NEWS ABOUT RELIGION IN RUSSIA

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Another interview with Polosin

GODSEEKER FROM A "GENERATION OF JANITORS"
Segodnia, 26 June 1999

Former Orthodox priest has embraced Islam

For an Orthodox priest to embrace Islam is an unprecedented event. Viacheslav Polosin, advisor to the State Duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, described what moved an Orthodox cleric to become a Muslim for Segodnia reporter Marina Martova.

--I discovered the Bible during my third year in the philosophy department of MGU.  Within the department I concealed my religiousness because friends from the department of scientific atheism warned me when raids on churches were being planned to catch renegades.   After I graduated from MGU I submitted an application to seminary, but the commissioner on religious affairs vetoed me; I was considered unreliable.  After this I could not get hired even as a janitor.  After all, I was from a "generation of janitors and watchmen."  I became a reader in a village church, but the commission "dismissed" me even from there.  A police officer threatened to put me in jail for parasitism.

On the third try I managed to get into seminary.  When I graduated from it I was given to understand that no place for me could be found in Moscow.  I went to Central Asia, where in 1983 I was ordained a priest.  There I became acquainted with Islam.

--Did perestroika affect your life?

--In 1988 disgraced priests began to receive new parishes.  I was offered a decrepit church near Obninsk.  From there I ran as a candidate for deputy in the Supreme Soviet of the Russian federation and I was elected without effort on my part.  I also was the initiator in the creation of the Committee on Freedom of Conscience and became its chairman.

--Would you have been able to make a career while remaining in the Orthodox church?

--After the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet I could get a parish in Moscow and I was invited to join the Department of External Church Relations.  With my general Russian fame I could have found a comfortable position.  But I had doubts relative to the role of the church in society as well as regarding general religious convictions.

--What constituted your doubts?

--In the 1970s and 1980s I felt myself in spiritual opposition to the regime, andin 1991, when the church began to support the authorities I began to feel myself a "wizard."  After all many people find in church answers that have nothing to do with world view; they are interested in rituals which evoke doubts even from an orthodox Christian point of view.  There were doubts also regarding whether all power if from God.  After the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet I refused to serve the liturgy.  In studying original sources I came to understand that both Jews and Christians believe in one God, but rituals and traditions have grown up which contradict the faith and even corrupt it.

--For example?

--If a person considers that by aid of rituals he can receive grace, that already contradicts faith in the one God.  The main thing is for a person simply to believe in the one creator and all the rest is either tradition or superstition.  Then I came to understand that the truth about the one God is found in the koran.  I decided to profess this faith publicly.

--But your action is not typical of the Russian intelligentsia.

--Nowadays the tendency toward empracing Islam is rather remarkable in the world.  In the main Islam is embraced by highly educated people.  In USA Islam has been embraced by a Catholic priest and a doctor of sciences.  In France, by Roger Garady and Rene Genon, famous philosophers.  In Germany, thousands of Germans are Muslims.  In Kiev 7,000 Ukrainians are Muslim.

--Does there exist a special procedure for conversion to Islam?

--Islam means "submission to God," and a Muslim is "one who entrusts himself to God."  Thus any Christian or Jew can be called a Muslim.  In order to become a Muslim, it is sufficient to declare so in the presence of two witnesses.  I declared in the Musulman magazine with a print run of 7,000 copies, and I addressed an Islamic conference, so that is sufficient witnesses.

--How has the hierarchy of the Orthodox church reacted to your step?

--I have been told that on radio Radonezh a priest cursed me. (tr. by PDS)

(posted 15 July 1999)


Jehovah's Witnesses under attack in FSU states

GEORGIAN PATRIARCHATE DECLARES WAR ON SECTARIANS
by Mikhail Vignansky
Segodnia, 7 July 1999

The patriarchate of Georgia officially demanded the prohibition of the activity of the sect of "Jehovah's Witnesses."  A representative of the patriarchate, Georgy Andriadae declared that the activity of the Jehovists, who are "representatives of totalitarian religious forces," is dangerous for society.  The Georgian Orthodox church has charged that the activity of  "Jehovah's Witnesses" drives members of the sect to psychological illnesses and alienates a person from public life.  In the opinion of Andriadze, the prohibition of the activity of the "Jehovah's Witnesses" sect does not violate the principles of the protection of human rights, since the premises of this sect are directed against the interests of the state.  The Jehovists themselves (adherents of this religious number about 40,000 in the Orthodox state of Georgia with population of five million) maintain that their prohibition would be a violation of the standards of a democratic country which recently joined the Council of Europe.  Andriadze noted that the church will not demand prohibition of such sects as the Baptists, Pentecostals, or Seventy-day Adventists.

