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RUSSIA: Can homes now be freely used for worship meetings?

Source:                   www.forum18.org

Date:                        December 17, 2019


A Constitutional Court ruling may reduce fines for using private homes for
meetings for worship. This largely relies on officials, one Christian
lawyer stating that when he and his colleagues attempt to resolve cases
"some [inspectors] work with common sense, others do not".

RUSSIA: Can homes now be freely used for worship meetings?
http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2528
By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

A November 2019 Constitutional Court ruling will, lawyers hope, help to
clarify Russia's confusing legal framework on meetings for worship outside
officially-recognised religious buildings, and help both individuals and
religious communities avoid fines. The Court stated that the provision of
residential premises to religious organisations for worship and/or for use
as a legal address "does not constitute a violation of the law and cannot
serve as the basis for prosecuting citizens under Administrative Code
Article 8.8" ("The use of a land plot not for its intended purpose in
accordance with its belonging to a particular land category and/or
authorised use").

The case followed a fine imposed on Olga Glamozdinova, a Seventh-day
Adventist in Rostov Region, for granting free use of a room in her house to
her Church and allowing them to use it as its legal address, when the land
is designated for personal part-time crop cultivation. This land use
permits the construction of a dwelling, but not of a religious building.

Glamozdinova argued that the house is also occupied as a dwelling by an
acquaintance who also tends the crops on the plot, and the congregation
uses the room for only four hours per week. The fine was upheld on appeal
at both district and regional courts, but the Constitutional Court has now
ruled that Glamozdinova's fine is subject to review because the law had
been incorrectly applied in her case (see below).

The Court stated, however, that religious use of residential premises must
take into account the rights and legitimate interests of residents and
neighbours, and the requirements of health and safety and environmental
protection legislation. The Court also stated that it would be
"unacceptable" for a dwelling to lose the features of residential premises
and acquire those of a religious or administrative building (see below).

This November 2019 Constitutional Court ruling may lead to fewer fines
being imposed on religious organisations and individuals, but this will
depend on Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre and Cartography
(Rosreestr) and other officials (who sometimes refer cases to Rosreestr)
consciously taking a more nuanced approach.

Christian lawyer and human rights defender Vasily Nichik described in
December how he and his colleagues meet Rosreestr inspectors and "present
all the same arguments as in the courts" in an attempt to resolve cases.
"Unfortunately, some [inspectors] work with common sense, others do not,"
he told Forum 18 (see below).

"Some words in the ruling do not have regulatory certainty," Nichik
observed, "which leaves ample room for interpretation by state officials"
(see below).

After previous Constitutional Court rulings affecting freedom of religion
and belief, legal uncertainty remained and police and prosecutor's offices
often fail to apply the Constitutional Court's rulings. These
Constitutional Court rulings have nevertheless been used in court by
defence lawyers and some judges to acquit those charged by prosecutors (see
below).

Following the November 2019 Constitutional Court ruling, Rosreestr told
Forum 18 that "when Rosreestr employees conduct inspections of compliance
with land legislation on land plots used by religious organisations, the
position of the Constitutional Court .. will be taken into account". It
added that the ruling "has been sent to all territorial divisions of
Rosreestr", and that, during inspections, staff will analyse whether a
dwelling has lost the "signs of residential premises", as stipulated by the
Constitutional Court (see below).

The ruling applies to all homes (the most common type of building used for
meetings for worship), lawyer Sergei Chugunov explained to Forum 18,
despite the Constitutional Court's focus on residential premises standing
on "personal subsistence cultivation" plots. The ruling seems unlikely,
however, to affect other types of premises, such as commercial buildings
given or rented to religious associations to use for worship (see below).

The number of such fines relating to places of worship – 21 known fines
in January to October 2019 – is relatively low, but has increased since
2016. One lawyer compared the legal situation to fining a driver whose
passengers drink tea because a road is not designated for drinking tea (see
below).

November 2019 Constitutional Court ruling

Both individuals and religious organisations risk being fined if they allow
religious meetings, such as for worship, to take place on land not
designated for this purpose – for instance, plots designated as being for
"individual residential construction". Lawyers hope, however, that a
November Constitutional Court ruling will help clarify Russia's confusing
legal framework on meetings for worship outside officially-recognised
religious buildings, and help both individuals and religious communities
avoid fines.

