Staunton, November 27 – New amendments for the Russian law on freedom of conscience now being prepared by the justice ministry establish in fact “a system of total [government] control over religious organizations” in the Russian Federation, according to Roman Lunkin.
Lunkin, an expert on law and religion at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that “the phobias of the bureaucracy about public initiative and the religious variety of the country are leading to the disappearance of religious organizations (non-Orthodox above all) from public life” (sova-center.ru/religion/publications/2014/11/d30731/).
This system of control, he continues, involves not only the issue of identifying any foreign sources of income that religious groups may have and the possibility that they will be classified as “foreign agents” but also from other parts of the proposed amendments to the existing law.
They individually and collectively, Lunkin says, open the way for massive, repeated and unannounced inspections of religious groups if the authorities believe that the latter are not providing the information they are supposed to. That perhaps will not disturb many groups who believe that they are being perfectly transparent.
But they and others who may not be are not to be the judge of that. Instead, the authorities are, and any religious group the authorities want to inspect can fall victim. That is especially likely to be the case for Muslims and for the so-called “non-traditional” religions and groups like the Salvation Army, various Christian missionaries, and the Scientologists.
“There is no good sense” in any of this, Lunkin says, and consequently, official monitoring of religious groups to the point of harassment will continue. While “Russia has avoided the path of the Central Asian states which harshly block the activities of religious groups,” it is using law to limit their activities in ways that strike their rights and core values.
Because a religious group cannot get official registration without clearing the hurdles that the new law imposes as far as declarations about sources of income, none will receive it except “as a political indulgence” that is likely to be given only to the Russian Orthodox Church and others that keep close to the official line.
“It is possible,” Lunkin concludes, that the Russian justice ministry doesn’t like the idea of registering any group and “doesn’t want to see any more.” The new amendments may even make that likely.