Keston News Service Summary: Armenia, Estonia, Russia


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Subject: Keston News Service Summary: Armenia, Estonia, Russia

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Keston News Service Summary: Armenia, Estonia, Russia

 
KESTON INSTITUTE, OXFORD, UK
______________________________________
 
KESTON NEWS SERVICE – SUMMARY 10-14 September 2001
 
Summaries of recent reporting on violations of religious liberty and
on religion in communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________
 
SUMMARIES:
 
ARMENIA: VERDICT NEXT WEEK IN JEHOVAH’S WITNESS TRIAL (11 Sept).
Although the closing hearing in the case against Jehovah’s Witness
Levon Markaryan took place today (11 September) the judge has withheld
a verdict until 11 am on 18 September. The head of the court
chancellery told Keston News Service that she did not know the reason
for the delay. The judge gave no reason to the court. It appears that
both the government’s State Committee for Religious Affairs and the
National Security Ministry (the Armenian successor to the KGB) have
been involved in the case.
 
ESTONIA: CONTROVERSIAL RELIGION LAW TO RETURN TO PARLIAMENT (14 Sept).
Amendments to the religion law adopted by the Estonian parliament in
June but vetoed by President Lennart Meri had to be submitted by 13
September. An advisor to parliament’s legal committee told Keston News
Service on 14 September that eight parliamentary deputies from a
number of different parties had proposed one amendment - the deletion
from the bill of the article that the president and many religious
groups had highlighted as a violation of religious freedom. She
pledged that her committee would invite religious groups to set out
their concerns when the law is again considered.
 
RUSSIA: KREMLIN DOESN’T TRUST ORTHODOX LEADERSHIP, SAYS TOP OFFICIAL
(10 Sept). Senior Kremlin official Maksim Meyer has revealed the
extent of disillusionment with the Russian Orthodox Church’s leaders
within President Putin’s administration. In an exclusive interview
with Keston News Service, he claims that the Kremlin does not trust
the Orthodox leadership, believing it to be ‘dishonest’ and involved
in 'intrigues' while the Church’s core is 'crumbling away'. He says
the Kremlin is prepared to defy the Orthodox Church by introducing a
system of concordats with individual confessions rather than a status
of traditional confession.
 
RUSSIA: DRAFT RELIGIOUS POLICY REVISED AGAIN (10 Sept). The latest
revisions to one of the two draft religious policies followed comments
to its authors, the Institute for State-Confessional Relations and Law
and Moscow justice department official Vladimir Zhbankov, from Muslim
and Orthodox leaders, ISCRL director Igor Ponkin told Keston News
Service. The latest draft narrows the definition of 'traditional'
faiths to exclude newer forms of traditional faiths, especially in the
Muslim and Buddhist communities.
 
RUSSIA: NO RELIGIOUS POLICY DOCUMENT AFTER ALL? (10 Sept) Even as the
two draft religious policies continue to circulate, presidential
administration religious affairs official Aleksandr Kudryavtsev told
Keston News Service that such policies have not been commissioned by
the government and are not needed. He said they remain the personal
initiative of their respective authors.
 
RUSSIA: ‘I WAS SET UP’ CLAIMS PROTESTANT LAWYER (11 Sept). A Moscow
lawyer specialising in religious liberty cases has claimed to Keston
News Service that the positive comments he made about an earlier draft
of a religion policy were tricked out of him. 'I was set up,' Anatoli
Pchelintsev declares of the way his endorsement of the policy drafted
by the Institute for State-Confessional Relations and Law and an
official of the Moscow justice department was obtained. He now says he
prefers the rival policy drawn up by the religious faculty of the
Russian Academy for State Service. The Institute’s head claimed to
Keston that Pchelintsev had seen every draft.
 
RUSSIA: SALVATION ARMY LOSES MOSCOW COURT CASE (13 Sept). A Moscow
district court ruled yesterday (12 September) that the city's
Salvation Army branch is to be liquidated. The Salvation Army's legal
team told Keston News Service that they were mounting a challenge in
Russia's Constitutional Court, stressing that the liquidation ruling
would not go into effect until the Constitutional Court has heard the
appeal. An official of the Moscow city justice department, which
brought the suit, claimed the Salvation Army lost because it used what
he alleged were 'unscrupulous' lawyers and denied there was any
‘ideological’ basis to the case. (see full story below)
 
RUSSIA: SALVATION ARMY TAKES ITS CASE TO STRASBOURG
(13 Sept) At the same time as pursuing its case against the
liquidation of its Moscow branch through the Russian Constitutional
Court, the Salvation Army has also taken its case to the European
Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The lawyer in charge of the case
there confirmed to Keston on 12 September that the case had been
registered on 17 August but would not be given priority. 'The first
report will be drawn up for examination by the court and only after
that will a decision be taken on whether the case is admissible.'
 