Still another headache for the church are the satanists who are preparing for the end of the world.  Georgian satanists maintain that the sword of Satan is buried on the territory of the southern Caucasus and that Georgia will become the epicenter of the struggle between forces of good and evil on the Day of Judgment.  (tr. by PDS)

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES APPEAL TO TURKMEN PRESIDENT
from Human Rights Without Frontiers

May 15, 1999

To the president of Turkmenistan, Mr. Niyazov, C.N.
From residents of city Seidy, Lebapskii Velayat.

1. Tsoy Svetlana and Tsoy Zhanna 1 microrayon 22, app. 37
2. Zvezdova Lidiya 1 microrayon 4, app. 43
3. Dzhumanazarova O. J. 2 microrayon 60, app. 16
4. Roziyeva Mengli 2 microrayon 11, app. 9
5. Gendzhiyeva Muslima 2 microrayon 21, app. 17
6. Khalikova N. i Iakubova G. 1 microrayon 25. app. 17
7. Kostenko Valentina 1 microrayon 27, app. 10
8. Kim Laura 1 microrayon 16, app. 36
9. Muradova Gulnara cottage of 1 microrayon
10. Yangibayeva Aleksandra cottage of "Yashlik" microrayon

Mr. President!

We residents of city Seidy are writing to you because now we do not know what  to do and whom to approach?!

The matter is that we are persecuted on the territory of the city of Seidy  because of our religious beliefs despite all laws and the Constitution of  Turkmenistan. It is sad to say but this is true. We are Jehovah's Witnesses  but we are forbidden to confess our faith. Despite the fact that the Law of  "Freedom of conscience and faith" and the Constitution of Turkmenistan allow  everyone to confess any faith he wants, we experience persecution from day to  day.

At the order of Akim of the city of Seidy we are compelled to confess Islam.  Policemen always follow us on the street and if we start a conversation with  somebody they start threatening us. We do not have an opportunity to  associate even at our own homes and apartments. Policemen break down doors  and burst into apartments, breaking the inviolability of the home. We are  fired from work and threatened with expulsion. It is clear from Akim's words:  "The population of Seidy is 20 thousand and if we evict 50-60 of them, nobody  will notice."

Here is an example of crying injustice.

On May 10, 1999, at about 3:45 p.m., we were at our fellow servant's house at  1 microrayon, house 22, app. 37 because of Sister Kostenko's departure to  Russia. We had some tea and talked peacefully. Then, there was a hard knock  at the door and shouting. Somebody started to break down the door. Of course,  we got scared and did not open it. Then, the light in the apartment went off  and a policeman got into the apartment through a balcony on the third floor  without showing any ID and introducing himself. He opened the door and let  into the apartment a group of people among whom there were:
 

The Substitute of the Akim Nuriev
The Substitute of the Head of Police Department of Seidy Sobetov
The Head of KNB of Seidy Ribenakulyev
Representative of police Gendzhiyev
Inspector of the Persecutor Office Yagshikulyev
These individuals forced themselves into the apartment and accused us of  conducting an illegal meeting. They conducted a search without any sanctions.  They took away our Bibles. Then, under guard they took us to a police station  in groups of 3-4 and held us there over 3 hours, until about 8.30 p.m. After  that we were taken to the Akim office, where we were fined.

During all this the Akim of Seidy in all ways jeered at our dignity and  honour, outraged us, and threatened us with expulsion, demanding that we  confess Islam.

Mr. President! Does this happen at the end of the 20th century in our  sovereign, independent, democratic country where you conduct peaceful policy  and represent the guarantee of our rights and freedoms? The full discredit of  authorities at all levels is very clear. Wherever we approach with complaints  to the General Persecutor office, the Ministry of Justice, and local  authorities, nowhere, even in court, is there any order and justice.

Lawlessness goes on. Do not you see what these alarming signals are about,  your authority as a Head of the State is being undermined in the eyes of the  people? Please take appropriate measures in accordance with the Legislation.

With respect to you, residents of city Seidy:

12 signatures
City: Seidy.

REPORT ON PERSECUTION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IN SEIDY
June 16, 1999

State action to prohibit religious activity

Although Article 11 of the Constitution guarantees religious freedom for all,  on August 29, 1997, the prosecutor of the city of Seidy ordered the local  congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses to "stop their activity until official  registration." This order was confirmed by:
 

the Lebapskii district prosecutor on September 10, 1997,
the General prosecutor of Turkmenistan on January 23, 1998,
the Seidinskii city court on August 14, 1998,
the Lebapskii district court on September 10, 1998.
Suggestions of different worship and threats

Although Article 1 of the Constitution says that Turkmenistan is the worldly  state, the local khakim suggested to local Jehovah's Witnesses that they  study Islam. He threatened them with dismissal from work, displacement, and  destruction. According to a Witness, he also said: "Who is your god? Who is  Jehovah? I am God for you. You must worship me."

Violation of freedom of meetings

Although Article 27 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of meetings, the  peaceful private meetings in homes of Jehovah's Witnesses were repeatedly  interrupted by the police.

Confiscation of religious literature

Although Article 26 of the Constitution guarantees the right or freedom to  spread and receive information, the literature of Jehovah's Witnesses was  repeatedly confiscated.

