KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 23 March 2001

I. RUSSIA: RADICAL OVERHAUL OF PRESIDENTIAL RELIGION
COMMITTEE. An as yet unpublished 17 March decree signed by President
Putin - which Keston News Service is the first to report - makes significant
changes to both the composition and functions of the Council for
Cooperation with Religious Organisations Attached to the President of the
Russian Federation. This is the first indication of President Putin�s religious
policy.

II. RUSSIA: PUTIN'S DECREE EXTENDS POWERS AND INFLUENCE
OF PRESIDENTIAL RELIGION COMMITTEE. In addition to reshuffling
the members of the Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations
Attached to the President of the Russian Federation, President Putin's as yet
unpublished 17 March decree makes some significant amendments to the 2
August 1995 presidential decree which created it.

III. UZBEKISTAN: THREAT TO FOREIGN RELIGIOUS LEADERS?
Foreign citizens who lead religious organisations in Uzbekistan could face
eventual expulsion when the government decides it is time for them to be
replaced with local citizens. Shoazim Minovarov, first deputy chairman of
the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, told Keston News
Service from Tashkent on 22 March that religious organisations `must
prepare local leaders' within two to three years, despite the international
agreement Uzbekistan has signed guaranteeing religious groups freedom to
choose leaders of any nationality.

IV. KAZAKHSTAN: DRAFT RELIGION LAW TO BE REVISED? A bill
introducing substantial amendments to Kazakhstan's 1992 religion law (see
KNS 19 February 2001) has been returned to the Ministry of Justice for
revision in response to coordinated lobbying by the country's Protestants.
Consultant to the secretariat of the Committee for Relations with Religious
Organisations (CRRO), Lyudmila Danilenko, told Keston News Service on
21 March that the draft was sent to the ministry for `reworking' last week.
Protestants have condemned the �conditions of secrecy� surrounding
preparation of the bill.

I. RUSSIA: RADICAL OVERHAUL OF PRESIDENTIAL RELIGION
COMMITTEE

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

An as yet unpublished 17 March decree signed by President Putin makes
significant changes to both the composition and functions of the Council for
Cooperation with Religious Organisations Attached to the President of the
Russian Federation. The Council was set up in 1995 as a consultative body
with the purpose of providing the Russian president with preliminary
reviews and proposals concerning religious issues. It is comprised of 17
religious and 12 state representatives.

Subsequent to the 17 March decree the composition of religious figures
remains largely unchanged. As before, the Council includes Metropolitan
Alimpi of the Old Believers (Belokrinitsa Concord), Damba Ayusheyev of
the Traditional Buddhist Sangkha, Ravil Gainutdin of the Council of Muftis
of Russia, Talgat Tadzhuddin of the Central Spiritual Directorate of
Muslims, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of the Roman Catholic Apostolic
Administration of northern European Russia, Vladimir Pudov of the
Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Pyotr Konovalchik of the Evangelical
Christian-Baptists, Vladimir Murza of the Pentecostals and Vasili Stolyar of
the Seventh-Day Adventists. Also as before, the Russian Orthodox
contingent includes Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad,
Metropolitan Sergi of Solnechnogorsk, Metropolitan Yuvenali of Krutitsk
and Kolomensk and Archbishop Yevgeni of Vereisk.

Representatives of two minority confessions, Tiran Kyuregyan of the
Armenian Apostolic Church and Aleksei Khvalkovsky of the Old Believers
(Pomorye Concord), are no longer members. Two more changes are more
sensational, however. Especially in the light of the inclusion of both major
Muslim leaders, the omission of one chief rabbi, Adolf Shayevich, and the
inclusion of the other, Berl Lazar, appears to be a further attempt by the
Kremlin to marginalise the state-serving - but Gusinsky-backed - Shayevich.
On 21 March Shayevich was quoted by Interfax as describing his expulsion
as 'interference in the affairs of the Jewish community.' In the 22 March
edition of Russian newspaper 'Segodnya', however, the new secretary of the
Council, Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, countered that it was 'only a routine
rotation.'

