Wednesday 16 February 2000
RUSSIA TO RESPOND TO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CASE AT EUROPEAN
COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

The Russian Federation has until 3 April to answer questions from the
European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg in the `Pitkevich
versus the Russian Federation' case, which was officially accepted by the Court
on 6 May 1999 (Case No. 47936/99). A judge of the Noyabrsk city court of the
Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region GALINA PITKEVICH was stripped of her
legal powers for allegedly using her position at work to attract new members to
her church, the charismatic Living Faith church (which was later renamed
Word of Life). Pitkevich herself describes the testimonies used against her as
`slander'.

Having exhausted all legal avenues in Russia, Pitkevich lodged a suit with the
ECHR, with the help of the lawyers ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV and
VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY, the directors of the Moscow-based Slavic
Centre for Law and Justice. She argued that her rights under Articles 6 (right to
a fair trial), 9 part 1 (right to freedom of thought) and 10 (right to freedom of
expression) of the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms had been violated.

The two questions from the Court which the Russian government must now
answer are: `1. On the basis of which specific facts was the applicant dismissed
from the judiciary? Did that dismissal amount to an interference with the
exercise of her rights under Articles 9 and 10 of the Convention? If so, was that
interference compatible with Articles 9 and 10, taken separately or together
with Article 14? 2. Was Article 6 of the Convention applicable to the
proceedings in question? If so, could the judiciary qualification panels be
considered as "tribunals", and did they give the applicant a "fair" trial for the
purpose of Article 6? Were the proceedings before the Supreme Court "fair"
within the meaning of Article 6?'

The Russian Federation's representative at the European Court for Human
Rights, PAVEL LAPTEV, told Keston News Service on 8 February that `the
case has been officially notified [the state representative has been informed of
the case] and he is examining it'. However, Laptev declined to comment on the
case, claiming: `All the activity of the European Court of Human Rights is
based on the fact that a minimum of information is made public until the case is
decided'. Asked how long the case would be under consideration by the ECHR,
Laptev replied: `It might take several years, or it might never be considered at
all'. In support of this he cited the case of NATALYA NIKISHINA, a
Jehovah's Witness who challenged a decision to deprive her of parental rights
because of her faith (see KNS 9 February 1999). `The Nikishina case has been
suspended [at the ECHR] - it is being reconsidered in a Russian court.'

Pchelintsev doubts that the Russian government will respond seriously to the
ECHR. `They have been given until 3 April to settle this issue by means of a
peaceful agreement. The state is very much aware of this,' he told Keston in an
interview on 7 February. `It's like the case of Nikishina versus the Russian
Federation, when the Supreme Court suddenly overturned all the decisions of
previous courts and ordered that her case be considered by a newly-formed
court. It will be the same here - they will examine it carefully, and then they
will see where to refer it to - the Supreme Court or somewhere else.'

TATYANA TOMAYEVA, the head of public affairs at the Slavic Centre for
Law and Justice, noted what she maintained were some of the contradictions of
the case. `To give an unsound decision is a criminal offence and this was cited
in relation to Pitkevich,' she told Keston on 10 February. `However, all the
legal decisions of Judge Pitkevich are still effective - not one has been
overturned.' Tomayeva also claimed that it has emerged that several
testimonies used against Pitkevich were forged, and there are grounds for
believing that all the testimonies were forged. ´┐ŻPitkevich's lawyers are in
possession of certified statements that several witnesses later declared that they
gave no such testimony, and that their signatures were forged. Some of the
witnesses were subpoenaed, while some gave written evidence, but people who
wanted to testify in her favour were not allowed into the chamber.'

`My case is undoubtedly linked to the Church,' Pitkevich asserted in an
interview with Keston on 8 February. `I have belonged to the church for seven
years, and before that I used to attend the Orthodox church every so often. Four
years before my dismissal people were relaxed about it, they alluded to it,
laughed, and told me: "They'll start calling you a sect member, people will
have to complain". Relations with our Church in the city are not exactly bad -
it's simply that nothing is acceptable except Orthodoxy. After all, I believe in
Biblical teaching. And when they say that it is a sect, and that a judge belongs
to the sect, the authorities will not allow it.' She reported that other judges had
tried to persuade her that if she had to attend a church she should go to the
Orthodox.