On 14 November, the Constitutional Court stated that the provision of
residential premises to religious organisations for worship and/or for use
as a legal address "does not constitute a violation of the law and cannot
serve as the basis for prosecuting citizens under Administrative Code
Article 8.8" ("The use of a land plot not for its intended purpose in
accordance with its belonging to a particular land category and/or
authorised use").

The Court's examination of the constitutionality of Land Code Article 42
("Duties of owners of land plots and persons who are not owners of land
plots relating to the use of land plots") and Administrative Code Article
8.8, Part 1 resulted from the case of Olga Glamozdinova, a Seventh-day
Adventist in Rostov Region.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362)

In September 2017, Rosreestr fined Glamozdinova 10,000 Roubles for granting
free use of a room in her house to her Church, and allowing the Church to
use it as its legal address. The land plot, in the village of Vesyoly, is
designated as a household farm plot (dlya vedeniya lichnogo podsobnogo
khozyastva). This land use permits the construction of a dwelling, but not
of a religious building.

Glamozdinova argued that house is occupied as a dwelling by an acquaintance
who also tends the crops on the plot, and the congregation uses the room
for only four hours per week. The fine was upheld on appeal at both
Bagayevskaya District Court on 16 October 2017 and Rostov Regional Court on
21 November 2017.

In September 2018, Glamozdinova's Seventh-day Adventist Church voluntarily
liquidated itself, as only a few elderly women remained; the younger people
have all left as it is hard to live in the village. The remaining
Adventists sometimes pray together in various houses.

Glamozdinova's lawyers, Vladimir Ryakhovsky and Sergei Chugunov of the
Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, argued before the
Constitutional Court that the Land Code and Administrative Code Article 8.8
Part 1 ("The use of a land plot not for its intended purpose in accordance
with its belonging to a particular land category and/or authorised use")
violated the Constitution's Articles:

- 28 ("Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom
of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with
other any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose,
possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to
them");

- 35 Part 2 ("Everyone shall have the right to have property, possess, use
and dispose of it both personally and jointly with other people");

- 55 Part 3 ("The rights and freedoms of man and citizen may be limited by
the federal law only to such an extent to which it is necessary for the
protection of the fundamental principles of the constitutional system,
morality, health, the rights and lawful interests of other people, for
ensuring defence of the country and security of the state").

The panel of 15 judges, chaired by Judge Valery Zorkin, ruled that the Land
Code and Administrative Code Article 8.8, Part 1 do not violate the
Constitution. They clarified, however, that these laws do not imply that
the owner of a house and land plot designated as a household farm plot
should be prosecuted for allowing their use for meetings for worship or as
a religious organisation's legal address: "A different understanding of
these statutes would entail a violation of the fundamental rights and
freedoms set out in the Constitution's Article 28, including the right to
profess any religion individually or together with others, and would lead,
contrary to the Constitution's Article 55, Part 3, to unjustified
restriction of property rights guaranteed by the Constitution's Article
35."

The Court reiterated that, as the Religion Law states, "worship services,
religious rites, and ceremonies may be performed unhindered" in dwellings,
and noted that this is "consistent with the purpose of residential
premises, which are called upon to satisfy not only the material
requirements of citizens, but also their spiritual interests as an integral
element of personal development and fulfilment, including the spiritual
needs of believers, realised on the basis of freedom of religion".

The Court also pointed out that registration of a religious organisation at
a residential address is permissible, as it "does not necessarily mean the
transformation of a dwelling into the administrative (official) premises of
a religious organisation, and therefore does not inevitably lead to the
improper use of the land under it".

The Court noted, however, that religious use of residential premises must
take into account the rights and legitimate interests of residents and
neighbours, and the requirements of health and safety and environmental
protection legislation. The Court also stated that it would be
"unacceptable" for a dwelling to lose the features of residential premises
and acquire those of a religious or administrative building.

Consequences of November 2019 Constitutional Court ruling

In the short term, the November 2019 ruling can now be used to review
Glamozdinova's and other cases in which the Land Code and Administrative
Code Article 8.8, Part 1 ("The use of a land plot not for its intended
purpose in accordance with its belonging to a particular land category
and/or authorised use") were not applied in line with the constitutional
and legal meanings clarified by the Constitutional Court judges.