Thursday 13 September
RUSSIA: SALVATION ARMY LOSES MOSCOW COURT CASE
 
by Xenia Dennen, Keston News Service
 
A Moscow district court ruled yesterday (12 September) that the branch
of the Salvation Army in the Russian capital is to be liquidated. The
Salvation Army's legal team told Keston News Service immediately after
the ruling that they were mounting a challenge in Russia's
Constitutional Court, stressing that the liquidation ruling would not
go into effect until the Constitutional Court has heard the appeal.
The Salvation Army has also lodged a case at the European Court of
Human Rights in Strasbourg (see separate KNS article). An official of
the Moscow city justice department, which brought the suit, claimed
the Salvation Army lost because it used what he alleged were
'unscrupulous' lawyers and denied there was any 'ideological' basis to
the case.

The hearing began on 11 September before Judge Svetlana Grigoreva at
the Tagansky district court, but was adjourned until 2 p.m. on 12
September after statements from the prosecution and defence.
 
On 11 September the defence moved that the case be deferred until
after the Constitutional Court had ruled on the appeal submitted by
the Salvation Army on 10 September, while the prosecution argued for
liquidation based on their claim that the Salvation Army had failed to
re-register before the December 2000 deadline and had not submitted
annual reports during a three year period prior to the deadline. Judge
Grigoreva rejected the defence's request and adjourned the hearing
until the next day, saying she needed to obtain documentation from the
tax authorities.

The many journalists and television cameras present on 11 September
were absent on 12 September due no doubt to the media coverage of the
terrorist attacks in the United States the previous day. The court was
sparsely attended except for four journalists, including one from
Keston, Colonel Kenneth Baillie of the Salvation Army with his lawyers
Vladimir Ryakhovsky and Anatoli Pchelintsev of the Slavic Centre for
Law and Justice and the prosecution. Because Ryakhovsky was held up in
a traffic jam and arrived ten minutes late, Judge Grigoreva, after
listening to a statement from the prosecution, withdrew to consult the
rest of the bench. She re-emerged after Ryakhovsky had arrived and,
without listening to a word from the defence, ruled that the Moscow
branch of the Salvation Army was to be liquidated.
 
Colonel Baillie, visibly distressed, told Keston outside the
courtroom, 'It is a supreme irony that the 5 July hearing of our
appeal on our original application went against us. It should have
been in our favour as there was no lawyer from the city present. To
our surprise the city submitted its case in writing after the hearing.
The city lawyer doesn't show up, but the judgement goes against us.'
Pchelintsev was equally dismayed. 'Yesterday the hearing was delayed
for forty minutes and we waited,’ he told Keston. ‘Today the judge
refused to wait. What does this show? The judge had predecided the
outcome. She was not willing to listen to the defence. It was purely
formal, there was no investigation of the case.’ He pledged to
continue the arguments in the Constitutional Court. ‘We shall go on
fighting.'
 
Ryakhovsky said that a mass of further documentation had been brought
on 12 September. 'But the decision was taken yesterday.' The court had
asked to see tax documents and therefore, according to legal
procedure, these should have been considered during the 12 September
hearing. 'Unfortunately, the judge was not interested in additional
documentation.' The decision, however, he said had no force in law
until the Salvation Army's Constitutional Court appeal - submitted and
acknowledged by the court on 10 September - had been heard. 'All the
material we could not present today, we will present in the appeal. It
is too early to place a full stop on this case. We will not stop. We
will show the justice of our case.' He felt personally insulted as a
lawyer in the way the judge had behaved towards him: 'She treated me
like a schoolboy. Even in Soviet days I never experienced anything
like it. She disregarded the right of the defence.'
 
In the immediate aftermath of the Tagansky court's decision, the
deputy head of the Moscow city justice department, Vladimir Zhbankov,
told Keston by telephone that if the Salvation Army had followed his
advice, as had the Moscow Anglican parish when it was threatened with
losing its registration (see KNS 28 January 2000), and employed the
lawyers he had recommended, 'the case would have been sorted out in
three to five days'. The Salvation Army's re-registration application
documents were not in order, he claimed: 'They employed unscrupulous
lawyers [nechistoplotnye yuristy]. There is no ideological element to
the case against the Salvation Army. There were contradictions in
their statutes: in one place they called themselves a charitable
organisation, in another a religious organisation. I didn't state that
they were a military organisation, I simply asked them to explain why
they had military ranks and they didn't answer the question. In
Stalinist times you would have been arrested for wearing a uniform.
Find yourselves respectable lawyers [prilichnye yuristy], I told
them.' (END)
 
Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.
 
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