Parliamentary question E-2542/03 by Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission and answer by Mr. Patten on behalf the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission
(21 July 2003)

Subject: Violation of religious freedom in Russia

On 15 May 2000 the authorities in Kostroma refused the "Family of God" and another Pentecostal church authorisation to profess their faith because they allegedly practise hypnotism. In November 2000 the Kostroma regional justice department requested the closure of two churches, but did not manage to prove, as required under the 1997 Russian law on religion, that people had suffered moral or physical harm as a result of hypnosis. According to the law, the harm caused by hypnosis, rather than the hypnosis itself, must be proven before a religious organisation may be closed down.

Last summer five American citizens working with the Evangelical Christian Church in Kostroma and an American citizen working in the town with the Christian humanitarian organisation "Children's Hope Chest" were refused visas, the pastor Bill Norton, who used to visit the Kostroma "Family of God" church, was refused entry three times, and in June the justice department of Kostroma near Moscow ordered a check on the "Family of God" church.

In view of the excellent cooperation relationship between the European Union and Russia, can the Commission say whether it is aware of the facts outlined above and what measures, in the context of cooperation relations, might constitute a serious and effective means of inducing Russia to respect religious freedom, as envisaged in the Constitution and the Federal law on religion?

Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(15 September 2003)

The Commission is aware that the position in Russia of churches other than the Russian Orthodox Church is sometimes difficult.

The Commission frequently raises its concerns about the need for Russia to guarantee the full respect of human rights in the context of Union/Russia political dialogue and will continue to stress to the Russian authorities that the pattern of developments regarding freedom of religion is not compatible with the major international and European Human Rights conventions that Russia has ratified, which include reference to freedom of religion or belief.

It should be recalled that the Commission actively promotes human rights via the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights programme. Furthermore, provision of assistance to Russia through the Tacis programme is explicitly conditional on respect of democratic principles and human rights.