Baptist children's ministry targeted by absurd law enforcement


Court does not want to fine pastor for organizing children's recreation

by Roman Lunkin

Religiia i Pravo, 23 September 2016


On 23 September 2016, the Novosergiev district court of Orenburg province issued a decision in favor of the presbyter of the church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (EKhB) of the village of Suzanovo, Alexander Demkin. The court decided that his actions for organizing a children's playground near the house of worship do not constitute an administrative violation of law in accordance with part 2, article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the RF (violation of the requirements of the federal law of 19 June 2004 "On meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and picketing). In the summer, Baptists regularly conduct competitions for children, and they have set up trampolines and musical equipment, and they have sung Christian songs. The administration of the village also did not oppose such cultural programs for local children.


Initially an administrative case was opened after an inspection conducted by the prosecutor's office. Apparently since there were no complaints against anybody in the village, then the protestant church was chosen to be the target. It is only by such arbitrariness that it is possible to explain that the children's playground could become the occasion for a verification of compliance with the legislation on combating extremist activity. Following its special logic, the children playing and jumping on trampolines were turned into "an unsanctioned public event in the form of picketing (near the house of worship)."


After the uproar involving the attempt to fine a Baptist pastor for children's recreation crossed the borders of Orenburg province, it turned out that in fact the parents of the children were grateful that such a playground exists at the house of worship. Alexander Demkin declared more than once that there is no political subtext in this project. However a deputy of the prosecutor of Novosergiev district, lawyer first class V.A. Babeshko, nevertheless insisted on taking the case to court and punishing for failure to give notification of conduct of a "picket."


Attorney Vladimir Ozolin, who represented the interests of the church in court, noted that the organization of children's recreation at the house of worship is in no way a violation of public security or other public interests. The goal of the event was exclusively children's recreation; in the country there was not any expression or formulation of public opinion regarding such a situation. No demands, calls, and the like were put forward by me [?]. The pastor did not use and did not intend to use either banners or posters referring to an acute social or political problem. And that means that the pastor was not required to give notification about the conduct of the children's playground.


In addition, the playground was organized on the territory of the house of worship, and the rights of ownership belong to the local religious organization "Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists" of the village of Suzanovo, Novosergiev district, Orenburg province, of which Alexander Demkin is the presbyter.


According to the attorney Doctor of Juridical Sciences Anatoly Pchelintsev, the court's decision can be called a demonstration of justice with regard to a non-Orthodox Christian church and one must give the principled and honest position of the judge its due. As regards the actions of the prosecutor's office, once again we see the absolute incompetence of the "guardians of legality," who by their juridical illiteracy discredit this supervisory body.


Nina Zabrebina, an attorney and chief editor of the journal Juridical Religious Studies, comments on the actions of the prosecutor's office with respect to the Baptist church thus: "The Orenburg case has become widely known throughout Russia, primarily because of the absurdity of what is happening. Of course, in the public mind there exist stereotypes connected with unfamiliar non-Orthodox churches, but to call a children's playground a picket is difficult in any case."


However, both this case and many cases connected with the implementation of the Yarovaya Law show that law enforcement agencies have decided to revise religious life in their own way, in spite of common sense. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 September 2016)

Related article:
Anti-evangelism law used against traditional Russian church
August 26, 2016



Court rules in favor of presbyter

IA REGNUM, 23 September 2016


In Orenburg province on 23 September the Novosergiev district court issued a decision according to which the actions of the local presbyter of the church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, Alexander Demkin, do not constitute an administrative violation of law. Rights advocate Vladimir Ozolin reported this to an IA REGNUM correspondent.


"The court accepted our position, that Demkin was not the organizer of a public event or a picket with participation of children. Justice has triumphed," the lawyer noted.


He also added that the municipal court, having familiarized itself with the original materials, returned them to the prosecutor's office for correction.