Penalties

Because Jehovah's Witnesses have not been registered yet, many were fined for  peaceful religious meetings in their own homes, or ownership of religious  literature. They were fined according to Article 205 of the Administrative  Code of Turkmenistan.

courtesy of Ray Prigodich

(posted 15 July 1999)


CSCE finds mixed record on religious rights in Central Asia

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN CENTRAL ASIA:  RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
by Michael Koby
CSCE Digest, May 1999

As participating States of the OSCE, all the Central Asian republics (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) have committed to ensuring that religious liberty is respected in law and in practice

For example, in section 16.3 of the Vienna Concluding Document, the participating States have committed to grant legal status to religious communities to practice their faith. The Helsinki documents affirm the right of the individual to freedom of expression, including the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authorities. (See Copenhagen Concluding Document, Section 9.1) This right covers all communication, whether political, philosophical, or religious in nature. Participating States have further agreed to respect the right of believers to acquire and use sacred books in the language of their choice

In addition, religious organizations have the right to produce, import and disseminate religious publications and materials. (See Vienna Concluding Document, Sections 16.9 and 16.10) Unfortunately, the Central Asian republics, though to varying degrees, routinely violate, flout or ignore these commitments. The following survey of the religious liberty situation in each of the Central Asian Republics includes reports that have come to the attention of the Helsinki Commission. This survey is by no means exhaustive, and further investigation is ongoing

Uzbekistan

In May 1998, a new law regulating religion was enacted, ostensibly in response to religious extremism, specifically "Islamic extremism,"which government officials refer to as "Wahabbism." Other minority religions, however, are also affected by this new governmental attempt to restrict religious freedom. The law requires, among other things, that religious groups number 100 in order to register with the government, and that any group that is not registered must cease all activities. Religious leaders who fail to comply are subjected to criminal liability, including heavy fines, prison sentences, and confiscation of church property. The legislature has approved an amendment to the Criminal Code that makes membership in non-registered religious organizations punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison more than even the old Soviet code provided. Very few religious communities meet the numerical requirements and the prohibition on religious activity outside of a registered group makes it virtually impossible to organize legally in order to create a legal entity under the law

The fear of Islamic extremism has led to blatant violations of human rights, particularly in the Ferghana Valley

Muslim religious teachers Obidkhon Nazarov, Rahim Otagulov, and Olinjon Glofurov have been harassed, evicted and arrested by government authorities repeatedly over the past two years. Islamic teaching institutions that are not recognized by the government have been forced to close. There are also reports that men wearing beards or women wearing the hjab (headscarf) are targeted for official harassment and detention merely for their appearance

Under the new law, registration entails submitting a complex set of documents to the Ministry of Justice, many of which require several government officials' signatures

The deadline for registering was August 15, 1998. For those religious groups who managed to register successfully, the new law forbids several aspects of religious free expression, including proselytism. Religious groups must also present to the government quarterly and annual accounts verifying their activities. The government can cancel a group's registration at any time. These provisions are in clear violation of OSCE commitments

Reports indicate that many religious groups are unable to register due to the discretion, often obstructionist, of local government officials. For example, government officials in Navoii had until recently blocked registration of a Seventh-Day Adventist congregation. Only after President Karimov intervened on behalf of the church, was the church's application for registration successfully processed

There have also been recent reports indicating that the Uzbek Government is cracking down on Protestant Christians who are attempting to register under its law

There have been two reported cases this year of arrests premised on false drug charges. In each case, those arrested were active in a religious group that was attempting to register

Numerous provisions in the 1998 law on religious associations violate Uzbekistan's OSCE commitments on religious liberty, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. Where the government has reason to suspect Page 34 CSCE Digest criminal violations, due process and fair procedures must prevail; however, all too often reports have indicated that religious believers are the target of criminal proceedings based on trumped-up charges because of their membership in a particular religious group

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is the most repressive former Soviet republic in all areas of civil society, including freedom of religion. Under Turkmenistan's law, religious groups need at least 500 members to apply for registration. Many groups meeting the 500-member threshold, however, have been denied registration. Reports indicate that unregistered groups, including Baha'is, Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses and Pentecostal Christians, have been harassed for holding unregistered religious gatherings

The government denies registration in several ways: 1) refusing to accept registration forms because of grammatical/technical mistakes; 2) intimidating the religious group's members who sign the registration forms, which causes many members to remove their names from the registration form; 3) requiring that all members of the religious group submit their passports for verification, which is untenable because passports are needed in order to collect salaries; and 4) requiring that a religious group have 500 members in the city in which it wants to register (so that while a given religious group has over 500 members in the country, the government now requires that it has 500 hundred members in each city in which it hopes to register)

