CUSTOMS CASTS DOUBT ON NEW TESTAMENT
Court proceedings begin regarding seizure of religious literature
by Dmitry Marakulin
Kommersant, 16 November 2016
Consideration of an administrative case, in which the religious organization "Gideons Association of Evangelical Christians" is challenging the action of Vyborg customs, which in the summer of this year seized a press run of the New Testament and Psalms, began in the Vyborg city court of Leningrad province. Customs officials suspected that the literature being imported from Finland is extremist. However, as the Gideons' attorney told Kommersant—St. Petersburg, his clients have all necessary documents confirming the correspondence of the texts to the canonical translation.
Today at the session of the Vyborg court of Leningrad province it was revealed that the plaintiffs are asking that the requirements of Vyborg customs for presenting additional documents and the decision to conduct a psycho-linguistic expert analysis of the seized literature be found to be illegal.
According to the assistant to the director of the Gideons Association of Evangelical Christians, Vladimir Shakhmatov, the incident occurred in the night of 7-8 July. Two automobiles were transporting into Russia through the Brusnichnoe (Vyborg district of Leningrad province) customs post a press run of the New Testaments and Psalms that was printed in Finland. Upon examination, an excess of weight of 2 percent of what was declared was discovered. Both autos were sent to temporary storage for offloading the literature. Mr. Shakhmatov said that he was then told that it was necessary to transfer the books for an expert analysis in order to clarify whether the contents of the New Testament and Psalms were extremist. "We have the conclusion of the Herzen Pedagogical University that indicates that the texts of the books correspond to the Synodal translation, but that did not help. We wrote an appeal against the actions of the customs officials all the way up to the president of Russia," Vladimir Shakhmatov explained. According to information of the plaintiffs, seizure of the press run caused a deterioration of the literature: about 20,000 books that were being transported in their car were damaged by moisture.
The Gideons Association of Evangelical Christians is an inter-church organization that distributes the Bible for free. The books are printed in accordance with the officially approved text of that country where the religious literature is distribution. In Russia this is the Synodal translation, approved in the 19th century by the Holy Ruling Synod for home reading.
As the Gideons' attorney Anatoly Pchelintsev explained for Kommersant—St. Petersburg (he also represents the interests of the former prosecutor of Leningrad province, Stanislav Ivanov, who is accused of taking bribes), his clients presented to Vyborg customs officials a whole package of documents specified in part 3 of article 182 of the Customs Code and documents from the Federal Agency for Printed and Mass Communication, confirming that the books being imported are not publications of an advertising or erotic nature. Nevertheless, the chief of the Brusnichnoe customs post, Sergei Lenin, according to the attorney, demanded of the Gideons' attorneys confirmation that the publications do not contain information that falls under the purview of the federal law "On combating extremist activity." "I recall that there is in the same law to which customs appeals an explicit provision that the sacred texts of several religious, including the Bible, cannot be ruled to be extremist," Mr. Pchelintsev noted.
Yesterday it was reported that the psycho-linguistic expert analysis will be conducted by an individual entrepreneur from Murmansk, Mikhail Laktinov. Anatoly Pchelintsev explained that the authorization poses about 20 questions like the following: do the submitted materials contain information associated with restriction or infringement of the person, rights, and liberties of citizens or associated with requiring or encouraging potential or actual members of a congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses to distance themselves from institutions of civil society (family, marriage, etc.)? This question surprised Vladimir Shakhmatov, who suggested that the Vyborg customs does not at all see differences among various religious organizations.
The director of the communications section of the St. Petersburg metropolitanate, Natalia Rodomanova, told Kommersant—St. Petersburg that "if the text (of the seized books—Kommersant) corresponds to the Synodal translation, then there are no grounds for finding the books to be extremist literature." In her opinion, with an appropriate request the St. Petersburg metropolitanate would be able to provide help to the security agencies. For example, to receive an expert opinion of a specialist on biblical texts of the St. Petersburg Ecclesiastical Academy and to give his conclusion about the disputed literature. (tr. by PDS, posted 18 November 2016)
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