Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Russia Fines Christians For Meeting For Worship

10/28/2011 Russia (Forum 18 News Service)-An increasing number of people are being fined or threatened with fines across Russia for organising or conducting meetings for religious worship which has not been specifically approved by the local authorities, Forum 18 News Service has found. Local police and prosecutor's offices insist that such permission is required, a view challenged by many legal specialists, and bring cases under Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Violations. Some judges and magistrates throw out such cases, but it appears that about half the prosecutions are successful.

Although fines are relatively small (up to two weeks' official minimum wage), Forum 18 notes that they would be a significant amount to small provincial communities, particularly if frequent. Religious communities also face the added cost and time of defending themselves in court, as well as the negative publicity that often results from the mere bringing of such cases. Religious communities pointed out to Forum 18 that prosecutor's offices and the local media are quick to report when such cases are launched, as well as fines handed down, but often fail to report acquittals.

Convictions of leading members of local religious organisations also put at risk an organisation's legal status, as a second "violation" – of whatever nature – could put it at risk of liquidation. Article 14, Part 1 of Russia's 1997 Religion Law provides various grounds for liquidation of a religious organisation including "in cases of repeated or crude violations of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the present Federal law or other federal laws".

Inna Zagrebina of the Moscow-based Guild of Experts on Religion and Law says she began to notice this growing trend of the use of Article 20.2 against religious communities in 2009, when prosecutors brought a case against Baptists in Tomsk. "I think such cases are under-reported, as unfortunately people don't come forward about them," she told Forum 18 from Moscow on 27 October. "Unfortunately they also don't try to challenge them in court – I think they're wrong(Read more)."

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