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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Set to Enact New Churches Law

A spokesman for Boris Yeltsin on Thursday said the president was likely to sign into law new restrictions on the activities of foreign religious groups that appear to be aimed mainly at evangelical groups.

The new rules, approved by parliament on Wednesday, would require foreign organizations to obtain a license from the Russian government before preaching, publishing, doing missionary work or advertising here.

Yeltsin's supporters in parliament said they would ask the president not to sign the bill which they said discriminated against foreigners and was contradictory to international human-rights declarations endorsed by Russia.

But Yeltsin spokesman Anatoly Krasikov said he saw "no reason" for the president to oppose the new rules which amend the 1990 Russian law on freedom of religious practice that ended seven decades of state-sponsored atheism.

Krasikov said that Russian religious leaders of all denominations had raised the issue of "illegal activity of foreign churches and preachers" during a meeting with Yeltsin in April.

In remarks that appeared to be aimed at groups proselytizing Russians rather than more established religions, Krasikov said: "They come with lots of money and tourist visas, they buy up air time and rent huge halls".

"In general, the president agreed that it was necessary to regulate the activity of churches", Krasikov said.

He added that he had not seen the text of the legislation, "but if it is in the spirit of the April meeting, I do not see any reason for the president to oppose this amendment".

The measures are aimed at regulating the activity of the increasing number of foreign evangelists who have come to Russia in search of new converts, according to a lawmaker who was on the committee that drafted the law.

Punishment, she said, would include fines, and possibly short jail sentences, although she did not elaborate.

Those affected would include such American television evangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Pat Robertson, the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Hare Krishnas, said the legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Russian Orthodox Church has become increasingly alarmed that these organizations, wealthier and better skilled at public relations than they were, would gain influence in Russia.

"Of course we have taken advantage of the opportunity in Russia" said Mike Watson, a pastor for the Moscow Christian Center, an independent U. S. -based church that holds weekly prayer meetings in Moscow's Oktyabr movie theater. "But we are not trying to take away people from the Orthodox Church.

Watson said it was not clear what the law meant for his organization whose meetings attract up to 600 people weekly.

Patriarch Alexy II, speaking to parliament on Wednesday, said the Orthodox Church he leads was against allowing foreign organizations to exert "rude pressure" to acquire converts, taking advantage of "the difficult material position of our people".