Russian Advocate Asks New Deadline for Religious Groups

Round Table Criticizes Country´s Laws

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MOSCOW, FEB. 4, 2001 ( A Russian round table criticized the limitations imposed on religious groups as well as the spirit of the law that requires such organizations to register.

The round table held in Moscow focused on the controversial issue of legal control of religious groups in Russia, according to report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The participants in particular criticized the law which establishes the dominant role of the Orthodox Church in Russia´s spiritual life.

The deadline for the registration of religious groups in Russia expired Dec. 31, leaving many religious groups without the necessary social recognition to carry out their activities.

Oleg Mironov, Defender of the People in the area of human rights, said that about 30% of religious organizations, about 4,500 groups, had not registered with the Ministry of Justice. The ministry estimated that the unregistered constitute only 10% of the organizations.

According to the 1997 law on «liberty of conscience and religious unions,» a religious organization that is not registered suffers legal impediments in the freedom of movement of its pastors, for instance, denial of visas. Such a group also lacks juridical personality to publish materials, or undertake other initiatives.

In order to register, a religious organization must demonstrate that it has existed in Russia for 15 years, something which is very difficult in certain cases, because of the atheist system that existed in the Soviet Union.

The law of preference and privilege for religions regarded as traditional at the time of Communism, and the Orthodox Church in particular, was denounced in the congress by Lev Levinson, member of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights.

With this measure, Russia also hoped to defend itself from the flood of fundamentalist groups which began to arrive after the fall of Communism. Jehovah´s Witnesses, for example, were rejected by a Moscow district governor because they refused to have blood transfusions. They have been recognized in other parts of the country, however.

Mironov revealed that he wrote a letter to President Vladimir Putin in November, asking for an amendment to the law that would extend the registration deadline to 2003 and eliminate the text on discriminatory measures.

Alexey Lebedev, one of Mironov´s representatives, explained that the request did not receive a positive response.

«The reply stated that if the period for registration had expired, why return to the topic?» he said. «Therefore, we are now in a strange position, from the legal point of view, where the law is valid but for many reasons contradicts international agreements and obligations, and the Russian Constitution itself.»

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