Parliamentary question by Marco Pannella (NI) and Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission

Parliamentary questions
by Marco Pannella (NI) and Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission
(26 February 2003)

Subject: Serious and persistent violation of religious freedom by the Russian authorities

On 21 February this year Bronislav Czaplicki, a Polish Catholic priest working in Pushkin, a town near St Petersburg, was asked by the Russian authorities to leave the country because his residence permit had been withdrawn.

This is the latest in a series of moves on the part of the Russian authorities to expel ministers of religion. The following are examples from 2002:

- in September Leo Martensson, a Swedish Evangelical minister working in the Krasnodar area, had his residence permit withdrawn; on 12 September Jaroslaw Wisniewski, a Polish Catholic minister working in the Sakhalin area, was stopped on his arrival in Khabarovsk (in the far east of Russia) and deported to Japan, from where he had arrived by air; on 10 September the residence permit of Eduard Mackiewicz, a Polish Catholic working in the Rostov-on-Don area, was withdrawn;

- in August Stanislav Krajnak, a Slovakian Catholic working in the Yaroslavl area, was refused a residence permit; Chalyshan Seidi, a Turkish Muslim working in the Bashkortostan area, was expelled; Victor Barousse, an American Pentecostal minister working in the Irkutsk area, was refused a residence permit;

- in June the residence permit of Aleksei Ledyayev, a Lithuanian Pentecostal minister was withdrawn; Ronald Cook, Virginia Cook and Jeffrey, Susan and Jordan Wollman, American Evangelicals working in the Kostroma area, were refused residence permits; the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, a Tibetan refugee, was refused a visa;

- on 19 April the residence permit of Monsignor Jerzy Mazur, a Polish Catholic bishop in the diocese of San Giuseppe in Irkutsk (southern Siberia), was withdrawn; on 15 April the residence permit of Don Stefano Caprio, an Italian Catholic working in the Vladimir area, who had been resident in Russia for 12 years, was withdrawn;

- in February the residence permit of Paul Kim, a South Korean Evangelical working in the Kalmykia area, was withdrawn; Autumn Newson, Matthew Crain and Weston Pope, US citizens and Mormons, working in the Pskov area, were expelled.

Can the Commission answer the following questions:

- Does it know about these incidents? What steps has it taken or does it intend to take vis-à-vis the authorities of Russia, a signatory to the International Declaration of Human Rights, which it is seriously and persistently violating by virtue of these actions?

- What steps has it taken or will it take regarding the motion for a resolution signed by 133 MEPs calling for respect for religious freedom to be included among the priorities for action in the EU's relations with third countries and to make provision, in the event of violations, for sanctions similar to those envisaged since 1988 by the US law on religious freedom in the world (Public Law 105-292/105th Congress)?

Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(3 April 2003)

The Commission is aware of the refusal to provide and/or withdrawal of residence permits from a number of persons seeking to practice religion in Russia. The Commission is conscious of the difficult situation in which religions other than Russian orthodoxy find themselves in Russia. Indeed, several expulsions have taken place since April 2002, following the decision by the Vatican to seek to upgrade the four temporary church structures in Russia to permanent Roman catholic dioceses. Other churches have also been the target of expulsions.

It is for this reason that the Commission – in the context of Union/Russia political dialogue – has on a number of occasions underlined that the Union/Russia partnership is based on fundamental core values, among which is full respect of human rights.

It is to be recalled that each State enjoys discretion whether to allow for the presence of foreigners within its territory or not. Therefore, in general, a revocation of a residence permit cannot be deemed to be incompatible with the major international and European Human Rights conventions that Russia has ratified. On the other hand, revocation of a residence permit for the sole reason to undermine the exercise of religion or belief might well constitute an indirect sanction contrary to the freedom of religion or belief, depending on the circumstances in each case. The Commission will continue to impress upon the Russian authorities on this issue

In parallel, the promotion of human rights in Russia will continue to be a priority in the framework of the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), Russia being a focus country under this programme.