The law also contains vague provisions strictly punishing religious groups that issue propaganda that threatens the state or stirs up religious tensions. For example, there have been recent reports that Seventh-Day Adventists are facing harassment, intimidation, and denial of their rights to religious worship and other minority religious groups have reported similar problems. On March 25, 1998, an Adventist pastor and his fellow church worker were detained by secret police and religious materials were confiscated. Their money was also confiscated as a fine for practicing their religion without being properly registered. In the town of Bezmein, Adventist members were warned not to have any further meetings until they are officially registered

Turkmenistan has committed to "fostering a climate of mutual tolerance and respect"and "grant[ing] upon their request to communities of believersÖrecognition of the status provided for them in their respective countries" (1989 Vienna Concluding Document). While OSCE commitments do not specifically address the issue of registration, the manner in which the Government of Turkmenistan registers or fails to register groups constitutes a violation of religious liberty found in the OSCE documents, specifically the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document

Kazakstan

Kazakstan was the latest Central Asian republic to attempt to increase government control and regulation of religious associations. A draft bill amending the 1992 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations was written earlier this year by the Kazak Ministry of Information and Social Accord. According to NGOs, the Government of Kazakstan stated that it was modeling its draft law after the 1997 Russian law on religious associations. Due to concerns raised by national NGOs, international observers, and foreign governments, Kazakstan recently withdrew the draft with an official statement that the issue of religious liberty was too delicate an area to legislate at this time

The vague provisions in the draft could have diminished religious freedoms, as the loosely worded amendments easily allowed for interpretations that would grant the state far-reaching regulatory and intervention powers

The apparent goal of this draft law was the prevention of ethnic and religious conflict between Kazaks of Muslim background and Slavs of Christian background. Unfortunately, in an effort to prevent possible religious and social unrest, many of the new provisions in the draft seemed to target minority or non-traditional religious groups to prevent them from gaining full legal status

One such provision required religious groups to have existed for over 10 years in a given geographic locality before being granted full legal status. In addition to the 10-year requirement, groups seeking registration would also have to present a long, costly, and exhaustive list of documents. These would have included, but would not have been limited to, a list of people in the religious association, a report on its attitude toward the family, marriage, and education, and an explanation of the association's religious teachings and practices. While neither the 1992 law nor the new draft amendments specifically outlawed unregistered religious activity, there was concern regarding government treatment of religious groups that have not successfully registered. A religious group that lacks legal status would not have been allowed to publish religious literature and would probably have been unable to acquire property

Kazakstan should be commended for its withdrawal of the draft law on religion

Kyrgyzstan

Although Kyrgyzstan remains the most liberal country in the region, its early reputation as a model new democracy and leader in individual rights has been tarnished since the mid-1990s. Recent reports of police abuse, religious persecution, trafficking of women, and violations of the right to free expression have raised concern in the international community

In Kyrgyzstan, all religious organizations are obliged to undergo official registration with a state commission

As of mid-December 1998, there were 217 registered religious groups in Kyrgyzstan. The majority of the groups, about 188, are Christian. There are seventeen Muslim organizations, ten Baha'i organizations, a Jewish organization, and some Buddhist groups

The Kyrgyz Government has launched a methodical and deliberate campaign against Muslim extremists, which it calls "Wahabbis."In late 1997, special government units under the control of the Ministry of National Security (MNS) were set up to find, stop, prevent, and control "Wahhabi"activities. Throughout 1997 and 1998, there were repeated incidents of alleged "Wahhabi"supporters being expelled from Kyrgyzstan. Examples of outright discrimination against Muslim groups include the following accounts: (1) The Muslim Spiritual Board, the government-controlled Muslim organization, forced the Islamic Center to close after it accused Sadykjan Kamalov, the Center's leader, of being a "Wahhabi"   (2) the expulsion of 20 "Wahhabi" supporters in 1997; (3) the arrest of about 20 ethnic Uighurs in April and May of 1998 on the charge of possessing "Wahhabi"video tapes

Reports surfaced in early 1998 that Kyrgyzstan was considering a new law on religion. The ambiguous text of a proposed draft have led some to conclude that the law could be used to harass and intimidate nontraditional religious groups. As written, the law would extend rights primarily to traditional religious groups, excluding nontraditional religious groups from disseminating their ideas in schools, in public places, or through the media. Religious groups would be allowed to import religious literature, but only if such literature does not stir up ethnic hatred or social unrest, in the opinion of government authorities

Tajikistan

Religious groups in Tajikistan, other than Islam, have experienced relative openness from the government, although religious groups remain insecure as the viability of the current regime remains unclear. While the government does not appear to be curtailing minority groups outright there have been reports of Christians being beaten or threatened by citizens--and by the police--for practicing their faith. The government appears to be interested in protecting the dwindling Russian minority, which entails special protections for the Russian Orthodox Church

The Baptist Church is active and no reports have been received regarding official repression of their evangelistic activities. A branch of the Bible Society has also received registration and is active in the country. Islamic groups-- 80% of the population is Sunni Muslim and 5% are Shi'a-- have not enjoyed the same tolerance, largely due to fear on the government's part of Islamic extremists and their political aspirations. The neo-communists in the government strongly oppose the Islamic Renaissance Party which briefly held a key role in the regime before being ousted

A peace agreement was signed in Moscow in June 1997 between the Tajik Government and the Islamic opposition, but implementation of the accord, given residual animosity and distrust, has been slow and problematic.

