RUSSIA: "You have the law, we have orders"
Two Baptist preachers in Russia's Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad have been fined after their community "sang psalms and spoke about Christ" in the street, they have told Forum 18 News Service. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in the Kaliningrad police told Forum 18 that all public gatherings – whether political or religious – must be authorised by the municipal authorities in advance. "But they didn't have permission and they had no intention of getting it!" he remarked, clearly irritated by the Baptists' actions. Asked why permission is necessary, the source replied, "That's the law in Russia!" Aleksandr Legotin, one of the two Baptists, insisted that, as the Baptists held a religious service and not a demonstration, the legal requirement to notify the authorities in advance should not have applied. "We follow the law very carefully," he told Forum 18. "And under the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights] we have the right to freedom of conscience – the law should be doing the opposite, protecting us from such arbitrariness."
Mikhail Alentyev and Aleksandr Legotin have not yet decided whether to appeal against the fine, handed down by a magistrate at Gusev Municipal Court for violating regulations on holding public demonstrations (Article 20.2, Part 1 of the Administrative Violations Code), Alentyev told Forum 18 from Kaliningrad on 29 September.
All public gatherings – whether political or religious – must be authorised by the municipal authorities in advance, a Kaliningrad police source speaking on condition of anonymity told Forum 18 on 1 October. "But they didn't have permission and they had no intention of getting it!" he remarked, clearly irritated by the Baptists' actions, while admitting they had not disturbed public order. Asked why permission is necessary, the source replied, "That's the law in Russia!" and pointed to Article 20.2 of the Administrative Violations Code. He declined to comment further.
Legotin insisted that, as the Baptists held a religious service and not a demonstration, the legal requirement to notify the authorities in advance should not have applied. "We follow the law very carefully," he told Forum 18 from Kaliningrad on 1 October. "And under the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights] we have the right to freedom of conscience – the law should be doing the opposite, protecting us from such arbitrariness."
Under the 1997 Religion Law (Article 16, Part 5) public religious gatherings come under the law on demonstrations. But according to the 2004 Demonstrations Law - which demands advance notification (not permission) from organisers – religious gatherings are regulated by the Religion Law (Article 1). Law enforcement agencies are thus free to interpret as they choose, and often understand notification as permission.
Alentyev commented to Forum 18 that his 30-strong Gusev congregation "knows from experience" that the local authorities will block its public evangelisation if they do submit advance notification. The community belongs to the Baptist Council of Churches, which broke away from the Soviet-recognised Baptist Union in 1961 in protest at regulations preventing missionary activity and religious instruction to children. Its communities refuse on principle to register with the authorities in post-Soviet countries.
As the Gusev Baptists preached, sang, played musical instruments and handed out gospels in the town's centre during their end-August evangelisation week, they were disrupted by police four times. "They said, 'What right do you have to do this? Permission? No? Then down to the police station!'" recalled Alentyev, who was detained there for an hour on 3 September.
When likewise detained, Legotin tried to point to religious freedom guarantees in international and national law, as well as the 1993 Russian Constitution, he told Forum 18, but one police officer retorted, "You have the law, we have instructions!" He also said that police accused the Baptists of being extremists.
According to an 18 September Council of Churches report, police officers shouted at and ridiculed the Gusev preachers, and threatened to shut them in a cellar when they refused to sign statements.
Legotin and Alentyev both told Forum 18 this is the first year they have been obstructed by the Kaliningrad authorities. According to the Council of Churches report, police detained and interrogated preachers in Polessk in July. Ten days later, Legotin and a second preacher were summoned to the municipal public prosecutor's office and told they were banned from conducting religious activity in the district without state registration.
In January, police disrupted evangelisation by some 25 Baptists, including Legotin, in Domnovo village (Pravdinsk District). All were detained by police, who took their names, home and work addresses, and interviewed minors without their parents. They also accused the Baptists of receiving funds from abroad and "parasitism" ["tuneyadstvo"], an allegation commonly levelled at religious believers and dissidents during the Soviet period. Legotin rejects this charge. "I have two jobs," he told Forum 18 indignantly. "We all work."