The second surprise is the inclusion of Metropolitan Mefodi of Voronezh
and Lipetsk. Metropolitan Mefodi won renown throughout the Church
following a scandalous 1992 report in Russian emigre newspaper 'Russkaya
Mysl', in which Archbishop Khrizostom of Vilnius branded him 'a KGB
officer, an atheist, a vicious man foisted upon us by the KGB' - allegations
which Metropolitan Mefodi has neither confirmed nor denied. At a round
table of representatives of the presidential adminstration and the Russian
Orthodox Church which met to discuss church-state relations in Moscow on
17 November 2000, commentators were surprised to see that Metropolitan
Mefodi headed the Church's delegation, while neither Metropolitan Kirill nor
any other employee of the Church's Department for External Church
Relations was present.

A more substantial change to the Council's now 24 members, however, has
been made to the state representation. Other than the chairman of the
Council, Aleksandr Voloshin, and government representative to Russia's
Federation Council, Andrei Sebentsov, every single one of the state officials
has been replaced. Whereas previously these were figures with an indirect
relation to both religion and the president - such as V. Shchadrikov, assistant
to the Minister of Education, or Murtuza Rakhimov, president of the
Republic of Bashkortostan - the new members are either weighty specialists
in religious studies and/or direct representatives of the presidential
administration.

Perhaps most notable of the religious studies academics is Nikolai
Trofimchuk, head of the Religious Studies Faculty of the Russian Academy
of State Service, which has already been entrusted by Putin with drawing up
the government's religious policy. He would appear to be fulfilling a
coordinating role between the two bodies, since 'participation in the
drawing-up of a contemporary concept of interrelations between state and
religious organisations' is also one of the major functions of the Council
according to the 1995 presidential decree creating it. The additional religious
studies specialists now on the Council are Igor Yablokov and A. Ignatenko,
respectively head of the Philosophy, Religion and Religious Studies Faculty
and leading expert at the Social Systems Scientific Research Institute of
Moscow State University, Yaroslav Shchapov, head of the Centre of the
History of Religion and the Church within the Russian Academy of
Sciences, and Miran Mchedlov, director of the independent research centre
'Religion in Contemporary Society.'

The representatives of the presidential administration are the aforementioned
secretary of the Council, Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, formerly head of the
Department of Registration of Religious Organisations at the Ministry of
Justice, and Sergei Abramov, who is assistant chairman of the Council and,
like Kudryavtsev, an assistant head of the Main Department of Internal
Policy of the President of the Russian Federation.

The changes to the membership of the Council appear to indicate that
presidential interests and a well-argued, secular line will feature more
forcefully in its activities, themselves made somewhat more wide-ranging by
the 17 March presidential decree (See separate article). (END)

II. RUSSIA: PUTIN'S DECREE EXTENDS POWERS AND INFLUENCE
OF PRESIDENTIAL RELIGION COMMITTEE

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

In addition to reshuffling the members of the Council for Cooperation with
Religious Organisations Attached to the President of the Russian Federation,
President Putin's as yet unpublished 17 March decree makes some
significant amendments to the 2 August 1995 presidential decree which
created it.

Most notable is the complete replacement of Article 11 of the 1995 decree -
'The Council does not possess controlling or managerial functions in relation
to religious organisations' - with a routine provision concerning the
formation of working groups. The new decree does not therefore state
whether or not the Council possesses such powers.

Article 10 of the 1995 decree stipulated that the Council should 'cooperate
with analogous committees of Russia's Federal Assembly and the
Commission for Issues Relating to Religious Organisations Attached to the
Government of the Russian Federation.' Article 9 of the 2001 decree retains
the latter body, but replaces the former with the Duma's Committee on
Social and Religious Organisations - of much more influence in the
execution of Russia' s religious policy, since it considers legislation on
religion prior to its adoption in parliament.

In addition to discussing normative legal acts concerning relations between
the state and religious organisations, which was present in Article 4 of the
1995 decree, Article 4 of the 2001 decree entrusts the Council with the
power to 'prepare corresponding proposals for the president of the Russian
Federation.'

