Long article: Gideons' attorney recounts absurdity of case


How Comrade Lenin banned import of Synodal translation of the Bible

by Anatoly Pchelintsev

Moskovskii Komsomolets, 24 November 2016


I do not cease to be amazed at the actions of our bureaucrats, including those in uniforms. At one time they quite seriously demand through a court to liquidate a religious organization for lack of a medical license for conducting prayers for healing the sick, then they demand a license for the activity of Sunday schools, then they commission a religious studies expert analysis by a pathologist or mathematics teacher, and then they forbid worship in residences and apartments.


I used to laugh at this, but I have recently stopped when I realized that the legal and religious studies illiteracy of bureaucrats bears a systematic and ineradicable character. So I even think: where did they study and did they study at all? Perhaps they buy diplomas in subway passageways and thereby buy their office?


This time I was amazed by the personnel of the Brusnichnoe customs post of Vyborg customs of Leningrad province. On 8 July 2016 they detained two loaded trucks coming through the customs post from Finland ascribed to the Gideons religious organization of evangelical Christians.


The trucks were carrying about 20,000 New Testaments in the Russian Synodal translation that had been printed in Finland. Incidentally, it is this year that Russia celebrated the 140th anniversary of the complete Synodal translation of the Bible, authorized by the Holy Ruling Synod for reading at home (for services in the Russian Orthodox Church, the Bible in the Church Slavonic language is used).


You ask, why were they printed in Finland? It is simply that the quality of paper and printing services there is substantially superior to their domestic counterparts and production is done substantially more cheaply than in Russia. So it is there that many native religious organizations print their religious literature, as well as in Belorussia.


According to point 4 of article 182 of the Customs Code, in the transport of goods the customs agency does not have the right to require from a declarer the presentation of other information that is not specified by law.


In our case, all customs documents and transit declarations for the New Testament and Psalms had been completed in the proper and comprehensive way. Appended to the documents, along with other things, was a certificate issued by the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications that the products being imported were cultural materials and were not books of an agitational or erotic nature.


There also was attached an expert conclusion from the religious studies department of the A.I. Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University to the effect that the New Testament and Psalms are parts of the Synodal translation of the Bible.


Despite this, on 13 July 2016 the hauler was denied in writing release of the books for the reasons that supposedly the hauler had not presented in the documents information to the effect that the printed products did not fall under the purview of the federal law "On combating extremist activity."


Meanwhile, according to the aforesaid law, the Bible, Quran, Tanakh, and  Kangyur, and their contents and quotations from them, may not be ruled to be extremist materials. That this amendment to the law was adopted back in November of last year, the attorneys of the Gideons frequently reminded the chief of the customs post, Colonel of the Customs Service Comrade S.N. Lenin. However he was adamant and sent the two trucks with the printed products to a temporary storage lot, where each day's parking costs no more nor less than 400 euros!


Plus off-loading of each vehicle here costs 35,000 rubles. Where do you find such rates? Only here, at customs. Well, it's a real Klondike. Meanwhile time was passing, but customs was taking no visible actions. And why? The money for rent is flowing, and no small amount.


Complaints and appeals by the leadership of the Gideons to various instances regarding the illegal actions of customs produced no result. There were only run-arounds. Even an appeal to the chief of the Directorate for Combating Corruption of the Federal Customs Service of Russia turned out unsuccessful.


It soon became clear that some of the books with sacred texts had become damp and deteriorated as the result of improper storage. After one month and seven days an agreement was reached—and the cargo from the parking lot was taken back to Finland, where it was stored in the warehouse of Finnish customs—incidentally completely without cost—and to this day awaits further instructions on the part of the owner.


Finally, after three and a half months, specifically on 24 October 2016, Comrade Lenin informed the cargo hauler in writing that the New Testament and Psalms had to be examined to see whether they contained extremist statements and an expert analysis was ordered for this.


Appeals to the law by the owner of the cargo produced no results. Lenin himself is the head and, judging by everything, is guided in the current moment by revolutionary expediency and not by the law. He boldly took upon himself the function of law enforcement agencies, which, incidentally, in the nearly twenty years that the Gideons have been importing the New Testament and Psalms into Russia have never pressed claims against the organization and the book.


This book is distributed without charge among Christians of various confessions. One can find it in hotels, hospitals, prisons, the army, and churches. Incidentally, in the hotel room where I stayed in Vyborg, I found this book in the bedside table. The guest has the right to take it without charge. You will agree that the personnel and volunteers of the Gideons do a good work in terms of spiritual enlightenment of society. Without any imposition or coercion; everything is done exclusively voluntarily.


But let's return to the case. And so Vyborg customs prepared a "Notice of the conduct of a request for quotes for the right to conclude a state contract for providing services for conducting a psycho-linguistic expert analysis of samples of goods bound for the centralized religious organization 'Gideons Association of Evangelical Christians,' for the purpose of considering/not considering them to be materials of an extremist nature."


In order to select the most worthy specialists for conducting the expert analysis, customs declared on the official website of the Unified Information System for Procurement a competition for conducting this expert analysis with an initial (maximum) contract price of 494,282 rubles, 67 kopecks!


