Dec. 31 Deadline Spells End For Many Religious Groups

Moscow Times/December 16, 2000
By Andrei Zolotov Jr.

Hundreds and perhaps thousands of religious organizations around the country are unlikely to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for re-registration and thus may be forced to disband or severely limit their activities, a prominent religious rights lawyer said Friday.

Only 56 percent of about 17,500 organizations registered under a 1991 law on religion had been re-registered by July under a stricter 1997 law, Alexander Kudryavtsev, a presidential administration official in charge of relations with religious organizations, said Friday. More recent figures are not available, he said.

Lawyer Anatoly Pchelintsev said many Russian Orthodox parishes, Moslem groups and Protestant churches, mostly in the distant regions, have ignored the requirements or waited too long, or faced resistance on the part of local authorities and had to spend months fighting in court.

Groups that belong to a "centralized" organization, such as the Moscow Patriarchate or Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, may be able to register next year as new organizations. But small churches of religious organizations new to Russia, often described as "sects," are likely to be downgraded to "groups," said Pchelintsev, head of the Law and Religion Institute. They would thus lose their right to hold services in public places, distribute literature, own property or invite foreign guests.

Pchelintsev said that across Russia, authorities have been particularly hard on Pentecostal groups, often denying them registration for ridiculous reasons.

In Cheboksary, he said, a Pentecostal group was initially refused registration on the grounds that it prayed for healing without having a medical license.

The Moscow branch of the Salvation Army was recently denied registration on the grounds that as an "army," it represents a "security threat." Kudryavtsev, however, said the decision was "illiterate" and predicted the Salvation Army would eventually be registered.

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