CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

Draft Report on Counter-Extremist Measures by the State Commission Gives Rise to Xenophobia and Unlawful Treatment of Religious Minorities.
Roman Catholics and Protestants Named Threat No. 1

Statement by the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice and the Institute for Religion and Law, December 6, 2002

On December 5, the mass media have publicized the contents of the draft report "On improvement of the measures to counteract religious extremism in the Russian Federation". The State Council working group is drafting this text for the joint session of the Security Council, State Council and Council for relations with religious organizations under the auspices of the President of the Russian Federation, which is scheduled for the beginning of the next year.

The draft literally outlaws all - with a few exceptions - religious associations of Russia. The text implies that any unconstitutional actions against them can be approved, including surveillance, violation of the right to privacy by the law enforcement agencies, creation of the intolerable moral climate and of the impediments to the normal functioning of the religious minorities' associations.

As the newspaper "Gazeta" informs (it was the first to publish this information), 32 officials directed by Ahmad Kadyrov and Minister of Nationalities Vladimir Zorin worked on the draft. The text contains recommendations to counteract religious extremism in the country. The principal agents of extremism, according to the draft, are the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant religious communities, as well as "pseudo-religious communities of foreign origin" and "groupings founded on different Eastern teachings" The document states that the activity of the religious groups in question "is not contrary to the current Russian legislation". However, in violation of the basic legal principles, the officials roundly accused all these religions of extremist activities, which, by law, includes "attempts to change the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, undermining national security, forming illegal military units, engaging in the terrorist activity", etc. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church is accused of creating its parishes on the "traditionally Orthodox territories of the Russian Federation", and the Protestant Churches - of the "stable growth in numbers" and of rendering humanitarian aid to the Russian people.

The Slavic Centre for Law and Justice and the Institute for Religion and Law are concerned that such blatantly incompetent and anti-constitutional document could be used by the governmental commission even as a draft to be improved and worked on. The text, which implies culpability of certain religious groups only on the basis of their confessional affiliation and supposedly foreign origin, cannot serve a sound basis for recommendations to mitigate the threat of religious extremism. The use of such documents would be counterproductive and the result would rather be the rise of religious and national strife in the country.

It is especially alarming that among the positive measures already taken by the governmental agencies against religious extremism, the draft enumerates such notorious actions as expulsion of the Catholic and Protestant ministers. These actions have already given rise to protest from the international community. The draft recommends to "uncover and suppress totalitarian destructive sects that function on the territory of the Russian Federation". In particular, the Pentecostal churches are mentioned among the latter. Let us note that the Pentecostal church leaders take part in the Council for relations with religious organizations, which is one of the parties to discuss the above draft report. The references made in the draft to the authority of the United Nations and the provisions of the international law seem most cynical in this context.

Over the last few years the law enforcement agencies have been widely using illegal methods of surveillance over the minority religions including unsanctioned secret videotaping of the church services and defamation. The texts like the draft report in question just help legalize this activity, which is absolutely intolerable for a democratic country governed by the rule of law.

The Slavic Centre for Law and Justice is a non-governmental, non-profit organization, which provides legal defence of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in Russia.

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