At the same time, strange as it may seem, no special requirements (educational qualifications, experience in conducting such expert analyses, possession of an academic degree corresponding to a profile of expert analysis, etc) for the participants were established. That is, formally anybody who wished could participate in the competition. In our case it turns out that whoever sets the lowest amount will win the competition. At the same time the status of the expert analysis, for unclear reasons, was not specified; the task was called a psycho-linguistic, but in other places a linguistic, expert analysis, and there are, as they say in Odessa, two big differences: the amount of work and its price tag are fundamentally different.


The "Novokuznets Center of Expert Analysis" and an individual entrepreneur from Murmansk, M.S. Loktionov, took part in the competition. And the latter was the winner, having proposed the smaller price—246,141 rubles, 00 kopecks.


The stated activity of the aforesaid entrepreneur, according to information from the Uniform Register of Small and Medium-sized Businesses and the Russian Classification of Forms of Economic Activity, is wholesale trade of products of electronic equipment, instrumentation, unprocessed tobacco, seeds, and feed for agricultural animals.


Expert scientific activity and research in the area of social sciences were not even close here. Strictly speaking, this entrepreneur cannot be authorized for this expert analysis at all. Well how can one not believe in reincarnation—it's Ilich's bulbs all over again.


Meanwhile, nearby, in St. Petersburg, there is its own excellent school of religious studies with specialists well known in the country. Again, it was possible to show the New Testament and Psalms to the local Orthodox metropolitanate or to the Ecclesiastical Academy, and within a half hour to get the necessary conclusion. But here it is Murmansk and an individual entrepreneur who trades in bulbs and tobacco.


To what thoughts does this lead? Frankly I admit that in many years of law practice, I have never encountered such large sums for conducting such an expert analysis, although for cases in which I was involved there were more than a dozen such expert analyses. So the whole state's interest, behind which bureaucrats so love to hide, lies in these numbers—first parking, off-loading and loading, and now expert analysis. I wonder why this story does not spark the interest of the Directorate for Combating Corruption? I think that examination here would not be superfluous.


For clarity it should be noted that a scholar acquaintance from St. Petersburg State University, who asked that his name not be used, said in a private conversation that he and his colleagues knew about the upcoming competition, but they conscientiously refused to participate in it, even though such money would not be superfluous to them.


The reasons for the refusal was that to conduct an expert analysis on such a obvious main question—whether the sample of the Synodal translation of the New Testament and Psalms is a part of the Bible—would be an insult to their professional capacity. The very text of the sacred book, on the basis of the rules of law, cannot be the subject of such an expert analysis at all.


In addition, my interlocutor declared that some of the questions were posed quite incorrectly, since the customs personnel in their statement confused the Gideons organization with Jehovah's Witnesses, which is fundamentally flawed methodologically.


Further the scheme looks like this. The independent entrepreneur M.S. Loktionov concludes a contract for remote operation with a certain citizen, O.G. Alektorova, who lives in Saratov. This contract has everything you want, including a statement of the right to rest, protection of labor rights, and so on and so forth, but the main thing is not there—the subject of the expert analysis, cost of the operation, and deadline for completion. After all this is the essential condition of any contract, without which it is invalid.


Indeed, even the educational status of the expert is unclear. If one believes the social networks, at the present time Alektorova is working as the manager in the office "Megaphone." Let's say provisionally that no psychologist with that name is known in Saratov. Perhaps she is a specialist in the area of the Russian language? We will find out about this no later than 15 December, when the conclusion will be prepared (the deadline for fulfilling the contract) and we will have to meet him. However, I have serious doubts that such a conclusion will be prepared at all, unless it is just a previously planned action with a clearly known result. Such a thing also happens in our practice.


But the story does not end with this. The actions of the Vyborg customs in ordering the expert analysis were appealed by the leadership of the Gideons, in Vyborg city court. And so, on 16 November there was a preliminary hearing of the case. The attorney of the customs service came to court without even bothering to submit a reaction to the administrative lawsuit.


To the question from federal judge A.G. Gomzyakov about this he only motioned helplessly with his hands. However he immediately filed a petition for adding to the case an uncertified copy of the decision ordering the expert analysis. The judge quite justifiably rejected this petition, since the document had not been formulated properly. Meanwhile we managed to clarify that customs had posed to entrepreneur Loktionov as many as 21 questions!


Naturally there was no reference there to electronics and unprocessed tobacco, although on the basis of the entrepreneur's specialization this would have been logical. Especially touching are the sixteenth and eighteenth questions, in which the individual entrepreneur is asked: "Do the presented materials contain a basis for the opinion about the opposition and incompatibility of the interests of the religious group of Jehovah's Witnesses with the interests of other religious groups? What kind of statements (give quotations)?"


And also: "Do the presented materials contain information connected with restriction or infringement of the person, rights, and liberties of citizens, connected with the requirement or encouragement of potential or actual members of the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses to distance themselves from institutions of civil society (family, marriage, etc.)?"


You ask, why are the Jehovah's Witnesses here when the issue is the protestant religious organization of Gideons? I also do not know and would very much like to get an answer to this question from Comrade Lenin. Perhaps to send to him scouts for clarification of the situation?


Since the defendant did not provide a response and was not prepared for the preliminary judicial session, the session was postponed to 6 December. For some reason it seems to me that during the hearings we will learn many more interesting things. But for now the tragicomedy in the theatre of the absurd continues.


Anatoly Pchelintsev is an attorney, chief editor of the magazine Religiia i Pravo, and doctor of jurisprudence.  (tr. by PDS, posted 24 November 2016)

Background article:
Trial of New Testament begins
November 16, 2016

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