Crimea: Only one per cent of religious organisations re-registered since Russian annexation

ReutersCelebrations were held on March 18 to mark the first anniversary of the treaty between representatives from Crimea and Russia.

About one per cent of the religious organisations that were recognised under Ukrainian law have so far been re-registered since Crimea's annexation by Russia just over a year ago.

A report by Forum 18 News Service, a Nordic religious liberty organisation, found that of the 1,546 religious organisations that were registered when Crimea was under Ukrainian law, only 170 have submitted applications to register with the Russian authorities. Of these, only 14 have so far been granted registration, according to Russia's Justice Ministry, with a small number still awaiting approval.

Without registration, groups can continue to meet for religious gatherings, but they cannot legally rent property, employ people and cannot, for example, invite foreign visitors for religious purposes.

The deadline for re-registration was originally set for December 31 last year, though a last-minute change in the law extended the deadline to March 1. Even so, the take-up from religious communities has not been enthusiastic. Some have complained that the process is complicated and expensive.

Irina Demetskava of the Justice Department in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, Simferopol told Forum 18 that the first 150 re-registration applications were initially rejected because they were "very bad", and required correction before they could be resubmitted.

Commenting on the low number of submissions she Demetskaya said: "I can't force communities to bring their documents. But those that were lodged are all being considered. None have been refused."

However she said that those who had failed to submit their applications were "automatically no longer regarded as a legal entity". She added that if there were any problems concerning the ownership of places of worship, they would have to assert their rights to the property through the courts.

Forum 18 reports that some groups have already had their rental agreements terminated on state-owned buildings.

Before annexation, Crimea's religious communities included a large number of Orthodox Christian churches and Muslim groups, as well as Protestant, Catholic and Jewish communities. There were previously some 674 'unregistered' religious groups in Crimea, but these numbers have dramatically increased.

14 organisations that have been approved in the re-registration process include two centralised groups – the Russian Orthodox Church in Simferopol and Crimea Diocese and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. There are also 12 local religious communities, three of which are Jewish and the rest are Protestant groups.

Another 13 applications have reportedly been sent to Moscow for "expert analysis" to see if they really are religious organisations, many of which are Catholic groups.

Parts of eastern Ukraine that have been occupied by separatists have also seen violent attacks on churches and church leaders, particularly against those from evangelical denominations as they as seen as 'dangerous' to the state.

"In the areas that have been occupied some Christians have been killed. They have been accused of being American spies," one church leader, who has to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Release International.

The Institute for Religious Freedom, based in Kiev, has also recorded numerous act of persecution since the conflict began.

Release chief executive Paul Robinson said last week: "There has been a steady decline in religious freedom across the former Soviet Union in recent years. Separatists have killed Christians in the Ukraine, and the picture in the Crimea under Russian annexation paints a disturbing picture of the future for Christians in Russian-controlled territories."

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