Council of Churches communities consistently encounter state opposition when they conduct public religious activity. According to their 23 May report, a female police officer in civilian clothes and several unidentified men broke up evangelisation at Losevo village market in Voronezh Region on 20 May, warning that if the Baptists did not leave they would be beaten. The preachers later received death threats from locals, and one of their cars was set alight. Similar attacks have taken place in other regions in previous years (see most recently F18News 22 September 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1190) (END)
For a personal commentary by Irina Budkina, editor of the http://www.samstar.ru Old Believer website, about continuing denial of equality to Russia's religious minorities, see F18News 26 May 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=570.
For more background, see Forum 18's Russia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1196.
Analysis of the background to Russian policy on "religious extremism" is available in two articles: 'How the battle with "religious extremism" began' (F18News 27 April 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1287) and 'The battle with "religious extremism" - a return to past methods?' (F18News 28 April 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1288).
Reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Russia can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=10.
A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1351.
A printer-friendly map of Russia is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=russi.
23 July 2009
Four lawyers defending Jehovah's Witnesses have been deported since March, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The deportations of the two American and two Canadian lawyers seriously hinder the Witnesses' attempts to defend themselves in seven local court cases seeking to ban their literature as extremist. Also, a recent police detention allegedly involving torture and a raid on a Sunday service – after which one worshipper had a miscarriage and another was sent to a children's shelter – suggest the law enforcement agencies continue to view Jehovah's Witnesses as religious extremists even without a ban. A leaflet by a traditional Mari-El pagan priest is among the latest additions to the Federal List of Extremist Materials, meaning it is banned throughout Russia. The priest, Vitali Tanakov, has told Forum 18 that he thinks the strongly ecological nature of the Mari religious worldview makes it a threat to those who wish to exploit the republic's timber resources. Recently interviewed in Yoshkar-Ola, capital of Mari El, he suggested that whereas many strive to become rich and happy through business, the Mari faith teaches that "you won't become happy by becoming a businessman, by felling the forests."
16 July 2009
Russian customs officials, Prosecutor's Office officials and FSB security service officers are continuing to seize works by Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi, most recently in Siberia and Bashkortostan, Forum 18 News Service has found. Russian translations of many of Nursi's works have been banned in Russia, as they have been placed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Yet local state officials in Tatarstan maintained to Forum 18 that federal accusations against a Tatar-Turkish lycee in the regional capital Kazan that it was linked with "religious extremism" were unfounded. Tatarstan's senior religious affairs official Renat Valiullin also told Forum 18 that the Moscow court decision banning Nursi translations was taken "without any strong expert analysis". Lycee headteacher Marat Fattiyev, who was accused of being a Nursi follower without his having read any of Nursi's works, suggested to Forum 18 that the move followed false information passed to the FSB about the Turkish ultra-nationalist Ergenekon conspiracy. Federal officials have not yet replied to Forum 18's questions about why Tatarstan officials do not agree with the federal claims of "religious extremism".
9 July 2009
Not only do leaders of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Tatarstan support a local monopoly over all Muslim activity in the traditionally majority Muslim republic, so too do state officials, Forum 18 News Service has found. Renat Valiullin, the republic's top religious affairs official, acknowledged to Forum 18 that a requirement in Tatarstan's 1999 Religion Law that all Muslim religious organisations be subject to the Directorate had been struck down as unconstitutional. Yet he insisted all Muslim organisations must be subject to it "so as to keep the argument" of the 1999 Law, adding that they must also be of the Hanafi school of Islam. Kazan City Government religious affairs official Irek Arslanov spoke to Forum 18 approvingly of the Directorate's monthly meetings with the city's imams where "ideology is explained to them". Imam Ildus Faizov of the Directorate's Propaganda Department defended "good censorship" of Islamic thought, including the federal ban on many works of Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi. One Muslim told Forum 18 some Muslim women locally are afraid to wear the hijab and men are afraid to attend mosque for fear of being branded "religious extremists".