The new importance of academic institutions in religious policy (see
separate KNS article) is confirmed by their inclusion in the list of bodies
represetantives of which the Council may invite to its meetings. (Article 7)
The final changes to the 1995 decree are procedural: whereas previously 'a
simple majority of those present' was required to approve a motion (Article
9, 1995 decree), a two-thirds majority of those present is now required
(Article 9, 2001 decree). The Council must now meet at least once every six
months (Article 8, 2001 decree) as against every quarter (Article 8, 1995
decree). (END)


III. UZBEKISTAN: THREAT TO FOREIGN RELIGIOUS LEADERS?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Foreign citizens who lead religious organisations in Uzbekistan could face
eventual expulsion when the government decides it is time for them to be
replaced with local citizens. Shoazim Minovarov, first deputy chairman of
the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, told Keston News
Service from Tashkent on 22 March that permission for foreign religious
personnel to lead certain religious organisations in Uzbekistan is a
`temporary exception', and that within two to three years his Committee
expects that religious organisations will have trained local citizens to take
over leadership positions. `They must prepare local leaders,' he insisted.

Such a move would cause the greatest threat to the Russian Orthodox,
Jewish, Roman Catholic and Korean-led Protestant communities, all of
whom have foreign leaderships. The head of the Orthodox Church,
Archbishop Vladimir (Ikim) of Tashkent, is Moldovan-born, while many of
the clergy are from Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union. The
Chief Rabbi, David Gurevich, is Russian-born, but has United States
citizenship. David Pleitshev, rabbi for Tashkent's Bukharan Jewish
community, although born in Uzbekistan, is an Israeli citizen. Up to ten
other foreign citizens are in the country helping to build up the Jewish
community. Nine of the ten Catholic priests and brothers working in
Uzbekistan are Polish citizens, while the other is Ukrainian. Almost all the
Korean Protestant churches are led by pastors from South Korea.

Although communities from all these faiths have obtained registration
without too many problems, the Greater Grace church in Samarkand is being
denied registration because it has chosen Matti Sirvio, a Finnish citizen, as
its pastor (see separate KNS article).

Article 8 of the restrictive 1998 religion law declares: `Leaders of religious
organisations may be citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan having
appropriate religious education. The candidacy of leaders of religious
organisations not being citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan can be agreed
with the Committee for Religious Affairs of the Cabinet of Ministers of the
Republic of Uzbekistan.' However, it appears the government eventually
intends to withdraw permission for foreign clergy.

Asked how any eventual ban on foreign citizens as religious leaders would
square with Uzbekistan's international human rights commitments,
Minovarov declared that he was unfamiliar with any commitments that this
would violate. Keston pointed out that General Comment No. 22 issued by
the United Nations Human Rights Committee on 20 July 1993 to amplify the
rights to freedom of conscience enshrined in Article 18 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Uzbekistan is a party) sets
out clearly that religious groups have `freedom to choose their religious
leaders, priests and teachers' without any restriction as to their citizenship.
Similar provisions are enshrined in Uzbekistan's human dimension
commitments as a member of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation
in Europe. Minovarov declared that he would welcome copies of these
documents and would consult among colleagues about the issue. However,
he indicated that officials were guided by domestic law, despite the explicit
statement in Article 2 of the 1998 religion law that international human
rights commitments override provisions of the law that are not in accord
with them.

Minovarov insisted, though, that the government expects religious
communities to have trained their own local personnel within two to three
years, despite the difficulties this will entail for some communities. In
interviews in Tashkent in mid-March, Catholic priests told Keston that it is
likely to be many years before the first Uzbek citizen is ordained to the
priesthood. The Russian Orthodox Church is in a better position. One priest
based at the cathedral told Keston there are some 50 students in the
Orthodox seminary in Tashkent, although it remains highly unlikely that the
Moscow Patriarchate will want to transfer Archbishop Vladimir away from
Tashkent and replace him with a local hierarch simply because the Uzbek
government demands it.