In the longer term, state officials and law enforcement "must", the Court
ruled, "proceed from the totality of factual circumstances that indicate
the transformation of a dwelling into a religious or administrative
(official) building" – that is, establish whether the premises have
completely lost the characteristics of residential premises and have
acquired "the signs of a religious or administrative building".

The Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre and Cartography
(Rosreestr) is responsible for inspections, and fines both religious
organisations and their members
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362) under Administrative
Code Article 8.8, Part 1 ("The use of a land plot not for its intended
purpose in accordance with its belonging to a particular land category
and/or authorised use") for conducting or permitting worship on land which
been classified as being for residential (or other) and not religious use.

The Constitutional Court ruling may lead to fewer fines being imposed on
religious organisations and individuals, but this will depend on Rosreestr
and other officials (who sometimes refer cases to Rosreestr) consciously
taking a more nuanced approach.

"Some words in the ruling do not have regulatory certainty," Christian
lawyer and human rights defender Vasily Nichik observed in a blogpost on 20
November, "which leaves ample room for interpretation by law enforcement".

When the Constitutional Court has previously issued rulings or
clarifications of legal issues affecting religious communities (for
example, on public event notification in December 2012 and on the
definition of "missionary activity" in March 2018), it has been clear from
Forum 18's subsequent analyses of court verdicts that police and
prosecutor's offices, at least, often fail to apply the Constitutional
Court's stipulations. Where the Constitutional Court's rulings have been
more consistently helpful to religious communities and believers has been
in court, where they may be invoked in defence arguments and cited by
judges as grounds for acquittal.

On 28 November 2019, Rosreestr told Forum 18 that "when Rosreestr employees
conduct inspections of compliance with land legislation on land plots used
by religious organisations, the position of the Constitutional Court ..
will be taken into account". It added on 3 December that the ruling "has
been sent to all territorial divisions of Rosreestr", and that, during
inspections, staff will analyse whether a dwelling has lost the "signs of
residential premises", as stipulated by the Constitutional Court.

The ruling applies to all homes (the most common type of building used for
meetings for worship), lawyer Sergei Chugunov explained to Forum 18 on 25
November, despite the Constitutional Court's focus on residential premises
standing on "household farm plots". The ruling seems unlikely, however, to
affect other types of premises used for meetings for worship, such as
commercial buildings given or rented to religious associations.

In his evaluation of the Constitutional Court ruling, lawyer Vasily Nichik
noted: "It is necessary to petition the state to lift the ban on
transferring premises from residential to non-residential status for the
activities of a religious association," as well as to simplify the process
of changing the permitted use of a plot to "religious", and allocate land
with the purpose of "religious use" in accessible locations.

March 2018 Constitutional Court ruling

In March 2018 the Constitutional Court defined "missionary activity" more
closely (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2377), but this has
had only a limited impact on the cases brought by prosecutors.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2474)

As Mikhail Shakhov, Deputy Head of the Duma Committee on the Development of
Civil Society, Public and Religious Associations' Expert Group on improving
legislation in the field of freedom of conscience and religious
associations, told "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" on 20 November 2019, inconsistency
and opportunities for arbitrary official actions remain.

"Our law says quite clearly that missionary activity is the activity of a
religious association aimed at turning a person who is not a member or
participant of the organisation into a member or participant," Shakhov
noted, yet "the law does not explain anywhere who members or participants
are, or how one differs from the other".

Main message of 2019 Constitutional Court ruling "is positive"

"The fact that the court indicated that the premises, as well as the land,
can be used to satisfy spiritual needs, is important, because so many
religious organisations today do not have their own religious buildings and
structures for worship," Slavic Centre lawyer Vladimir Ryakhovsky told
"Nezavisimaya Gazeta" on 20 November 2019. "They are forced to use for this
purpose residential premises belonging to their parishioners .. I think
that the Constitutional Court has put an end to this dispute."

"The main message of the [Constitutional Court] ruling is positive", lawyer
Vasily Nichik agreed in his blogpost of 20 November. He nevertheless
expressed concerns over the "absolute ignorance" of the law shown by the
Presidential Administration's Constitutional Court representative Mikhail
Krotov at the Court's hearing on 8 October. He said that the right to
worship in a residential building as enshrined in Religion Law Article 16
applies only to family members, implying that religious organisations do
not have this right.

