Issue 3, Article 7, 6 March 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Monday 6 March 2000

by Mikhail Zherebyatev, Keston News Service

The regional legislative assembly in Voronezh is to propose that the State
Duma in Moscow consider a new law on freedom of conscience largely
modelled on the restrictive version of the law adopted by the Russian Supreme
Soviet in 1993 and vetoed by the then president BORIS YELTSIN. The
Voronezh regional authorities have been relatively intolerant of religious
minorities and are considered to be under the strong influence of the local
diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. The regional justice authorities have
this year moved to liquidate 13 religious organisations that failed to gain re-
registration, the largest single action of its type anywhere in Russia (see
separate KNS story).

The new version of the all-Russian law on religion that the Voronezh regional
Duma intends to propose to the State Duma by way of a legislative initiative is
to be based on the amendments to the 1990 law on freedom of conscience and
religious organisations which were adopted by the Supreme Soviet in summer
1993, but which failed to become law as a result of Yeltsin's veto. The 1993
Russian Constitution specifies that legislative assemblies of any of the 89
subjects of the Russian Federation are also part of the national legislative

The chairman of the local expert consultative committee on religion, ARKADI
MINAKOV, is the inspiration behind the initiative. `The law of 1993 created
more effective barriers against totalitarian sects, and it contains a practical ban
on the activity of foreign missionaries,' he explained in an article published in
the Voronezh paper `Bereg' on 11 February. `Now the political situation in the
country has changed. The wave of westernising ecstasy, the elation with the
western world have gone. We have become more sensible, and have started to
worry more about our national interests_' And, in a reference to the restrictive
1993 draft law that Yeltsin vetoed, Minakov concludes: `Now society and the
political elite are to a greater extent ready to accept its basic provisions.'

However, in a telephone interview with Keston on 2 March, Minakov said that
neither he nor the regional Duma intends to take any action on this before the
presidential elections, due on 26 March. Minakov also believes that the actions
of the regional justice administration against 13 religious organisations that
have not been re-registered is fully justifiable, in that the law makes provision
for precisely these actions. (END)