NOYABRSK CASE. BAPTISTS FINED FOR EVANGELISM IN HOUSE OF WORSHIP
by Roman Lunkin
Religiia i Pravo, 26 August 2016
The anti-evangelism Yarovaya Law has been applied in practice not only for putting an end to activity of religious groups, but also in addition to verifications that are conducted within religious organizations. While the very provisions of the law on freedom of conscience and the definition of evangelism that exist in Russian legislation after the adoption of the Yarovaya Package are being violated.
In Noyabrsk, a large city in the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district, representatives of the government liquidated a playground which was organized in July 2016 near the house of worship of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (the congregation is a member of the Russian Union of EKhB). A commissioned inspection including personnel of the prosecutor's office, Ministry of Emergency Services, city administration, Consumer Inspection, and commission for juvenile affairs judged the trampoline, bungee jumping, and children's games to be an "unsanctioned children's camp." According to photographs, which were published on the Internet, it is evident that what the Baptists organized was a playground. Consequently, various agencies found violations of conditions for children staying in a "camp." For example, "there was no contract for providing lunch." In addition, the Baptists had not given notification that they intended to organize such a "camp." Although the pastors of the church maintain that they have permits for the playground.
The organizer of the playground, the pastor of the "Regeneration" EKhB [Evangelical Christian-Baptist] church in Staroye Urengoye, Alexander Podlolzin, noted in an interview with the writer that actually there was no camp on the territory of the house of worship. Local authorities knew perfectly well that the believers provide children recreation in this way. Playgrounds have been conducted for years both in Noyabrsk and in Urengoye. Besides, representatives of the government had no complaints against the church with respect to invitations for children to the playground, since they were children of believing parents, including church members. The congregation had the right to arrange recreation for their own children on their own territory.
However, something else apparently caught the attention of police and the prosecutor's office. The issue is that with the 43 children there also were involved citizens of Ukraine and the USA, guests from Slavic churches of these countries with whom the Baptists maintain relations. Among the guests the inspectors did not discover the necessary pedagogical education and medical books. Podkolzin also told the news agency Ura.ru: "We cooperate with Slavic churches in the USA. They were created by our compatriots or citizens of the former USSR who emigrated to the States in their time. They are Russian-speaking."
Besides this, Podkolzin said that after the inspection of the playground personnel of the prosecutor's office entered the house of worship and found there a tray with religious literature. Personnel of the agencies decided that the children might hear sermons and the literature was being distributed somehow improperly.
In fact, games and classes also were conducted with the children, which were not religious but moral training (the concepts of good and evil, friendship), and there were books on the tables describing the teaching of the church.
As a result a pastor of the EKhB church in Noyabrsk, Aleksei Teleus, was fined 5,000 rubles in accordance with the Yarovaya Law. Teleus was held administratively accountable on the basis of part 4 of article 5.26 of the Code on Administrative Violations of Law of the RF: "Performance of missionary activity with violation of the requirements of legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession and on religious associations." There was no more detailed explanation of the reasons for such a punishment, and the church did not want to appeal the fine.
The story of the closing of the children's camp in Noyabrsk also has a socio-political subtext. As local observers note, the Baptist church has become a bargaining chip on the eve of September elections in 2016. The chief of the Department on Matters of Public Security of the administration of Noyabrsk, Rostislav Isaev, has spoken out against the church. He made comments on this matter in the press, noting that the church allegedly receive deserved punishment in the form of a fine, although formally the fine was not at all for the organization of a "camp." The inspection in the Baptist church was conducted at a time when the mayor of the city (city manager), Aleksei Romanov, was on vacation and his staff decided to make a high-profile case to show they were busy. Believers say that personnel of the prosecutor's office took on the church because they knew about the conduct of the playground.
Thanks to the "good" attitude of the prosecutor's office, the playground was closed on the last day of its term, that is, it lasted its whole intended term. Then the deputy prosecutor composed a report on the violation of conducting missionary activity for the smallest possible sum, 5,000 rubles. Thus, the Yarovaya Law has become all the more a universal means of punishment, even when there is no basic substance of a crime. (tr. by PDS, posted 26 August 2016)
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