The Moscow Times reports more evidence of Russia’s systemmatic persecution of the non-Orthodox religious community in Russia, and more evidence that those of us who warned about the impact of the new NGO statute were correct:
The appeal says the accounting rules violate the law on freedom of conscience and religion, and that the required paperwork makes it nearly impossible for religious organizations to remain in compliance. Vladimir Ryakhovsky, one of the country’s top lawyers for religion issues, concurred that it would be “physically impossible” for religious organizations to comply with the new rules and predicted “big problems” for many organizations come April. “The biggest problem will be that organizations the powers-that-be want to strangle out of existence will be targeted for their lack of compliance,” Ryakhovsky said. Gennady Alibekov, a spokesman for the Federal Registration Service, said his agency had no comment on the new rules. “Our job is merely to carry out the laws that have been passed,” he said.
The NGO law, which came into effect in April, has drawn sharp criticism from Western governments, human rights groups and NGOs. Critics maintained the measure would cripple Russia‘s fledgling civil society, adding that it was reflective of the country’s growing trend toward authoritarian government. Several organizations have been denied registration under the law, though they have had the option of resubmitting their applications after making appropriate corrections. Government officials could not be reached for comment Friday. But Andrei Sebentsov, a spokesman for the government commission on religious organizations, told Kommersant that the letter to Medvedev would not help much. “This is not an issue that Dmitry Anatolyevich can resolve,” Sebentsov said. “The decree was issued together with the NGO law, and there is no reason to revise something in the document now.” Sebentsov said the new rules did not violate the law on freedom of conscience and religion. Protestants are not the only religious organizations concerned about the rules. Rabbi Zinovy Kogan, chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations, said that for the most part, synagogues in Russia were run by individual rabbis who could be overwhelmed by new bureaucratic responsibilities.
“We all report to the tax authorities, and that is normal,” Kogan said. “But the rabbi usually does everything, from accounting to conducting services, and all the time usually keeping a regular job. He can barely keep up with the responsibilities he has already.” A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church said Friday that no one was available to comment. A lawyer for the church, Ksenia Chernega, told Kommersant that the Moscow Patriarchate was drawing up an appeal to the government similar to the one sent by the Protestant churches to Medvedev. She said the requirement to account for goods and services sold by the church could be difficult to meet. “The church, for example, has never tracked the number of candles it distributes, because a candle is an offering to God,” Chernega said, adding that occasional services, such as baptisms, weddings and funerals, are similarly undocumented.