"Even a schoolchild can see that Article 16 is in Section III, which lists
the rights given to a religious organisation," Nichik remarked. "If our
legislators say such things, it is not surprising that sometimes laws are
adopted that contradict each other, creating a conflict of law, because
only without knowing the laws can one say such a thing."

Numbers of fines rising

The number of such fines relating to places of worship – 21 known fines
in January to October 2019 – is relatively low, but has increased
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362) since the introduction
of the so-called Yarovaya "anti-terrorism" legislation in July 2016.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246)

Among other things, these amendments imposed serious restrictions on
unclearly defined "missionary activity", banned changing the status of
premises from residential to non-residential for religious purposes, and
required religious communities to display their full legal name on premises
they use.

The number of fines for meeting for worship on land not designated for
religious use (such as in homes) increased sharply after the July 2016
changes (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362). One lawyer
compared the legal situation to fining a driver whose passengers drink tea
because a road is not designated for drinking tea.

The post-July 2016 rise in cases
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362) under Administrative
Code Article 8.8, Part 1 ("The use of a land plot not for its intended
purpose in accordance with its belonging to a particular land category
and/or authorised use") "appeared rather unexpectedly", the Slavic Centre
for Law and Justice noted on 15 November 2019, with no change in land
legislation.

"We think that this was a conscious strategy, invented by someone, in order
to suppress the activities of religious minorities, especially Protestants,
who have been the most affected by this problem," the Slavic Centre for Law
and Justice commented. "Moreover, this practice has spread not only to
residential premises, but also to other buildings and premises in which
religious organisations conduct their services, in particular
administrative ones."

Christian lawyer Vasily Nichik called this "a new practice of
interpretation of the Land Code". He noted in his 20 November blogpost that
Article 16 of the Religion Law provides "a guaranteed right to the
unhindered conduct of worship services, rites, and ceremonies on
residential premises".

Rosreestr fines both religious organisations and their members
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362) under Administrative
Code Article 8.8, Part 1 ("The use of a land plot not for its intended
purpose in accordance with its belonging to a particular land category
and/or authorised use") for conducting or permitting worship on land which
been classified as being for residential (or other) and not religious use.

Why the need to use homes for worship meetings?

Even if religious communities have for many years used a building as a
place of worship, complex, sometimes contradictory, and often
inconsistently applied laws can create problems for them.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2505)

In July 2019, officials barred a Baptist community in Novorossiysk from
using its church "for religious purposes", despite the fact that it has
worshipped on the same site for two decades.

Disputes over religious property – whether over acquisition, retention,
or restitution – remain unresolved in many parts of Russia.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2328) Problems caused by the
authorities for communities attempting to build new places of worship can
range from repeated refusals to legalise claims to land, to the withdrawal
of building permission while construction is underway. The communities
affected have included a Buddhist monastery, a mosque, and a Hare Krishna
temple.

Problems may arise at any point in the process of establishing a place of
worship (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2328) – the
allocation of a site by the authorities, the securing of planning
permission, the construction itself – and even afterwards. Officials have
repeatedly rebuffed attempts to legalise ownership of the land where Good
News Pentecostal Church in Samara has worshipped for two decades, and want
to demolish the church at the congregation's expense. In May 2019,
officials bulldozed a mosque built on farmland near Chernyakhovsk in
Russia's western exclave of Kaliningrad because it violated planning
regulations. (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2508)

Both owners and tenants who start to use a building without ensuring that
all necessary official approvals have been secured may face prosecution
under Administrative Code Article 9.5, Part 5 ("Bringing an object of
capital construction into commission without permission").

An amendment to the Administrative Code in August 2019 increased penalties
for this to 20,000 to 50,000 Roubles for officials, and 500,000 to 1
million Roubles for legal entities. A fine of 50,000 Roubles is equivalent
to just over one month's average wages for those in work.

The Pentecostal Union's legal department warned its member congregations on
22 July and 5 August 2019 to check all documents carefully even when only
renting premises, and if doing the building themselves, to make sure they
have received all official permits "from the start of construction to its
completion", in order to avoid "the high probability of significant
material punishment".

