KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 11 May 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

RUSSIA: MOSQUE DEMOLITION CASE TO GO TO SUPREME
COURT? Despite failing in local courts to remove a mosque built by the
Muslims of Vologda, 500 kilometres (310 miles) north-east of Moscow,
the regional government is considering taking its case to the Russian
Supreme Court. Since losing the case the regional government has also
subjected the Muslim community to ´┐Żendless financial investigations´┐Ż.
The Muslim community believes these moves are motivated by
Islamophobia, but the deputy governor of the region denies this, claiming
`The current circumstances are exclusively to do with building standards'.

RUSSIA: MOSQUE DEMOLITION CASE TO GO TO SUPREME
COURT?

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

Despite failing in court at four levels to remove a mosque built in 1998
by the Muslim community in the city of Vologda, 500 kilometres (310
miles) north-east of Moscow, the regional prosecutor's office and the
state directorate for the preservation of historic monuments are
considering whether to take their case to the Russian Supreme Court.
Speaking separately to Keston News Service, Ravil Gainutdin, mufti of
European Russia, and the chairman of Vologda's Muslim society both
accused the regional authorities of deliberately pursuing an anti-Islamic
policy. However, the deputy governor of the region, Ivan Pozdnyakov,
denies this. `The current circumstances are exclusively to do with
building standards,' he claimed. `Citizens' rights to freedom of conscience
and proselytism and their national sentiments are not being infringed in
any way.'

Mufti Gainutdin reported that the Vologda authorities have been trying
through the courts to force the local Muslim community to dismantle the
mosque for the past three years, claiming that it had been built illegally.
`The community has already managed to win in four courts: district, city,
regional and federal in the North-West Okrug,' Mufti Gainutdin told
Keston on 4 May. `However, we cannot rule out the possibility that this
will not be the end of the Vologda Muslims' problems. The authorities
may take the case to have the mosque dismantled to the Supreme Court.'

In 1997, a tender was announced for construction of the mosque and
architects from Moscow, Vologda, Yaroslavl and Vladivostok took part.
However, once construction was completed in 1998, the regional
prosecutor's office and the state directorate for the preservation of historic
monuments in Vologda region began their actions in the courts.

On 15 December 2000, Gainutdin write to President Vladimir Putin to
complain about the legal suits, describing the campaign against the
mosque as `an echo of the militant atheistic campaign of the 1960s'. The
mufti asserted that the Vologda case was not unique: `Unfortunately, we
are encountering flagrant examples of Islamophobia on various levels in
several regions, including Kamchatka, Taganrog and Volgograd.'

Gainutdin received a response not from Putin but from deputy governor
Pozdnyakov, who rejected claims that the moves against the mosque
were anything other than the enforcement of building standards. `It's a
question of relations between the state and the person responsible for the
building work,' he declared in his 14 February response. `Its resolution
must not veer onto an inter-confessional, inter-national or political plane.
In this context, it is inappropriate to interpret the authorities' demands for
the law to be observed as a political imperative and an expression of
Islamophobia.'

Speaking to Keston by telephone on 7 May, Pozdnyakov acknowledged
that the Islamic community had won in four courts, `demonstrating that
the mosque is not in a historic part of the city, and consequently that its
construction did not require the permission of the state directorate for the
preservation of historic monuments'. He added that he did not know
whether the two bodies would appeal the latest court ruling in the
Supreme Court. Pozdnyakov asserted that `the authorities have adopted a
neutral position in this dispute'. `Mufti Gainutdin and the local Muslim
community are persistently trying to take this dispute onto a political
plane,' he complained. `In my view, that's just speculation. We are not
hindering the activity of the mosque and we are not interfering in the
work of the legal system.'

However, the chairman of Vologda's Muslim community, Albert
Mustafin, takes a different view. `Since we won the court examination in
the North-West Federal Okrug, we have been subjected to endless
financial investigations - now the authorities are trying to use that route
to close the mosque down,' he told Keston on 7 May. Mustafin rejected
Pozdnyakov's assertion that the authorities were neutral in the dispute.
`The state directorate for the preservation of historic monuments in
Vologda region answers to the administration for cultural affairs in
Vologda region, which just happens to be run by Pozdnyakov.'

Mustafin believes the region's leadership is actively developing the idea
that the territory they govern is a particularly unique region of Russia. He
says the authorities constantly stress that Vologda was never seized by
the Mongols and that because of its profusion of Orthodox monasteries,
Vologda province was known in the 19th century as the `Northern
Thebaid', a reference to the desert of Thebaid in Egypt, inhabited by
hermits of the early Christian Church. According to Mustafin, the
construction of a mosque contradicts the authorities' concept. (END)

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