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In Reply to the Institute of Religion and Justice’s Petition to the Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, A. V. Konovalov, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation Rejects All Claims Made Concerning the Membership and Authority of the Expert Council Headed by Sectologist Dvorkin

22 April 2009

In reply to the Institute of Religion and Justice’s petition to the Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, A. V. Konovalov, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation has rejected all claims made concerning the membership and authority of the Expert Council.  The reply of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to the petition of Roman Lunkin, Director of the Institute of Religion and Justice, to A. V. Konovalov, Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, regarding the situation surrounding the membership and authority of the Council of Conduction of Government Theological Expertise under the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation (26.05.2009 No. 15-2484) was signed by Z. A. Dzhakupov, Director of the Department of Affairs for Non-profit Organizations, reports the press service of the Slavic Center for law and Justice.
 
The petition of the Institute of Religion and Justice was sent to the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation on April 22.  In the framing of the Russia-wide perpetual action “No to Inquisitors!,” it was announced that signatures would be gathered for this petition; and by the beginning of June, approximately 8,000 signatures had been gathered from scholars, religious and societal public figures, religious and non-religious people alike.
 
In reply to the petition of the Institute of Religion and Justice, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation asserts that the membership of the Council fully conforms to the provisions of this Council which was established by order of the Ministry of Justice of Russia on February 18, 2009, No. 53.
 
The government official of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation ignored the key claims noted in the petition of the Institute of Religion and Justice concerning the Council under the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation: “Representatives of religious organizations (clergymen in particular) were included in the Expert Council, which violates p. 2 of Appendix N 2 in the order of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation on February 18, 2009, No. 53, in which it is noted that representatives of religious organizations may be called in to work with the Council in the capacity of consultants.
 
An entire line of members of the Expert Council are not only representatives of definite religious organizations, but are people who are known for their fights with non-Russian Othodox organizations and movements in our country from the position of Orthodox sectology…  Namely, these kinds of radically minded sectologists have been included in the Expert Council and have received the right to make recommendations in the name of the state.  This is something that sharply separates their backgrounds from those of the other members of the Council under the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation.  In view of the fact that thousands of officially registered religious organizations that do not belong to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchy have already experienced public insults (through both electronic and printed media) from these sectologists and see their status as “state experts” as a threat to social stability and the integrity of the government, we have come forward with a request to prevent future conflicts and legal actions over infringement of the rights of religious people in Russia.
 
Furthermore, the members of the Council, whose presence in a government-level expert body has caused concern among scholars and religious people, were characterized in the following manner by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation: “We have included authoritative and academic men of various scientific and educational institutions for different regions of Russia who specialize in the area of theology and justice, including those who have advanced degrees and titles of civil servants, able to professionally address questions of relations between government and religious associations and the practice of law enforcement.”
 
In connection with this, and of no small importance, is the expansion of the authority of the Council under the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, in spite of the recommendatory character of its decisions.  The petition of the Institute of Religion and Justice notes: “Appendix N 1 of the Order of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation on February 18, 2009, No. 53 significantly expands the objectives and tasks of the expert evaluations, as well as the causes for inquiries of the conduction of the expert evaluations.  In essence, the new order of the conduction of government theological expertise gives the Expert Council unprecedented authority of a governmental body over the monitoring of religious organizations, as well as forms and methods of religious activity.  Point 7 states that the Ministry of Justice of Russia (its territorial body) also has the right to make inquiries on the conduction of expert evaluations in other situations upon government registration and/or the establishment of the monitoring of whether or not religious organizations follow the regulation relative to the purposes and order of its function of questions that require special knowledge.  In spite of the recommendatory character of the expert evaluations, the recommendations of the Expert Council, and, even more so, the decisions of the Ministry of Russia (or its territorial bodies) founded on such recommendations, can be viewed as gross interference in the internal affairs of religious organizations.
 
In addition, page 11, paragraph 8 of Federal Law No. 125-F3 “Concerning freedom of conscience and religious associations” provides for the conducting of governmental theological expert evaluations in connection with the registration of a religious organization, which means that the conduction of a governmental expert evaluation in other instances contradicts the law concerning freedom of conscience.  The given circumstance infringes on the constitutional principle of the supremacy of the Law.  That a departmental act has been placed higher than federal law is unacceptable.”
 
The discrepancy between the new authority of the Council of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation and federal law “concerning freedom of conscience and religious associations” were also ignored in the reply of the official of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation: “The conclusion about the “[giving] the Expert Council unprecedented authority of a governmental body over the monitoring of religious organizations” does not correspond to the provisions of the normative acts regulating its activity.  The Council does not make decisions that are mandatory for any religious organization.  The limits of the authority of the Expert Council are defined by the tasks of conducting expert evaluations, namely – the defining of the religious character of an organization, and test and evaluation of the authenticity of the information relative to the foundations of its religious teachings.  The decisions by the Ministry of Justice of Russia made while taking into account the conclusion of the expert evaluation that has only recommendatory character may be appealed in court.”
 
Along with that, the members of the Council under the Ministry of the Russian Federation are already using their membership in the Expert Council to spread propaganda of their own views and to conduct anti-sect campaigns directed against other officially registered religious associations in Russia.  Everyone of the sectologists whose removal from the Council under the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation was demanded by the petition of the Institute of Religion and Justice took part in an anti-sect conference in Saint Petersburg on May 15th and 16th that was conducted with the support of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation.  The main conference organizer was Aleksandr Dvorkin, chairman of the Expert Council under the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation.  In addition, sectologists – members of the Council under the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation (Yevgeny Mukhtarov and Alekcandr Kuz’min) – actively speak out against the social action of the Protestant churches, “Feel the Power of Change,” and make insulting declarations directed toward the Pentecostal Churches.  Considering that the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation did not pay any attention to the obvious infringements on the Constitutional rights of religious people and the very Provisions of the Council which were noted in the petition of the Institute of Religion and Justice, hope rests only on public opinion – the support of scholars, the religious, and all people of good will.

 

 
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