Human Rights Watch/Helsinki welcomed President Yeltsin's decision today to veto the highly discriminatory Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations. "We are pleased that President Yeltsin takes seriously the rights and freedoms embraced by the Russian constitution, as well as Russia's commitments as a Council of Europe member," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki.
"Considering the vast majority with which the State Duma adopted this law, we face a long and difficult battle to ensure that the Duma does not override the president's veto," Ms. Cartner added. "Most importantly, the government must now dismantle the popular myth that this draft law dealt with dangerous and quasi-religious sects. Anyone who carefully reads the text will realize that it does not, and that it merely used sects as a pretext to curtail religious freedom more broadly."
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki had urged President Yeltsin to veto the law. In a letter dated July 8, 1997, the organization condemned the highly discriminatory system the law set out, which divided religious communities into "religious groups" and "religious organizations," with the rights of the former being severely limited. Under the law, the Catholic Church and various Protestant groups would receive the same treatment as a cult, such as the Japanese Aum Shinri Kyo.