Moscow court upholds ruling allowing Church of Scientology to continue operating

MOSCOW - The Church of Scientology's Russian branch won a legal victory Thursday when the Moscow City Court upheld a lower court's ruling allowing the group to continue operating in Russia.

Authorities in the Justice Ministry had sought to shut the group down based on a widely criticized 1997 religion law that requires all religious groups to register with Russian authorities.

A Moscow district court dismissed the ministry's request in May, arguing that liquidating a religious organization that doesn't pose a threat to public order is a violation of freedom of religion.

Prosecutors appealed, but the Moscow City Court upheld the lower court's decision Thursday, Galina Krylova, lawyer for the Church of Scientology, said on Echo of Moscow radio.

Several religious groups, particularly foreign-based ones, have met with legal troubles since the passage of the 1997 law and say it limits religious freedoms Russia that were won with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The law was championed by the dominant Russian Orthodox Church.

The Church of Scientology said it has tried to register eight times since 1998, but was either ignored or met with refusals. In Russia, the church has 200,000 members and 73 centers.