Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Russia: Registered Clergy May Be Allowed to Meet with Prisoners

(Jan. 6, 2015) On December 9, 2014, the State Duma of the Russian Federation (lower chamber of the legislature) approved on the first reading legislation that amends the country’s Correctional Code to allow prisoners to communicate with members of the clergy. (Bill No. 614607-6, Duma legislative database (Dec. 9, 2014).) If passed, the law will allow convicted criminals serving their sentences in correctional institutions to request meetings with clergy members and to meet with them to perform religious rites and ceremonies. Prison administrations are required to allocate space for such meetings. The legislation states that such meetings cannot be longer than two hours, but does not define their frequency nor indicate how many times a prisoner can meet with the representative of a religious organization. (Id.)

Only representatives of centralized religious organizations registered by the Russian Federal Ministry of Justice will be allowed to visit prisoners. Meetings between church representatives and prisoners will be conducted under the control of the prison administration. While the legislation does not provide for eavesdropping on prisoner conversations with representatives of the religious organizations involved, neither does it outlaw the video recording of the meetings. (Id.)

The legislation states that the Russian Ministry of Justice will sign agreements with major, traditional religious denominations, whose representatives will be allowed to enter prisons and communicate with the convicts. It is not clear if the conclusion of such an agreement is a requirement for clergy members to have access to prisoners. Reportedly, these agreements will replace the more than 80 individual collaboration agreements currently in force that were concluded between prison administrations and different religious organizations. (Prisoners Will Be Allowed to Meet Representatives of Traditional Denominations Only, NEWSRU.COM (Nov. 20, 2014) (in Russian).) In the opinion of the State Duma members, these current agreements do not protect Russian prisoners from the influence of non-traditional religions, and so the proposed legislation does not appear to address the needs of prisoners who are members of religious minorities. (Id.)