But her situation later took a turn for the worse. In March 1997, there were
mayoral elections in the city of Noyabrsk, and Pitkevich put herself forward as
a candidate and launched an active election campaign which, she says,
frightened the city authorities. `After the elections there began an active
persecution, unmitigated pressure, and a collection of slanderous accusations,'
she maintained. `There were people who had come across me in civic cases and
who won - well known in the city as troublemakers, and they used them as
ammunition, and promised them something or other so that they would testify
against me. I was charged with the crime of drawing people into a sect. Before
this there had been a lot of discrediting of the Church on television. Orthodox
organisations made a special broadcast that was advertised on television for
three days before it was shown. My husband and I were shown on it - look
where she goes.'

On 9 September 1997, the head of the city administration in Noyabrsk, A. G.
BUSALOV, wrote to VIKTOR EMIKH, chair of the Noyabrsk city court, to
draw his `urgent' attention to Pitkevich's activities. `Galina Pitkevich makes no
secret of the fact that she is an active member of the Living Faith church - a
religious sect with fundamentalist leanings,' Busalov wrote. He complained
that the church's leaders were `ideologically and spiritually enslaving people',
something the `weak traditional confessions of Noyabrsk are in no position to
resist'. He claimed the church was intent on winning over `people who hold
power in state and municipal organs of government' and took particular
exception to Pitkevich's registration as a mayoral candidate, viewing it as
evidence of the church's `fully developed political interests'. Busalov
maintained that Pitkevich's work as a judge was affected by her political and
religious affiliation: `The professional duty of a judge is the unprejudiced and
impartial upholding of the law in society. Such an obligation can hardly be
reconciled with unaccountable political games, experiments with people's
souls. I believe that the fact that a member of court attends and actively
participates in a totalitarian organisation presents a potential danger for the
inhabitants of Noyabrsk.'

After Emikh and a group of Noyabrsk residents complained about Pitkevich's
alleged proselytism, the president of the Council of Judges V.I. AVLICHEV
ordered an investigation by V.A. ZYRYANOV, a member of the Legal Council
of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region. On 24 November 1997 Zyryanov
informed Avlichev that he had completed his investigation into `activities
allegedly carried out by her which are incompatible with the work of a Federal
judge' and that the allegations were proved to be true. `The court employees
confirmed that Pitkevich is proselytising in court in order to attract citizens into
the activities of the church,' Zyryanov reported to Avlichev. `An interrogation
of citizens showed that Judge Pitkevich has drawn them into Living Faith and
has proselytised among court employees. Videocassettes and recordings of
activities of the Living Faith church, on which Pitkevich was filmed having an
unclean spirit cast out, were attached to the declaration by way of evidence.'

On 6 February 1998 a specialist board of judges of the Yamalo-Nenets
Autonomous Region met to consider this declaration and decided to `remove
the powers of Judge Galina Pitkevich in accordance with paragraph 9, article
14 of the Russian Federation "Law on the status of judges in the Russian
Federation, in relation to the perpetration of crimes, which disgrace the honour
and dignity of the judge, and belittle the authority of the legal powers", and to
deprive Galina Pitkevich of her third class qualification'. The board's decision
gave prominence to her activity in the church over the previous four years.
`During this period she has completed an evening course run by the church, she
is a cell leader in the hierarchy of Living Faith, and each month she gives
financial support to the activity of her religious organisation by donating one
tenth of her monthly salary.' The letter described the Living Faith church -
which had official registration - as `in essence a charismatic sect, whose
activity aims to destroy social consciousness and to enrich the sect financially'.
It maintained that the judge was working for the church in court. `In court,
Pitkevich operated on her own initiative as a cell leader of the Living Faith
church, into which employees BELOUSOV and YEROSHENKO were drawn.
They prayed, and spent their time distributing religious literature and
invitations to services, and studying the Bible.'

