Moscow (AsiaNews) - With a headline that read "Inspectors go to
church", the Nezavisimaya Gazeta
newspaper published a long article on the impact of government inspections on
non-profit organisations (NGOs), including religious communities, carried out across
the country in February and March.
Some religious leaders note that every religious group, from the Catholics
to the Pentecostals, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Muslims, was
inspected, everyone except the Russian Orthodox Church.
Officially, inspections are designed to see if these organisation
respect a new law adopted in late 2012 that requires NGOs to register as "foreign
agents" if they receive foreign funding. Failure to comply with the law entails
hefty fines and up to two years in prison.
One in four NGOs visited by the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue
Agency and police was religious in nature, www.openinform.ru
reported, including 400 local Jehovah's Witnesses assemblies
Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora human rights organisation and a
member of the Federal Council for the Development of Civil Society, told Nezavisimaia Gazeta that the list was
drafted based on information from the NGOs themselves, the press and police.
Catholic organisations were not spared. On 1 April, the Caritas centre
in St Petersburg was visited, as reported by its director Natalya Pevtsova. Police
also visited Caritas offices in Moscow.
Unconfirmed reports by the Russian Bishops' Conference indicate that
Caritas offices were also inspected in Vladimir, Vologda, Berezniki, Kaluga,
Perm, Tula, Tver, Smolensk, Orel, Kursk, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaliningrad, Murmansk
Officially, inspections were also meant to check for the presence of
terrorists and extremists as well as to see if the buildings met the necessary health
and safety standards.
A parish in Novocherkassk, southern Russia, was in fact fined for
violating fire regulations. The parish priest, Fr Alexei Polisko, who has to
pay a fine of 450,000 ruble (US$ 15,000), slammed the authorities, calling their
action incomprehensible. With only 9,200 rubles in the parish coffers, "with such
a fine, they want to kill us," the clergyman said.
Other parishes in Saratov and the Rostov region-Volgodonsk, Azov, Rostov-on-Don
and-were inspected as well.
According to reports by the Secretary-General of the Russian
Bishops' Conference, Fr Igor Kovalevsky, even Catholic churches were inspected in
Orel and Kirov. But for now, none were penalised.
In its article, Nezavisimaya
Gazeta reported that the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, i.e. the Mormon community, were also visited.
The inspectors inspected the Muslim organisation 'Mercy' in Butovo,
just outside Moscow, and the Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical faith,
as reported by its director, Rev Ivan Borichevskiy.
Konstantin Bendas, of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians, said
that religious organisations in 40 different regions of Russia were inspected.
According to Dmitri Lavrov, secretary of the Advisory Committee of
the Protestant Churches in Russia, "everyone was inspected, except our brothers
of the Russian Orthodox Church."
Pavel Chikov of Agora said that Justice Ministry figures indicate that
the Moscow Patriarchate received the most foreign donations.
"This means that the authorities had reason to check only some NGOs
that received foreign funds," said Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA
Center for Information and Analysis on minorities and intolerance.
"Why religious groups were included in the list of NGOs to inspect
is not clear, and perhaps we shall never know," Verkhovsky added. "Nevertheless,
it is a form of pressure" on such groups.