(posted 15 July 1999)


Dispute about Russian governor's conversion to Orthodoxy

AMAN TULEEV BECOMES ORTHODOX
by Evgeny Strelchik
Vechernaia Moskva,  8 July 1999

 The governor of Kemerovo province, Aman Tuleev, has embraced the Orthodox confession.  He underwent baptism secretly and became a member of the local church parish.  At the beginning of the 1990s Tuleev, who earlier has shown no interest in religion, became an adept of Islam and even made the pilgrimage to Mecca.  It is not known how sincere is the Kemerovo governor's decision regarding change of religious profession, but this decision is linked with his political plans.  As is known, Tuleev has declared his intention of running for president of Russia. (tr. by PDS)

AMAN TULEEV SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR APOSTASY
by Igor Lavrenkov
Segodnia, 13 July 1999

According to a report from the Interfax news agency, at an extraordinary session of the shura (Islamic scholars of Chechnia and Dagestan) in Grozny, Kemerovo governor Amangeldy Tuleev was given a death sentence.  The occasion for such a harsh verdict was the alleged adoption by Tuleev of Christianity.  The shura obliged every Muslim to carry out the sentence wherever he encounters the convict.  The Chechen media has so far been silent about the decision.  According to rumors, Aman Gumirovich allegedly received baptism on 25 June.

Press secretary for the governor, Sergei Cheremnov, has already issued a dozen denials.  The rumor also was refuted by the head of the Orthodox diocese of Kuzbass, Archbishop Sofrony of Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk.  Sergei Cheremonov said that his boss prefers to consider himself a nonbeliever, although by ancestry he of course is a Muslim.  His education is Russian, or more exactly soviet. The occasion of the visit five years ago to Mecca Tuleev's press secretary called a tourist trip which cannot be consider the pilgrimage.  To be sure, in 1994, when the Kuzbass press reported this event, neither Tuleev himself nor his press service did anything to refute it.  Moreover, it is the Muslim and Turkish ancestry of the Kuzbass leader, a native of Krasnovodsk in Turkmeniia, was cited by the press as working to his benefit in his nomination to the post of minister for affairs of the CIS in 1996.  At that time Tuleev preferred not to emphasize his indifference to religion and he gave no response to the press commentary.

In the two years of his gubernatorial administration in Kemerovo province Tuleev has maintained his distance from all confessions.  He routinely has observed Orthodox holidays and events and he has received religious leaders of the local Muslim congregations.  The governor's conduct clearly reveals a pragmatic approach; he does everything so that no possible discontent will be caused voters.  This also explains such an emotional reaction against "accusations of Christianity."  In the preelection period the best approach is to be a nonbeliever one's self and not to tweak the taut strings of the souls of believer voters.

The problem here, however, is not with Tuleev, whose religious beliefs are purely his personal affair.  The problem is that in a province of the Russian federation, which Chechnia has been hitherto considered in the country, life is proceeding on the basis of unwritten laws in Russia.  It turns out that Chechens can issue the death sentence against any person of another faith who displeases them. And when this happens not a single Russian politician (including Tuleev himself) is upset by this situation. Aman Gumirovich, and behind him even the mass media, has insistently denied the incident of an Orthodox baptism, and that is all.  The question is no less acute:  is there in Russia some "shura," the Federation Council, for example, of which the Kemerovo governor is a member, or some other agency of authority which finally will put an end to this excess?  (tr. by PDS)
 

MOSLEM THEOLOGIANS SAY RUSSIAN GOVERNOR SHOULD DIE
Reuters, 12 July 1999

 MOSCOW, July 12 (Reuters) - Moslem clerics in Russia's rebel Chechnya  province said the influential governor of a Siberian region should die for  converting to Christianity from Islam, Interfax news agency reported from the  Chechen capital Grozny.

But spokesmen for Aman Tuleyev, the leftist governor of the vast Siberian  coal mining region of Kemerovo, were quoted as saying he had never changed  faiths.

Theologians from Chechnya and Dagestan, a neighbouring mainly Moslem region  of Russia, called at an assembly in Grozny for Tuleyev's death, Interfax  said. They urged all Moslems to carry out the sentence at the first possible  opportunity.

But Interfax quoted Tuleyev's press service as strongly denying the governor  had converted to Christianity, although it quoted other regional officials as  saying he had been formally baptised as an Orthodox Christian last month.

NTV television quoted Tuleyev's spokesman as saying he did not care much for  religion at all, and had once travelled to Mecca ``as a simple tourist, not  as a pilgrim.''

Russia has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 1996, but Chechnya  executed 11 people for drug-related crimes under Islamic Sharia law in the  first half of this year.