If the authorities decide that appropriate permissions for construction
have not been obtained, then they may lodge a civil suit to have a place of
worship demolished as an "unauthorised structure".
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2505)

Many registered religious communities with legal status cannot acquire
their own places of worship, which forces them to use residential or
commercial property for their meetings.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362)

"Today, religious associations have dozens, if not hundreds, of prayer
houses and religious buildings located in private houses and residential
complexes and on dacha plots," Igor Yanshin and Yevgeny Shestakov wrote on
the Svoboda Verit (Freedom to Believe) website on 1 February 2018.

Unregistered groups which do not want or have legal status are designated
as "religious groups" under the Religion Law. They must notify the
authorities of their existence and provide the names and addresses of all
their members, as well as addresses where any meetings take place
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246). Without legal status
they cannot buy or rent property on their own behalf, or have it legally
transferred to them, and therefore rely on private individuals allowing
them to use space for meetings for worship - normally residential or
commercial premises.

Informing the authorities draws state officials' attention to private
houses used for meetings for worship and may lead to fines. This happened
in December 2017 to Aleksandr Yakimov, who hosted meetings for worship of
his New Generation Protestant church in a room of his house.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362) Prosecutors used his
submission of the religious group's details to the Justice Ministry to
establish his status as pastor and his house as the address where meetings
for worship were regularly held.

Not informing the authorities, however, leaves group leaders open to
prosecution under Administrative Code Article 19.7 ("Failure to provide or
late provision of information to a state body").

"When it comes to the question of giving religious organisations the chance
to have places of worship in locations which would be convenient for people
and consistent with the requirements of the law, the state wants no part of
it," Christian lawyer and human rights defender Vasily Nichik told Forum 18
on 11 December 2019. "It has always been so and it is still so today."

Some cases from 2018-19

As noted above, Administrative Code Article 8.8, Part 1 is only one part of
the problem. After a prosecutor's office inspection of the Protestant
organisation Youth With A Mission in Rostov-on-Don, the organisation was
referred to Rosreestr. Rosreestr fined Youth With A Mission 432,397 Roubles
and its president Olga Gorina 324,298 Roubles under Administrative Code
Article 7.1 ("Unauthorised occupation of a land plot"). They challenged the
fines unsuccessfully at Railway District Court on 6 March 2018 and Rostov
Regional Court on 30 May 2018. Gorina also unsuccessfully appealed at the
supervisory level on 29 October 2018.

Rosreestr imposed the fines as the legal ownership of the land plot had not
been entered in the Unified State Registry of Property, and Youth With A
Mission did not have land title documents. Gorina argued that she had done
everything possible to draw up the correct documents, but registration of
the organisation's right to the land had been refused.

According to the court verdicts, the plot and the buildings on it had
passed by means of a series of incomplete leases since the late 1990s
through a series of owners, the last of whom formally gave the plot to
Youth With A Mission, without properly registering their land rights.

On 29 March 2018, Youth With A Mission was fined 354,620 Roubles and Gorina
was fined 236,413 Roubles under Article 8.8 Part 1 after Rosreestr accused
them of using a house on land designated for "individual residential
construction" for "prayer and religious gatherings", three times a week.
The defence argued that worship is permitted on residential premises under
Religion Law Article 16, Part 2, but Judge Vladislav Sedykh of Railway
District Court decided that Youth With A Mission had contravened the Land
Code.

Judges disagree over whether the provisions of the Religion Law free a
defendant from responsibility under Administrative Code Article 8.8, Part 1
("The use of a land plot not for its intended purpose in accordance with
its belonging to a particular land category and/or authorised use").
Lawyers hope the Constitutional Court's November 2019 ruling will help
resolve this.

On 14 August 2019, for example, Kulunda District Court in Altai Region
found that Andrey Vins, the owner of a land plot designated for "personal
subsistence cultivation", should not have been fined 10,000 Roubles on 16
July for allowing meetings for worship in his house of the unregistered
Council of Churches Baptists. On 12 August, the same Judge, Oksana
Klimenko, also acquitted the community's leader, Yury Pivnev, who had
received an identical fine on 10 July. The defendants argued that the house
was lived in, the land was used to grow fruit trees, and the services were
for family and friends. The judge noted that premises for religious groups
are provided by participants, that property law proceeds from the principle
that owners can do anything which does not violate the rights of others,
and that Religion Law Article 16 permits religious worship on residential
premises.

