson
reported that they were unable to register their visas in the local visa and
registration department of the Tatarstan Internal Affairs ministry, forcing
them to come to Kazan for three days (the maximum period allowed
without registration) and leave again.

Anas Sharipov, an official of the visa and registration department in
Kazan, confirmed to Keston on 16 January that the missionaries were not
registered in Tatarstan because the local religious organisation had not
received state registration. "They violated the residence rules: they were
not registered within three days and they secretly engaged in religious
activity here, although they came on the invitation of their centre in
Samara," Sharipov complained. "Therefore we shortened the validity of
their visas to 10 January."

Professor Simkin declared that the Russian constitution permits foreign
citizens to travel freely in all parts of Russia, except those with a special
regime (such as frontier regions). "This is not the case with Kazan."
Simkin explained that when registering their temporary residence, foreign
citizens simply notify the authorities. However, he told Keston, the
Tatarstan authorities have introduced permission in place of notification,
in effect saying "we will register whom we want". "In itself the absence
of registration of a religious organisation does not preclude the
registration of foreign religious personnel who have arrived legally: that
is the position of the Constitution and of the federal authorities." (END)

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.