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July 2016 : Changes in federal law (continued)

On 6 July 2016, the Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations and several other federal laws were supplemented by a series of provisions concerning the regulation of missionary activities.
In the federal law “On freedom of conscience...” a new chapter III.1 “Missionary activity” has been introduced. Article 24.1 of this chapter defines missionary activity as the dissemination by a religious association of information on its dogmas and beliefs to persons who are not participants (members, followers) of this association, with a view toward encouraging them to become so. The same article proclaims that the exercise of missionary activity unrestricted in cultural buildings, in other buildings, premises and on land belonging to the religious association, in places of pilgrimage, cemeteries and crematoriums. Missionary activity is prohibited in residential spaces, except in the form of religious rites and ceremonies. Missionary activity in buildings and on land belonging to another religious association is prohibited without the latter’s written authorisation.
Article 24.2 states that the leaders of religious associations, members of its administrative bodies and ministers of the faith are entitled to engage in missionary activity on behalf of their religious associations without any mandate. Other missionaries are obliged to hold a mandate issued by the competent authorities of the religious association. Foreign citizens have the right to carry out missionary activity exclusively in the name of the Russian religious association that invited them to Russia and only in the regions (subject of the Russian Federation) in which the respective association is registered.
According to Article 24.2, paragraph 7, religious associations are held liable for missionary activities that violate public order, carried out by persons appointed by this association.
The new wording of Article 17 of the Law “On Freedom of Conscience...” now requires that not only the publications of religious associations (printed or audiovisual), but also all materials distributed by them during missionary activities must be identified with the name of the association.
According to the new paragraphs of article 5.26 of the Code on Administrative Offences, the exercise of missionary activities by a religious association without mentioning its name, including the dissemination of texts or audiovisual material without identification, is punishable by an administrative fine of 30 to 50,000 roubles (approximately 400 to 700 euros). The exercise of missionary activities violating the legislation on freedom of conscience and religious associations is punishable by an administrative fine of 5 to 50,000 roubles for natural persons and 100,000 to 1,000,000 roubles for legal persons. The same offence committed by a foreign national is punishable by an administrative fine of 30 to 50,000 roubles, possibly accompanied by an administrative expulsion order outside Russia.
These legislative amendments and the related case law have generated much debate and criticism. Formally, this regulation of missionary activity is aimed exclusively at religious associations. The constitutional right to spread and preach one’s personal faith, convictions and beliefs must remain untouchable and is not subject to this regulation. Subject to the strict application of constitutional rules, these new provisions are almost useless, because an individual will always be able to say : “I am neither a missionary nor a representative of a religious association, I am exercising my own freedoms of conscience and speech, guaranteed by the Constitution”.
It should also be noted that in Russian legislation there is no definition of the terms “participant (member, follower) of a religious association”, nor is there any distinction between “participant”, “member” and “follower” of a religious association. This is why it is very difficult to discern these “non-participants” which the religious association wishes to turn into “participants” through its missionary activity (the majority of religious associations in Russia do not have complete lists of their followers).
In recent case law, there are instances of persons who have been convicted of violating the rules of missionary activity on the basis of an unwritten and unconstitutional principle that “any persons publicly disseminating their religious beliefs are missionaries unless they can prove that they are not”. These cases, in which the majority of the accused are ministers and followers of Protestant associations and new religious movements (so-called sectarian), took place in the different regions of Russia. The Cherkessk Court of Peace (capital of the Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia) acknowledged in its ruling of 15 August 2016 the absence of fault in Case V. Sibirev, charged for a discussion in the street about Krishna’s Consciousness religion with two other people to whom he presented a book with religious content. The Court confirmed that V. Sibirev is free to spread his beliefs and religious publications in his own name.

30 March 2016 : Changes in federal law

28 November 2015, Federal Law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations” has been supplemented by a new article 25.1 and by the modification of certain other articles. Religious organizations receiving funding from foreign and international organisations or foreign citizens are placed under the special control of the Ministry of Justice. They are required to submit to the Ministry a detailed annual report on their activities, their supervisory staff, the use of funding from abroad, and to publish this report in the media.
On 30 March 2016, the Federal Law “On freedom of conscience and religious associations” was supplemented by a new Article 21.1 concerning the disposition of the property of religious organisations. From now on, all contracts for the disposal of these assets (sale, purchase, lease) must be authorised by the supreme ecclesiastical authorities indicated in the statutes of the religious organisation (for example, for an Orthodox parish, the contract must be authorised by the bishop of the diocese). Without this authorisation, the contract is null and void under civil law. This new legal organization is in line with the desire of the Russian Orthodox Church and other central religious organizations to strengthen their control over the economic activities of subordinate local organizations (parishes, etc.).

D 2 septembre 2016    AMikhaïl Chakhov

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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