On 10 April 2019, Izobilny District Court in the Stavropol Region, however,
upheld the 10,000 Rouble fine imposed on Andrei Shelamov, the owner of a
plot designated for "individual residential construction", on which he had
allowed a Baptist Union religious group to hold meetings for worship in his
house. Shelamov pointed out that services only take place at certain times
in one room, that his family lives in the house, and that he was providing
worship space as a member of the religious group. The judge decided,
however, that these arguments were "untenable, based on a misinterpretation
of the norms of the law".

Number of cases not fully known

The numbers of cases involving religious communities and believers under
Administrative Code Article 8.8, Part 1 ("The use of a land plot not for
its intended purpose in accordance with its belonging to a particular land
category and/or authorised use") is not publicly known. As Rosreestr
imposes fines directly, there is no public record unless people choose to
challenge them in court. In some instances, they may appeal to Rosreestr
itself and have a punishment overturned without ever entering the court
system.

Christian lawyer and human rights defender Vasily Nichik described to Forum
18 how he and his colleagues meet Rosreestr inspectors and "present all the
same arguments as in the courts" in an attempt to resolve cases.
"Unfortunately, some [inspectors] work with common sense, others do not".

There were 59 such fines imposed on religious associations or their members
between the beginning of 2017 and the middle of 2019, of which 39 were
challenged, Rosreestr told Forum 18 on 3 December 2019. Of these 39 appeals
(both to the courts and to Rosreestr itself), 9 were successful and 30 were
unsuccessful.

Rosreestr refused to give details of the religious communities or courts
involved, and did not respond to Forum 18's request to break the figures
down further by year.

Between 2012 and 2015 there were four cases, in 2016 seven cases, in 2017
there were 23 cases (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362),
and in 2018 there were 10 cases. From January to October 2019 there have
been 21 cases.

All but one of the 2018-19 fines are known to have been appealed against in
court.

Of these 31 cases, 10 (from six investigations) occurred in Rostov Region,
four (from three investigations) in Altai Region, five in Sverdlovsk
Region, two each in Tula (one investigation) and Astrakhan Regions, and one
each in Moscow, Irkutsk, Primorye, Samara, Ulyanovsk, Stavropol and Tyumen
Regions and the Republic of Khakasiya.

Forum 18 also observed a considerably higher incidence of Article 8.8, Part
1 cases in Rostov Region in 2017.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362)

Religious affiliations were: unregistered Baptist – 9; Baptist Union –
6; Methodist – 1, other Protestant including Pentecostal – 11; Muslim
– 2; New Apostolic Church – 1; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints – 1.

Nine of these cases involved registered religious organisations, while
another three involved official representatives of religious organisations
(subject to higher fines than ordinary citizens). The majority of fines
punished private individuals, including some leaders of unregistered
religious groups.

Five initial appeals were successful, although one fine was reinstated
after being sent back by a higher court for re-examination. Another
community had its fine reduced by half. The results of two initial appeals
are not yet known. One district court returned the case against an
individual to Rosreestr for reconsideration – it is unknown whether
Rosreestr persisted in imposing the fine. One case was resolved out of
court.

The fines imposed can be a considerable burden, especially for individuals
on low incomes (such as pensioners), smaller religious associations with no
support from a larger association, or for religious groups.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2362) In addition to any
fine, an appeal incurs legal costs.

Even if a fine is overturned, Rosreestr may challenge the judge's ruling,
setting off a chain of re-examinations and further appeals which may take
months and still not end in the defendant's favour. This results in
increased legal costs for any defendant, with no guarantee that these costs
can be reclaimed even if the appeal is successful. (END)

Full reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Russia
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=10)

For more background see Forum 18's survey of the general state of freedom
of religion and belief in Russia
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2246), as well as Forum 18's
survey of the dramatic decline in this freedom related to Russia's
Extremism Law (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2215).

A personal commentary by Alexander Verkhovsky, Director of the SOVA Center
for Information and Analysis http://www.sova-center.ru, about the systemic
problems of Russian anti-extremism legislation
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1468)

Forum 18's compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1351)

Follow us on Twitter @Forum_18 (http://twitter.com/forum_18)

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