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Members of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation discussed the application of the law on missionary activities

Adventist church leader stresses support for fight against extremism but cautions not to discriminate against religious institutions in the process.

Members of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation discussed the application of the law on missionary activities

[Photo courtesy of the Euro-Asia Division]

On November 28, a round table was held in the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, devoted to the following topic: Law Enforcement Practice in Respect of Federal Law No. 125 "On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations", Art. 24.1 “Missionary Activities: Main Aspects and Problems.”

This event was organized by the Commission on Harmonization of Inter-ethnic and Inter-Confessional Relations of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation by Oleg Goncharov, director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department for the church in the Euro-Asia region. Goncharov is also a member of the Civic Chamber and serves as Secretary General of the Russian Association for the Protection of Religious Freedom. 

Chairman of the Commission, Iosif Diskin, and Commissioner Goncharov were moderators of the Round Table. Representatives of religious organizations, lawyers, human rights advocates, as well as representatives of the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation also took part. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was represented by Pastor Boris Protasevich, Pastor Vasily Nichik, and Pastor Sergei Semin. 

Participants of the Round Table discussed the law enforcement practice in respect of Federal Law No. 125 "On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations", Art. 24.1 "Missionary Activities." According to the statistics of the Slavic Legal Center, there were over 200 court decisions on violations since the adoption of the Law in Russia. 30 percent of the violations were related to the performance of activities by religious organizations without specifying their full names. 56 percent of the violations were associated with violation of Art. 24.1 Clause 4 by carrying out missionary activities. And, 14 percent of the violations were committed by foreign citizens. In the majority of cases, fines were imposed on religious organizations and believers who belonged to Protestant religious associations and new religious movements.

Participants of the Round Table conducted an analysis of the offenses and came to the conclusion almost all of them were connected with misinterpretation and incorrect application of the law. Individuals are charged with almost half (48%) of the violations, despite the fact "missionary activity" in the Law refers to religious associations. The current law-enforcement practice in relation to Art. 24.1 actually violates Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation which establishes the right of individuals to freely disseminate their religious views.

In his report, Goncharov, who is also a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, expressed his support for the authorities desire to fight extremism and terrorism. He also stressed that believers and religious organizations should not suffer when they have nothing to do with the extremism and terrorism. Goncharov urged to take specific measures to eliminate violations in the application of legislation.

Svetlana Borisova, representative of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, who spoke at the Round Table, noted in the course of the inspections by the justice bodies, religious organizations should provide only those books and other materials that have a label with the full name of the organization in accordance with the registration data. Otherwise fines will be imposed on religious organizations for violating the law prescribing the labeling of religious literature that is used by religious organizations. Such fines in the amount of 30,000 rubles, or a little over $500USD, have already been imposed on a number of religious organizations. 

As a result of the Round Table, the following measures were proposed to address the problems of believers in connection with the application of Art. 24.1. Appeal to the Supreme Court for clarification of peculiarities of application of Art. 24.1, work on improving the skills of enforcers through appropriate educational programs, workshops, conferences, meetings with a view to clarifying the main issues of application of Art. 24.1. 

The group also suggested clarifying the requirements of Art. 24.1 and other legislation on freedom of conscience and on religious associations by sending proposals to the State Duma on the adoption of appropriate amendments. Initiate the issue of an appropriate order of the General Prosecutor's Office for clarification of the application of Art. 24.1., initiate the preparation and publication of a methodical letter of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation on the application of Art. 24.1, interact with representatives of religious associations to explain the legislation in part of Art. 24.1. Finally, they agreed they should hold a Round Table in the Civic Chamber in 2018 to monitor the implementation of decisions taken.