The Russian branch of the Salvation Army believes its legal problems in the Russian capital, where a local court described them last year as a "national security threat," may be coming to an end.

Captain Adam Morales, in charge of the church's financial and legal affairs in Russia and the former Soviet republics, told ENI that the Salvation Army had been registered by the federal justice ministry on February 20 as a "centralized" religious organization.

Under the 1997 law on religious organizations, which was sharply criticized in Russia and abroad by supporters of religious freedom, churches registered as "centralized" organizations have the right to issue certificates to their local branches. These certificates facilitate the registration of the branches which do not then have to prove that they have been present in the area for at least 15 years. Groups which failed to re-register before December 31 may face liquidation by court decisions later this year. This would mean losing their right to own and rent property, carry out services in public places, distribute literature and invite clergy from abroad to come to Russia.

"It means that we are not in a critical situation any more," Captain Morales said of the federal decision. "But the Moscow court decision is still outstanding and in force. If we don't overturn it, it will be a black stain on our reputation, and could cause us problems in the future."

Late last year, the city of Moscow's justice department refused to re-register the Salvation Army's local branch. The church took the case to court, but lost because the court ruled that it was a "militarized" organization and, as such, posed a "threat" to Russia's security. (Although the Salvation Army has a military structure, ...

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