by Konstantin Krylov (UC Public Relations Center, Russia)
(Moscow, Nov. 11) On Nov. 5, 1999 the final hearing took place in the St. Petersburg City Court of two separate suits to liquidate the Collegiate Association for Research of the Principle (CARP), a public student organization founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Judge Svetlana Masolova rejected the claims of the City Prosecutor and the St. Petersburg Justice Department.
Cases against CARP have been going on in St. Petersburg for more than four years. City authorities have wanted to shut down this organization in order to demonstrate their determination to fight against non-traditional beliefs in Russia.
CARP was officially registered by the Justice Department of St. Petersburg in December 1991. When members of CARP attempted to register a branch of the Unification Church in St. Petersburg in November 1994, it attracted the unwelcome attention of Justice Department officials and anti-cult activists. The Justice Department immediately began an investigation into CARP activities and sent an official warning, threatening to close CARP, which it accused of violating its charter by conducting religious activities. Although CARP did not violate its own charter or Russian law concerning activities by public organizations, the CARP charter does claim the study of Unification Principle as one of its activities, a point that was not disputed by the Justice Department when CARP was first registered in 1991.
At the same time, the Justice Department rejected the attempts to register a local branch of the Unification Church, stating that it did not consider it a religion, this in spite of the fact that the Unification Church had already been registered as a religious organization on the national level by the Russian Federation Ministry of Justice in May 1992.
In July 1995 two anti-cult groups, the Committee for the Protection of Family and Personality and the Interregional Committee for Salvation from Totalitarian Sects, simultaneously launched suits at the Dzerzhinsky District Court of St. Petersburg, seeking to liquidate CARP and demanding compensation for supposed moral damage. CARP was accused of "destroying the genetic fund of Russia," turning its members into "zombies" and hindering their intellectual development. They demanded a total of 80 billion rubles (approximately $13m in 1995), which they claimed was necessary in order to establish rehabilitation centers providing psychiatric aid to the "victims." The head of the Interregional Committee for Salvation from Totalitarian Sects, Ninel Russkikh, for example, demanded that her 22-year-old daughter, a CARP member who is also a Unification Church member, be forcibly confined to a mental institution for 16 months.
In the course of the hearings the court ordered a psychiatric evaluation of the CARP members whose parents were bringing the suits. The evaluation found the CARP members to be mentally healthy and competent. In addition, criminal experts who studied CARP and Unification Church literature found nothing unlawful in their teachings or activities.
In March 1996 one of the two anti-cult committees, the Committee for the Protection of Family and Personality, withdrew its suit. On Nov. 19, 1998, the judge of the Dzerzhinsky District Court suddenly "remembered" about correct procedure and, after three-and-a-half years, concluded that the case brought by the anti-cultists had been mistakenly accepted by the court, thereby dismissing the case of the Interregional Committee for Protection from Totalitarian Sects. The judge ruled that neither of the anti-cult organizations had, according to Russian law, a legal right to demand the liquidation of a public organization, although this very point had been repeatedly raised by CARP lawyers Galina Krylova and Helen Khudiakova since the case first started in 1995. An important factor in helping the judge to "remember" this "mistake" was the fact that CARP lawyers had discovered the source of funding for the "socially beneficial" anti-cult activities. Documentary evidence was presented proving that the lawsuits of the parents were actually paid for by a special budget from the St. Petersburg City Hall. In other words, the St. Petersburg City Hall was financing activities that could have resulted in the forcible commitment to mental institutions of adults whose beliefs differed from their parents.
The decision by the Dzerzhinsky District Court to recognize the "mistake" and dismiss the case was not welcomed by the authorities. In February 1999 the Interregional Committee for Salvation from Totalitarian Sects was successful in its appeal against the ruling of the lower court. However, on July 21, 1999, four years to the day after the initial hearing, the anti-cult committee officially withdrew its suit. But the chairman of the committee, Ninel Russkikh, and the vice chairman, Nikolai Babkin, submitted their own personal suits with the same claims. It must be noted that in May 1998 these same anti-cultists lost an almost identical case against the Unification Church of Russia in Moscow.
When it became clear, in the autumn of 1998, that the anti-cultists' efforts had not met with the expected success, the St. Petersburg City Court scheduled a hearing on the City Prosecutor's case demanding the liquidation of CARP on the absurd charge that it conducted religious activities in 1994 and 1995. (The warning that the Justice Department sent to CARP about suspected religious activity in 1994-1995 was disavowed by the Justice Department in May 1999 due to a lack of evidence.)
We again see Mrs. Russkikh and Mr. Babkin as star witnesses for the prosecution. When the judge of this new case recognized the weakness in the Prosecutor's case, the hearing was postponed for about a year.
The case resumed in October 1999 when the Justice Department of St. Petersburg joined the City Prosecutor with its own claims to liquidate CARP, on the grounds that CARP had failed to re-register by the July 1, 1999 deadline, as stipulated by the new law "On public organizations."
This new suit of the Justice Department was patently absurd. Firstly, the Justice Department had more than once rejected CARP's attempts to re-register on the grounds that there was no final decision on the City Prosecutor's case. Secondly, the State Duma approved the extension of the period for re-registration of all public organizations from the previous deadline of July 1, 1999 to July 1, 2000.
Over several years the prosecutor's office had been trying to bring a criminal case against CARP and in 1996, with the support of the Justice Department, a criminal case began, only to end in May 1999 when the Prosecutor agreed that CARP did not violate the law.
The absence of any sustainable legal arguments forced the City Prosecutor and the Justice Department to openly display their ideological bias and to forgo even the pretense of following legal norms. As a result, on Nov. 5, 1999 the City Court of St. Petersburg rejected the City Prosecutor's and Justice Department's suits to liquidate CARP and, at the same time, accused the city Justice Department of acting illegally when it rejected the attempt by CARP to re-register.
This decision finally vindicated CARP, despite the attacks and opposition from the authorities. This victory also provides a glimmer of hope for the establishment of an independent judiciary in Russia.
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