Russia withdrew its troops from Chechnya, a mainly Moslem region, after  suffering humiliating defeat in a 1994-96 war, and now has virtually no  control over the province.

Chechnya has declared independence from Moscow, although no other country has  recognised its claim.

Since the war, strict Islamic practices have grown in influence in Chechnya,  as well as in Dagestan and other neighbouring provinces in Russia's North  Caucasus region.

(posted 15 July 1999)



 

Orthodox accuse Witnesses, Adventists, and Hare Krishnas of illegality

RUSSIA CHURCH:  PROBE MISSIONARIES
by Anatoly Medetsky
Associated Press, 114 July 1999

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AP) - The Russian Orthodox Church asked prosecutors in  Russia's Far East on Wednesday to investigate the methods used by three  religious groups to recruit converts.

The church accused the Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists and a  splinter group of Hare Krishnas based in the Far Eastern region of Primorye  of recruiting potential converts illegally.

The groups are ``aggressive churches that harvest souls in the region by  using deception and totalitarian methods,'' the Orthodox Church said in a  statement.

The church did not say what laws the groups had allegedly violated, but it  was apparently trying to prosecute them under a controversial religion law  passed in 1997. Under it, Russian courts may ban religious groups found  guilty of inciting hatred or intolerant behavior.

The law also recognizes Russian Orthodox Christianity as the nation's leading  faith and requires that most other religions pass a series of qualifying  tests to operate in Russia.

The Jehovah's Witnesses are already on trial in Moscow, where prosecutors say  they have broken the law. Russian Pentecostalists and Baptists have also been  threatened under the law.

The Orthodox Church said the Jehovah's Witnesses in the Far East had broken  Russian law by going door to door, approaching people on public  transportation and compiling lists of all residents in neighborhoods where  the group is active.

The Jehovah's Witness branch in Vladivostok, Primorye's capital, denied any  wrongdoing.

``Let them investigate. We want to be known about, but we want people to know  the truth,'' said Vyacheslav Yudin, the branch leader.

The Church said the Seventh-day Adventists had broken the law by posting  leaflets that invite residents to lectures without saying that the lecturer  is a Seventh-day Adventist missionary.

``Foreign missionaries in Primorye are resorting increasingly to unseemly  methods to recruit new converts by concealing'' their religious affiliations,  the church said.

The third group, a Hare Krishna group called the Institute of Knowledge on  Identity, is not registered and illegally disseminates its printed matter in  public places, the Orthodox Church said.

Neither the Adventists nor the Krishna group could be reached for comment  Wednesday.

c.  Associated Press

(posted 15 July 1999)

Russian Orthodox Church Wants Jehovah's Witness Curbs

MOSCOW, Jul 16, 1999 -- (Agence France Presse) The Russian Orthodox Church in the Vladivostok region of eastern Siberia has demanded that the law put a stop to what it it considers the illegal activities of Jehovah's Witnesses, Interfax agency said Thursday.

A diocesan letter to the state attorney identified several groups, including Jehovahs' Witnesses, Seven Day Adventists and a third movement basing itself on the Hindu god Krishna, as allegedly violating legislation on freedom of conscience and religious association.

It charged that several movements had not been duly registered with the authorities and accused foreign missionaries of exploiting local poverty to try to influence people and win converts.

The Russian authorities are concerned at the spread of proselytizing religions, including many imports from abroad.

A 1997 law on religious association limits their activities more than the traditional religions in Russia -- Orthodox, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism.

(c) 1999 Agence France Presse

ORTHODOX CHURCH CALLS RIVAL GROUPS ILLEGAL
by Anatoly Medetsky
Vladivostok News, 16 July 1999

The Russian Orthodox Church on Wednesday asked prosecutors in the Far East to investigate the recruiting methods of three religious groups.

The church accused the Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists and a splinter group of Hare Krishnas based in the Far Eastern region of Primorye of recruiting potential converts illegally.

The groups are aggressive churches that harvest souls in the region by using deception and totalitarian methods, the Orthodox Church said in a press release.

The church is trying to prosecute the groups under a controversial religion law passed in 1997. According to the law, Russia's courts may ban religious groups found guilty of inciting hatred or intolerant behavior.

The law also recognizes Russian Orthodox Christianity as one of the nation's leading faiths and requires most other faiths pass a series of qualifying tests to operate in Russia.

The Jehovah's Witnesses are already on trial in Moscow, where prosecutors say they have broken the law. Russian Pentecostalists and Baptists have also been threatened under the law.

The Orthodox Church said the Jehovah's Witnesses in Vladivostok had broken Russian law by going door-to-door, approaching people on public transportation and compiling lists of all residents in neighborhoods where the group is active.

Primorye justice department has issued a warning to the group this year for recruiting a child under 14 without the consent of the other parent, which is required by the religion law. Jehovah's Witnesses will dispute the warning in court, they said.

