KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 11 December 2000

RUSSIA: BELGOROD REGION PLANS TO RESTRICT MISSIONARIES.
The parliament in Belgorod region (southern Russia) is well on its way to
adopting a bill that would restrict missionary activity by local religious groups
and all but ban it by foreigners. On 30 November deputies approved the first
reading of the bill, despite the conclusion by the parliament's legal department
that parts of it contradict federal law.

RUSSIA: BELGOROD REGION PLANS TO RESTRICT MISSIONARIES

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

The parliament in Belgorod region, in southern Russia on the border with
Ukraine, is well on its way to adopting a bill that would restrict missionary
activity by local religious groups and all but ban it by foreigners. On 30
November deputies approved the first reading of a bill `On missionary and
preaching activity on the territory of Belgorod' despite the conclusion by the
parliament's legal department that parts of the bill contradict federal law. The
legal department identified sections contradicting Russia's controversial 1997
religion law by restricting the right to freedom of conscience of foreign citizens
legally resident in the country. Keston News Service tried to discuss the bill
with members of the Belgorod parliament and administration, but no
parliamentarian or official was prepared to comment.

A number of Russia's regions have adopted restrictive religious laws, many of
which violate federal law and the Russian constitution (see KNS 19 September
2000). Belgorod has had its own law - `On the missionary activity of religious
organisations and preachers in the Belgorod region' - since November 1996.

In an explanatory note to the new bill, the head of the department for links with
society, Aleksandr Khodeyev, who is based in the regional administration,
claims there is a `need' to adopt a law on religion corresponding to `current
realities'. `The religious situation has changed and representatives from
religions not native to Russia and the Belgorod region have become active,' he
declared. `Missionary and preaching activity - the most important aspect of the
work of any religious organisation - was not regulated by the new Federal Law
on freedom of conscience adopted on 26 September 1997. It became necessary
therefore to adopt the same procedures regulating the conduct of missionary
and preaching activity in the Belgorod region for all religious groups.'

The new bill would introduce tight restrictions on missionary and preaching
activity. Article 3 point 2 states that missionary activity may be conducted in
`cult buildings', in places of residence only with the permission of residents,
and in other places only `in accordance with the regulations established for the
holding of public meetings and demonstrations' - in other words, only with the
agreement of the local administration. Point 6 lists the documentation the
regional authorities would demand from those arriving in the region to conduct
missionary and preaching activity, including the passport details of all
individuals involved, a declaration of the aim and duration of the visit and a
copy of the invitation from a religious group in the region (if such an invitation
has been issued). Details must be provided of the planned itinerary, as well as
proof of registration at the place of residence.

Article 3 point 7 states that `foreign citizens arriving in the region for tourist,
business or purposes other than the conduct of missionary activity, as stated in
their entry visas, do not have the right to engage in missionary or preaching
activity'. Point 8 classifies `the placing of advertisements of a religious nature,
or the distribution of information about religious activities' as missionary
activity.

Deputy director of the legal department at the Belgorod regional parliament O.
Kremneva noted in her conclusion of 4 November that Article 3 point 7 of the
bill contravenes Article 3 of the federal religion law. She cites Article 28 point
3 of the Russian Constitution, which states that `restriction of the rights of
foreign citizens freely to choose, profess and disseminate religious or other
views and to act in accordance with these may only be established by Federal
Law and international agreement'. Kremneva continued: `The Federal Law
does not make the right to conduct missionary and preaching activity
dependent on the stated aim of a foreign citizen's entry to the country, and
upholds the rights of foreign citizens and those holding no citizenship who are
legally resident in the Russian Federation to freedom of conscience and belief
equal with the rights enjoyed by citizens of the Russian Federation. Only the
Federal Law can be applied if there has been an infringement of legislation on
freedom of conscience. Thus even if a person has offended under the terms of
Article 3 point 7 of the draft regional law they cannot be charged for breaking
the federal law.'

Despite the criticism from the parliament's own legal department and the
professed demand of Russian president Vladimir Putin that regional laws must
conform with national laws and the constitution, deputies seem determined to
adopt the bill. (END)


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