Groups likely to be largely unaffected by any eventual ban on foreign
religious leaders include the Muslims, Baptists, Full Gospel Pentecostals,
Adventists, Lutherans, Jehovah's Witnesses and Bahais. (END)

IV. KAZAKHSTAN: DRAFT RELIGION LAW TO BE REVISED?

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

A bill introducing substantial amendments to Kazakhstan's 1992 religion law
(see KNS 19 February 2001) has been returned to the Ministry of Justice for
revision in response to coordinated lobbying by the country's Protestants.
Speaking to Keston News Service by telephone from the capital Astana on
21 March, consultant to the secretariat of the Committee for Relations with
Religious Organisations (CRRO), Lyudmila Danilenko, said the draft was
sent to the ministry for `reworking' last week.

Protestant objections to the bill, she maintained, had prompted its return to
the ministry. Although she referred to repeated Protestant appeals to the
authorities, Danilenko maintained that only one point of contention had
resulted in the decision: `The Protestants needed to know they wouldn't be
included in the definition of "religious sect". That is why it was returned.'

Speaking to Keston by telephone from the former capital Almaty on 21
March, OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe)
human dimension officer Birgit Kainz said she had received `no news' of the
draft's progress since meetings with representatives of both chambers of
parliament, the Ministry for Information, Culture and Public Accord and a
government legal advisor on 6 and 7 March. A lower level official, however,
had informed the OSCE that the draft had been changed, she said, `but we
haven't received the new version'.

Danilenko denied that any new version existed, maintaining that the draft
now under consideration was the same as that currently in the OSCE's
possession. After revision by the Justice Ministry, she said, this draft would
be sent to the government for consideration and comment after the current
Novruz (New Year) holiday. The draft would then be passed to parliament at
the end of March and a round table of representatives from religious
organisations, ministries and state organs would discuss it in early April.
Only then, assured Danilenko, would its adoption into law be considered by
parliament. Kainz told Keston that a meeting to discuss the draft with
representatives of the lower house of parliament was scheduled for 3 April.

Questioned further about the draft, Danilenko referred Keston to CRRO
chairman Amanbek Mukhashov. Contacted by Keston the same day,
however, Mukhashov declined to respond to questions by telephone, saying
he would `think about' questions sent to him by fax. So far Keston has
received no response to questions concerning the extent of revision to the
draft and its possible publication faxed to him on 21 March.

In response to what they consider the `conditions of secrecy' surrounding the
preparation of the bill, the Congress of Christian Protestants sent an appeal
to President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 9 March demanding that progress on
the current bill be halted and a wider circle of religious, academic, social and
state representatives be allowed to participate in its preparation. This appeal
was signed by delegates representing 250 religious associations who
attended the Congress, held in Almaty on 9 March. It also voices concern at
the authorities' `constant attempts to worsen legislation in the area of
religious freedom', which, the delegates fear, is becoming `a victim of
national security'.

The Congress' appeal is not the only large-scale recent attempt to make the
bill public coordinated by Protestants. The president of Emmanuel Christian
Society for Evangelisation and Charitable Activity, Roman Dudnik, told
Keston on 12 March he was about to take to the authorities in Astana 6,500
signatures gathered in Almaty city and region as part of a nationwide
petition to get the draft law published before its adoption: `They will have to
respond to that.' Speaking to Keston on 21 March, however, Kainz was not
aware of a response to the signature-gathering, while Danilenko was unsure
whether the petition would necessarily result in publication. It was the norm,
she explained, for draft laws relating to freedom of the person and human
rights to be published, `but it is entirely up to parliament'.

On 2 March the Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion and
Belief attached to the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human
Rights (ODIHR) issued an extensive analysis of the draft amendments. The
panel concludes that these `do not sufficiently target illegal activities which
could properly be curbed under Kazakhstan's OSCE commitments and under
international law' but instead `impermissibly target groups that are identified
on the basis of their beliefs'. If adopted as currently drafted, the analysis
declares, `the amendments will place significant burdens on individuals and
groups who are not responsible for any illegal activities, thereby causing
Kazakhstan to violate its OSCE commitments and to fall far short of
compliance with international human rights standards.' (END)

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