11/13/2008, 00.00
RUSSIA

Russian government threatens to liquidate 56 religious organisations

Russia’s Justice Ministry releases list with the name of religious organisations guilty of accounting irregularities. They are Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist but also Catholic and Orthodox. They could be liquidated but have not been told what violations they are supposed to have committed. For the Slavic center for Law and Justice the list is meant as a warning and is discriminatory towards religious minorities. The absence of any organisations belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate has raised suspicions.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – Russia's Justice Ministry has drawn up a list of 56 religious organisations for liquidation, mainly Protestant, Nestorian, Armenian Apostolic and Catholic as well as Buddhist and Muslim. The list appeared in mid-October on the Ministry’s website; Aleksandr Konovalov is the minister. The groups named are accused of submitting wrong accounts or financial reports for 2007-2008. The human rights organisation Forum 18 and the Slavic center for Law and Justice (SCLJ) have protested saying that the whole affair lacks transparency.

The associations involved said that the Ministry did not contact them either verbally or in writing with regards to the matter before the list was published.

According to Vladimir Ryakhovsky, a member of the SCLJ, a Protestant organisation, the Justice Ministry’s action is also discriminatory vis-à-vis minority confessions.

The fact that none of the 56 groups are linked to the Moscow Patriarchate is suspicious since 309 of 562 religious organisations belong to the former.

In his view the Ministry simply tipped off the Orthodox Church led by patriarch Aleksij II with regards to possible errors and irregularities so that none of its associations would be put on the list

Fr Vsevolod Chaplin, vice-chairman of the Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, confirmed the allegation. He told Forum 18 that the Justice Ministry had made “certain comments” regarding the 2007-2008 account submissions from the Moscow Patriarchate's religious organisations. However, he was unable to say when these comments were made or whether they were made verbally or in writing, as many organisations in different regions were involved.

The 56 organisations are still waiting for an explanation, hoping that the Ministry will inform them about the violations or irregularities they are charged with.

Konovalov’s Ministry should shortly release more information on the matter on its website.

Forum 18 and the SCLJ noted however that it is hard for any of the 56 groups to obtain information; instead they are getting the run around treatment between the Ministry and the Religious Affairs Department and so are unable to find out what they must do.

The press is also hard pressed to find out what is going on.

On 15 October the Interfax agency quoted a Justice Ministry spokesman saying the 56 faced liquidation because they had "failed to submit information and documents prescribed by law to the Justice Ministry over a prolonged period,” after that nothing.

Among the organisations targeted by the Ministry still in dark, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) and Catholic charity Caritas in Novosibirsk are an exception.

According to Metropolitan Adrian, the diocese of Bogorodsk submitted its accounts in good time and form, but quipped that the Ministry knows “how to lose things.”

He said he complained to the Ministry charging that some machination is underfoot at the expenses of the Kiev Church, which the Moscow Patriarchate does not want to see develop on Russian territory.

The situation of Caritas Novosibirsk is totally different. Its director, Sister Elisabeth Jakubowitz, told Forum 18 that she follow procedures to the letter, but did so under the charity’s old name which was formally changed soon after submission.

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