Lawyer Vladimir Ryakhovsky who represented Pastor Alexei Kolyasnikov in court gave his comments to Sova Center on the decision of Krasnodar Territorial Court to legitimize the fine for the collective recital of the Bible in a café.
It is still too early to speak about the motives for the court decision because its text has not yet been made available to the respondent. One could only guess the reasons relied upon by the court.
Here’s the background of the case: Pastor Alexei Kolyasnikov heads a small religious group which is not registered as religious organization. They hold Bible recitals in one of Sochi’s cafes in the hours when the café is closed for ordinary visitors. The recitals are held every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. People who come to have a snack are told that a special event is being held inside and there is no way in, but if someone wants to come and listen to the Bible, he or she is allowed to enter.
Deputy Head of the Regional Office of the Federal Security Service wrote a letter to the Public Prosecutor’s Office stating that, according to the intelligence data, a religious group holds its meetings in this café during which they read the Bible in a distorted interpretation and violate the canons of Christianity by reading it not in full leather binding but on electronic devices. In his opinion, this fact was a source of danger. In the letter he also stated that, according to the intelligence data, this group had connections with the Ukrainian Protestant organizations financed by Western Europe and NATO. Such was his horror story.
Responding to this letter, the Public Prosecutor’s Office arranged for a site inspection. Employees of Public Prosecutor’s Office accompanied by the officers of the Ministry of Interior and the Federal Security Service came to the cafe. At the entrance they were of a religious group meeting being underway inside. They expressed an intention to attend the meeting and were let it. They even took part in the discussion. But after the end of the event they drew up an offence report which stated that a religious group meeting had been held in the café without notification to the executive authorities.
And so, the Public Prosecutor of Sochi issued an order to institute a criminal case on the grounds of the violation of the Law on Meetings, Rallies, Processions and Pickets. On 12 December 2014 Hosta District Court in Sochi imposed a fine on Kolyasnikov under part 2 of Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation (“Holding of public event without notification made in accordance with established order”).
We appealed against this court decision. I had not participated in the sessions of the first instance court, I joined the case later, said Ryakhovsky. After the appeal the case had been re-examined and on 28 January 2015 Krasnodar Territorial court upheld the decision of Hosta District Court.
I believe that the court decision is totally illegal. Under the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, a religious organization is free to hold its worship services or events without impediment, and may hold such services or events on the premises made available to it for this purpose. In other words, regardless of such premises being owned or rented, they may be made available for holding an event without any obstacles. It means that no notification, approval or permission is required. This should have put the matter to rest, noted Ryakhovsky.
However, Hosta District Court referred to the Law on Meetings, Rallies, Processions and Pickets which allows only one-man pickets to be held without any notification. But when it is a collective meeting of the citizens held with an intent to “discuss socially important issues and take decisions”, how can an individual discuss anything and take decisions on his or her own? We’ll leave it to the court to fantasize, added Ryakhovsky.
We are now waiting for the text of the court decision and we will definitely appeal against it in the supervisory instances. The first appeal will be sent to the Chairman of Krasnodar Territorial Court. I think this would be a useless effort because Krasnodar Territorial Court has already expressed its opinion, but this effort is necessary in order to comply with the established procedure. Then it will be the Supreme Court, stressed the lawyer.
Should the court decision feature at least one phrase on the one-man meeting, we would have every reason to go immediately to the Constitutional Court.
We will face the matter out by all means, because a very dangerous precedent is being created, said Ryakhovsky.