The board's decision noted that Pitkevich `does not deny that she does actively
work to attract passers-by into the Living Faith church', adding: `In the eyes of
the city's inhabitants this conduct has not only discredited Pitkevich as a judge,
but also the entire Noyabrsk city court as a sect, where in return for joining the
Living Faith church one may solve any question in a manner favourable to
oneself, and where the decisions taken are not in the name of the state, but in
the name of God and with the help of the Living Faith church.' The decision
concluded: `Pitkevich's membership of the Living Faith church is her
constitutional right of religious freedom, but her actual behaviour of
proselytising in court, and holding services contradicts the conditions in article
14 of the Russian Federation Constitution, and the provisions of the Code of
Honour of judges in the Russian Federation.'

The board cited what it claimed was evidence for proselytism in court or the
connection of the consideration of one case or another with a commitment to
join the church. `The secretary of the court session, L.I. ULITIN, replied during
questioning that Pitkevich suggested that she join the Living Faith church and
she cursed her when she refused. The invalid Zh. K. TUBOLETS said that
Pitkevich refused her suit in 1994 and that Pitkevich and the secretary gave her
an invitation to a church service, which she did attend. The following day
Pitkevich asked her why she had not repented as she was a sinner. Pitkevich
explained to her that while she could hear her case, she could not hear her as
God could hear her. Invalid N.N. MULYAR explained that there was a case
against her in court, which Pitkevich considered for a long time. Pitkevich
suddenly told her that she was a scoundrel, and the secretary urged her to visit
the Living Faith church, and that Pitkevich would help her. She refused and she
was fined 18 million roubles (in old money). Pitkevich insulted her in every
way possible. Her assessors also belonged to the sect and kept silent. Pitkevich
suggested that she turn to God for help.'

Pitkevich rejects these testimonies, denying that she would have spoken in
these terms. `I might have talked to them about the Bible, about Christ, but this
is barefaced slander. I asked why they did not warn the witnesses that to give
false evidence was a criminal act. "That's not the situation in your case," they
replied.' Six months before her dismissal, Pitkevich reports, the chairman of
judges gave her an outstanding reference, as well as his written and his
personal thanks. `But Busalov told him: "Either you will not sit as a judge here,
or you will deal with her." They told me: "Leave quietly, or you will lose
everything when we kick you out." I refused to leave, I did not then realise that
the Stalinist-Leninist system survives to this day in our country.'

The highest specialist board of judges of the Russian Federation, chaired by
A.V. ZHEREBTSOV, met on 21 May 1998 and left the decision of the board
of experts to withdraw Pitkevich's legal powers unchanged. `I came with my
lawyer to the sitting of the highest specialist board,' Pitkevich complains, `but
they sent my lawyer out of the chamber.'

The case then went to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation but at a
session on 7 August 1998, chaired by Judge N.K. TOLCHEYEV, Pitkevich's
appeal was rejected. `By virtue of part 2 of article 14 of the Constitution,
religious organisations are separate from the state. In point 4, Article 4 of the
Federal law on freedom of conscience and religious organisations the rule was
strengthened according to which responsible persons of organs of state power
and of other state bodies, and also servicemen do not have the right to use their
position of work to develop one or another attitude to religion. Pitkevich used
her position at work to develop a positive attitude to the religion she professes,
and to draw citizens into the activities of the Living Faith church. This gave
rise to doubts about the objectivity and impartiality of the law, and the
possibility of providing legal protection for the rights and freedom of citizens
guaranteed in article 46 of the Russian Federation Constitution'.

Pitkevich complains that she was not properly informed of the Supreme Court
hearing. `I came to the sitting of the Supreme Court on 11 August, as directed
in my subpoena, but I was not allowed in - my case was not on the list, and I
went away again. At the Supreme Court they admitted they had made a clerical
error- it was on the 7th, but they called me on the 11th'.

Pitkevich is now working as a lawyer, but she reports she is still facing
obstruction. `I'm not being allowed to work as before. My clients are being
called to court and urged to refuse my service. They spent one and a half hours
persuading one client what a dreadful lawyer she had. Several have refused my
services, but others have agreed to write about it to the highest court. I hope for
justice.'

Meanwhile, Keston has learnt that very soon after his election as mayor in
1997, Busalov left Noyabrsk and now lives in Moscow pursuing his business
activities. (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000