The group denied the charges of totalitarian methods. "There are no facts against the Jehovah's Witnesses and there can't be," said Vyacheslav Yudin, the group's leader in Vladivostok.

Another group, the Seventh-day Adventists, is posting deceptive leaflets in Vladivostok to invite residents to lectures by an Australian missionary, the Orthodox clergy said. The leaflets don't indicate the missionary's membership, as the law requires. This creates an illusion of an impartial study of the Bible, while the real aim is to convert people to his confession, said Father Innokenty of the Russian Orthodox Church.

"Foreign missionaries in Primorye increasingly more often resort to unseemly methods to recruit new adepts concealing their confessional membership," the press release from the Orthodox Church read.

The group received rebukes for the leaflets from the Primorye authorities. Officials also scoffed at the missionary's offer of a cake to the one who brings the most people to the lectures.

The tactics don't fit with such a fine matter as religion, said Anatoly Dmitriyenko of the committee for interaction with religious organizations. "They are like some street vendors," he said.

The Adventists could not be reached for comment immediately.

The third group, a splinter of the Krishna Society called the Institute of Knowledge on Identity, is not registered and illegally disseminates its printed matter in public places and in transport.

 © copyright 1998 the Vladivostok News.

(posted 18 July 1999)


Ekaterinburg conflict continues

WHY WERE THE PRIESTS DISMISSED?
by Svetlana Dobrynina
Nezavisimaia gazeta--religii, 7 July 1999

In Ekaterinburg it still is not believed that the synod considered the accusations against Bishop Nikon to be insubstantial.

Since they did not get help from the patriarchate, a group of believers who support the dismissed hegumens Tikhon and Avraam and oppose Bishop Nikon of Verkhoture and Ekaterinburg have decided to seek justice from civil authorities.

With increasing persistence questions have been shouted at the governor of Sverdlovsk province:  "Whom are you for?"  On the day when the governor sponsored a reception for representatives of all the basic religious confessions, a picket line of several dozen believers was set up in front of Rossel's residence.  They demanded that the authorities receive them and give them a hearing.  When Bishop Nikon arrived at the reception he was hissed but the picketers they did not go on to more decisive actions inasmuch as the police were following the procession.  Although they surrounded the governor when he appeared and began harassing him with questions about why he has listened to one side only.  They asked directly:  "Do you support the homosexual movement within Orthodoxy?"  Eduard Rossel answered that he does not because he is a "normal man."  This evoked a round of applause.

Nevertheless, the night previously the governor met with representatives of the mass media and declared:  "An attack on the bishop is going on.  I talked with Patriarch Alexis II and members of the Holy Synod's commission on this matter.  Nothing has been proven.  Some opponents are trying to get to the patriarch and make the same move as in the case of General Kraev."  General Valery Kraev, former director of the Chief Administration of Internal Affairs (RUVD) in the province, was forced in the spring of this year to resign after unknown persons submitted compromising information against him in Moscow.  In drawing an analogy between these two situations, Rossel clearly is giving them a political slant.  He notes that these are intrigues of opponents who are getting ready for the elections to the position of governor which are supposed to be held at the end of August of this year.  It long ago became obvious that Master Nikon and Eduard Rossel support one another.  Believers who are campaigning against the bishop have declared directly to the governor that they will not vote for him if Rossel continues to support Nikon.

The declaration by  a member of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Sergius of Solnechnogorsk, made in an interview with the newspaper NG-religii, to the effect that Mr. Rossel restored Verkhoture and not the superior of the Verkhoture monastery, Hegumen Tikhon, evoked a storm of emotions.  Local scholars of the city, who previously preferred not to get involved in the church scandal, specifically invited a reporter from NG-R to Verkhoture in order to describe and display the real contribution of the hegumen and governor.

Both Rossel and Fr Tikhon have been made honorary citizens of Verkhoture.  Local researchers (the city intelligentsia who are concerned for the history of the ancient city) recalled that it was Fr Tikhon who long before the governor, in 1989, showed up in Verkhoture and began restoring the monastery.  Then he opened a monastery museum and began to publish regional newspapers.  The hegumen got the local administration to begin financial support for the restoration of churches, and at the expense of the monastery he restored the entrance church.  And the monks themselves even began work on the distinctive cathedral of the Elevation of the Cross, using sledge hammers to break up the partitions that were left from the juvenile prison. For his activity in restoration of Verkhoture, Hegumen Tikhon was awarded the order of Sergius of Radonezh, but all of this was forgotten in a flash as soon as the father fell into disgrace.

"Really, how is it possible?" Nadezhda Markova, the former director of the planning department of the district executive committee, asked me.  "We are not criticizing the work of Governor Rossel, but his program of restoration was conducted with public funds. Actually not a single one of his planned items has now been constructed. While the spiritual inspiration for the regeneration of the city is being accused of all kinds of sins."

