KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 20 December 2000


by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

With just two weeks to go till the deadline for re-registration of religious
organisations in Russia, after which those that fail to gain re-registration are liable
to compulsory liquidation by the courts, Keston News Service contacted a
selection of regional Ministry of Justice departments in order to obtain what
proves to be a varied picture of how the re-registration process is proceeding.


Ulyanovsk: Re-registration in Ulyanovsk (550 miles east of Moscow) is going `not
badly', Marina Nechayeva of the region's department of justice told Keston on 15
December. Although 40 per cent of Ulyanovsk's 215 religious organisations had
not reregistered at the beginning of 2000, she explained, there were now only
about ten or 15 organisations outstanding. These included one Pentecostal
association which did not intend to reregister at all, other Pentecostal
congregations, and Muslim and Russian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate)
associations, which in Nechayeva's view had probably all disbanded. No religious
organisation in Ulyanovsk had been refused re-registration, she claimed, although
the Scientologists had been denied first-time registration as a local religious
organisation because they had neither a centralised religious organisation nor the
mandatory 15 years' existence on Russian territory.

Tver: Specialist at the department of justice for Tver oblast (100 miles north-west
of Moscow), Alla Maslakova, told Keston on 18 December that re-registration had
`gone well', since almost all the region's 240 religious organisations had
reregistered. A total of 196 had already reregistered, she said, while 22 had not
(the shortfall being made up of organisations founded since the 1997 law).
According to Maslakova, the majority of those which had not re-registered were
Russian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate) - `they probably don't exist any more' -
and in all likelihood these would be liquidated, `although the Church might decide
to close them down itself'. She maintained that there had been no cases in which
re-registration had been refused, and that all religious organisations had submitted
the correct documentation.

Moscow: Following several telephone enquiries and a written request from Keston
for information on the re-registration of religious organisations in the city of
Moscow, assistant head of the main municipal department of justice Vladimir
Zhbankov responded in writing on 10 November that the 1997 law on religion,
`does not require the registering organ to divulge information concerning religious
organisations which have and have not been reregistered'.

Kursk: On 15 December Tatyana Basova of Kursk (350 miles south of Moscow)
department of justice told Keston that 282 of the region's religious organisations
had reregistered, while approximately 14 had not. These 14, she said, included
organisations of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which had not yet received
all the required documentation from the United States, a few remote Moscow
Patriarchate parishes and five or six Baptist organisations. The Baptists, she said,
had of their own accord provided official declarations that they would become
religious groups rather than reregister since they did not have ten members, `so we
will annul their legal status after the deadline'. The Jehovah's Witnesses and
Seventh Day Adventists, said Basova, were initially refused re-registration but
subsequently obtained it on amending their charters. Although the Hare Krishna
community had only just submitted its documentation, she said, it could still be
reregistered in January if the department did not manage to deal with the
application by the deadline: `the main thing is that they have submitted the
documentation in time.' According to Basova, the situation regarding re-
registration was much worse in Siberia - she cited Irkutsk in particular - and the
Far East. `In Krasnoyarsk they have only reregistered 50 per cent.'


Krasnoyarsk: On 18 December a consultant at the department for registration of
social and religious organisations at the department of justice for Krasnoyarsky
krai (2500 miles east of Moscow) told Keston that of the approximately 260
religious associations in the krai, only 166 were in fact liable for re-registration,
since there were approximately 100 communities which had formed since the 1997
law and which for the most part were small and had the status of religious groups.
Of the 166, he maintained, 17 or 18 had not re-registered and would be liquidated:
`We reminded everyone several times, even though the law doesn't require it, but
they made no contact with us.' In his view, these organisations were either no
longer be in existence or else situated in very remote locations (Krasnoyarsky krai
covers a vast area and includes Taimyr and Evenk Autonomous okrugs). Some
religious organisations had stated that they would become religious groups, he
said, `as they are quite happy with that status'. He was unable to give Keston
details of which confessions had re-registered, not re-registered, registered for the
first time or volunteered to revert to the status of religious groups, since in each
case, he maintained, they were `of the most varied kinds'.

Tomsk: Re-registration in Tomsk (2200 miles east of Moscow) is `going badly',
according to specialist at the region's department of justice Tatyana Antsiterova.
Speaking to Keston on 19 December, she said that just over half of those religious
organisations which were obliged to reregister had done so, while ten had not.
(The remainder of the region's 108 religious organisations, she explained, had
formed since the 1997 law on religion.) According to Antsiterova, the ten
outstanding organisations are situated in very remote villages: `They are
inaccessible and I have received no replies from them to my reminder letters.' Six
of the ten, she told Keston, were Catholic, while the others were Muslim. `If they
don't reregister then of course we'll liquidate them,' Antsiterova remarked. `I have
warned them, we've done everything we could to reregister them.'

Tyumen: On 19 December a specialist at the department of justice in Tyumen
(1350 miles east of Moscow) told Keston that of a total of 200 religious
organisations in the region, 118 had reregistered and approximately 30 had not.
She was reluctant to give further details, and maintained that she did not know the
identity of the 30 which had not reregistered: `We will have a look at the
documentation when the deadline has past. We don't have time right now as our
hands are full.'

Khabarovsk: In the Pacific region of Khabarovsky krai (5300 miles east of
Moscow), principal specialist at the department of justice Anna Vodnenko told
Keston on 18 December that approximately 20 of the region's 150 religious
organisations had not reregistered, `but there's still time left'. In her view these 20
were probably defunct, since they had not been in contact with the department.
Vodnenko was unable to say which confessions they represented, but did add that
they were `mostly Protestant. I don't know what happened to them - maybe they
were headed by a foreigner who left and the organisation ceased to exist.' She
confirmed that there would be plans to liquidate them. When Keston asked if there
had been any refusals, for example, to satanists, she replied that religious
organisations had sometimes repeatedly been refused re-registration when they
had not submitted the correct documentation, `but they were all reregistered in the
end when they got their papers in order'.

Irkutsk: On 18 December Nina Kokourova of the department of justice in Irkutsk
(3150 miles east of Moscow) declined to give Keston details of how re-registration
was proceeding, explaining that only written enquiries addressed to the head of the
department received an answer. `They may give information over the telephone in
other subjects of the Russian Federation,' she told Keston, `but that isn't the
practice here.' (END)

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