by Viktoriia Belova - Source HRWF Newsletter
Religiia i Pravo (11.03.2014) - The decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian federation of 5 March 2014 concerning the liquidation of the local religious organization of the "Harvest" Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) because of a lack of a license for educational activity will be appealed to the European Court for Human Rights.
On 14 November 2013 a St. Petersburg city court issued a decision for the liquidation of the local religious organization of the "Harvest" Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), that has approximately 200 parishioners. The court's decision was appealed to the Judicial College for Civil Cases of the Supreme Court of the Russian federation.
However on 5 March 2014 the Supreme Court rejected the appeal and the decision for the liquidation of the church was left without change. The interests of the church in the trial were represented by attorneys of the Slavic Legal Center Anatoly Pchelintsev and Sergei Chugunov.
The St. Petersburg city court and the Supreme Court of RF came to the conclusion that the church engages in educational activity without having a license to do so and it engages in activity of providing general educational services which is not provided for in the church's charter.
The leadership of the congregation and rights advocates do not agree with this decision and they maintain that the church does not conduct educational activity but merely provides premises for classes with children who are studying in the form of an "externate," or non-residential studies.
In the opinion of the lawyers, the fact that the church engages in educational activity without a license and activity that is not provided for by the church's charter was not established during the judicial sessions. The courts interpreted incorrectly the standards of the substantive law and gave their own interpretation of the concept of educational activity that does not correspond to the definition of the concept of education given in the law on education.
"I am deeply disappointed with this decision of the Supreme Court," stated the honorable Russian attorney, senior partner of the Slavic Legal Center Advocates' Bureau Anatoly Pchelintsev. "In my view, it is incorrect. The decision of the St. Petersburg court and subsequently of the Supreme Court is disproportionate to the action committed. There is a whole arsenal of measures of prosecutorial response that could have been used in this situation. For example, the prosecutor could have issued a warning or caution, or have opened an administrative proceeding, or have required the religious organization to restore the violated rights of victims if there were such. But for some unknown reasons, the prosecutor did not apply these measures but immediately requested the liquidation of the congregation that had not committed any serious violations of law.
"I am very sorry, but we will again have to appeal to the European Court for Human Rights. I am sure that the decision of that court will be in the church's favor, but at the same time we will be perceived in Europe as a primitive society that is incapable of getting simple questions straight. In any case, we will stand up for the church." (tr. by PDS, posted 11 March 2014)