Monastic priest Andrei Mogilatov, dean of the monastery of the all-merciful Savior, stated the following in a brief interview:  "This is simply a pretext that  hegumens Tikhon and Avraam have been deposed supposedly for poor administration of their monasteries. Nowadays it is too easy to remove a person from his post simply because he dared to complain against his superior; it's too wild; a pretext can be found. The commission of the synod did not even visit the monasteries; it did not verify whether the claims were true that supporters of Master Nikon presented.  Can it really be called 'beating of parishioners' when Fr Avraam gave a fatherly touch to one of the brothers on the forehead.  If he is so evil, then why do people come to him? As regards 'lack of veneration of the saints,' actually in conversations with friends Hegumen Avraam expressed some things with regard to some saints:  Metropolitan Gennady of Novgorod and Joseph of Volokolamsk.  Fr Avraam criticized their orders to burn heretics in iron cages.  How is it possible to view the burning of people and rejoice in this as an 'act that pleases God'?  As regards the 'public contempt for church awards' by Fr Vladimir Ziazeb, who removed his church awards that had been received from Bishop Nikon and placed them on a table in front of the commission, this action is simply child's play in comparison with the behavior of the bishop himself.  When the chairman of the provincial government, Aleksei Vorobiev, was granted the order of St. Daniel of Moscow, the bishop proposed bathing the medal; he put the medal with the image of the saint into a flask of vodka so that Vorobiev could remove it with his teeth.

Metropolitan Sergius claimed that the conflict arose after the monasteries were assessed a tax and the hegumens dissented. We always have paid taxes, twenty percent not on profit but on the turnover of the monastery. The Verkhoture monastery began being taxed only after Hegumen Tikhon dared to complain against the bishop to the synod. But there was not always even income.

Hegumen Avraam has rich spiritual children, the well known businessmen Igor Altushkin and Vadim Churkin. Are their contributions also subject to tax? No. Of course, the bishop wanted it to be different, but by church canons it is not possible to do this. They were so-called special moneys. Then the bishop used a prejudice:  if you are connected with rich people that means you are connected with the mafia.  Even Metropolitan Sergius grasped onto this theme.

There was another accusation:  ties with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.  Hegumen Avraam maintains no ties with the Church Abroad. The Russian Orthodox church always has had contact with the patriarch of Jerusalem and has supported him financially. With funds from Igor Altushkin a new building for the patriarch of Jerusalem was built which will be opened by the bimillennium of Christianity. Because of this very good relations developed with Bishop Timofei not only personally for the businessmen (Bishop Timofei is the godfather of the younger daughter of Igor Altushkin and he intentionally came here to baptize her), but also for the diocese. Thanks to Bishop Timofei, Ekaterinburg acquired a blessed light, an icon with fragments of the relics of the holy martyr Catherine.

Did the diocese really receive enormous sums of money at the time of the exhibit of miracle working icons?  I do not have precise figures; there exists only a single document that was kept by Fr Boris, the cell servant of Fr Avraam, which confirms the exchange of money into hard currency.  More than 300,000 dollars were received by the diocese at the time of the exhibit of one of these icons. So money is not the basis of this conflict."

The supporters of Bishop Nikon are now trying not to talk about money, but they have not abandoned the attempt to stress disagreements over property.  Late in the evening of 27 May two investigators from the Chkalovsk internal affairs department came to the quarters of Fr Avraam, the spiritual confessor of the new monastery of Tikhvin.  They declared that they were looking for stolen property from the monastery of the all-merciful Savior. It seems that the property consisted of three photographs of Jerusalem shrines. The absence of the photographs had been discovered by the dean of all monasteries, Fr Flavian. He easily determined that the photographs had been taken by the former hegumen of the monastery, Fr Avraam, and in order to get the photographs back he submitted a statement to the police. At the time of the  report the investigators determined that the photographs had no special monetary value and that they were the personal property of Fr Avraam because there were given to him by one of his spiritual children. Over the course of three days from the beginning of the investigation at Chkalovsk RUVD it was decided not to open a criminal case on the basis of article 109 of the criminal code.

We note that this uproar occurred on the birthday of Bishop Nikon.  The press service of the diocese reported that around 100 priests had signed a greeting for the bishop.  In all there are around 200 priests serving in the diocese. This very fact that half of the priests openly expressed their allegiance to Bishop Nikon and assured him of their support gives evidence that the situation remains no less complex than at the outbreak of the scandal in March.

The schism has intensified. One side only wishes for the scandal to calm down as soon as possible and that everything will be settled on the quiet; the other, by contrast, will not let the conflict subside, considering that an unjust settlement could be adopted behind the backs of the negotiators and the dissident priests could be punished harshly.  As Archpriest Foma Abel, dean of all the criminal institutions of Nizhny Tagil, said:  "We have not retracted the accusations and we will not do so.  We do not consider, like Metropolitan Sergius, that sodomy is a personal sin. It is an astounding crime which is incompatible with the office of bishop." (tr. by PDS)
 

(posted 15 July 1999)



 

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