Rights advocate Timur Rakhmatulin, a friend of Demkin, also reported this on his Facebook page: "After the articles about the pastor, who was accused of organizing a 'children's picket,' the prosecutor's office of Novosergiev district hastened to compose a new judgment. It has no mention of fire safety and no mention of extremism. But the 'children' and the 'picket' remained. From the new one, the following emerged: it seems the pastor picketed his own worship facility, the house of worship."


From the document it follows that originally the supervisory agency conducted a verification from 2 to 8 September 2016, but the revised document speaks about a period from 2 to 16 September. Whereas in the first case, a verification of compliance with legislation on combating extremist activity in the local Baptist church was conducted, in the second case this wording disappeared and new wording appeared: a verification of compliance with legislation on conducting public events in the local church. The prosecutor's claim about unsanctioned conduct of a public event in the form of picketing (at the house of worship) intended for organizing recreation and entertainment of children remained.


As IA REGNUM reported earlier, the case of the organization of a temporary children's playground on the territory of the Baptist church in the village of Suzanovo, Orenburg province, aroused public resonance. Suddenly there appeared in the prosecutor's office claims against a pastor who for a number of years has organized such entertainment for local rural children. The presbyter himself maintains that the events have no political subtext and the airing of any acute issues is not intended. The children are offered free attractions, games and competitions are conducted, and from the parents only words of thankfulness come forth. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 September 2016)



IA REGNUM, 15 September 2016


In the village of Suzanovo, Novosergiev district, Orenburg province, a Baptist pastor was accused of conducting an unsanctioned picket for the purpose of organizing recreation and entertainment for children. News of this has appeared on social networks.


Timur Rakhmatulin (the director of the regional division of the Committee on Prevention of Torture) reported on his VKontakte page that his friend, the pastor of the Baptist church in Suzanov, Alexander Demkin, shared in a telephone conversation that he always has refrained from politics and he "is accused of organizing a public event, some kind of illegal rally," an IA REGNUM correspondent reports.


In a conversation with an IA REGNUM correspondent, Rakhmatulin noted that Demkin has for a number of years now organized playgrounds for children. Rural residents are only pleased with this. While children come to the playground either with their parents or with their consent—this is an obligatory condition.


Alexander Demkin himself told an IA REGNUM correspondent that no kinds of sermons or demands regarding acute issues are intended. Over the course of three years he has organized a children's playground in the village  (the playground and trampolines were bought with contributions from throughout the district). For two or three hours on several days children have the possibility to attend the attraction for free.


It is noteworthy that the playground is located on the territory of a house of worship. The presbyter of the church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists noted that the church is attended by up to 50 parishioners (there are 200 households in the village). It is primarily believers who come to the playground with their children. This year it was decided to bring creativity to the playground; children from the Sunday school staged biblical stories and, Demkin said, games and relays were conducted without any "propaganda and political ideology."


"I have heard only words of thanks from parents all these years," the pastor acknowledged. And suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, an order from the prosecutor's office for opening a case of administrative law violation. It is noteworthy that the prosecutor of Novosergiev district, V.A. Babeshko, composed this document on the basis of results of a review of the materials of the case against Alexander Demkin for violation of the requirements of fire safety within the framework of compliance with the law on combating extremist activity in a local religious organization. It speaks further about violation of the procedure for conducting public events.


The prosecutor indicates that from 30 June to 2 July, a public event was conducted in the form of picketing whose goal supposedly was organizing recreation and entertainment for children by conducting competitions, erecting trampolines on the grounds of the house of worship, musical equipment, and singing of songs on a religious topic.


Now legal support for Pastor Demkin has been provided by lawyers of the SOVA Center for News and Analysis. Rights advocate Vladimir Ozolin stated his disagreement with the position of the local prosecutor's office and in conversation with an IA REGNUM correspondent noted that federal law No. 54 "On meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and picketing" has nothing to do with organizing recreational athletic events for children. "On the part of the prosecutor's office there is an incorrect interpretation of the norms of the law," Ozolin said, and added, "This seems very strange. Both inspections were attended by FSB agents. This is a cause for some reflection."


The attorney also stressed: "As regards religious convictions, there were no violations of law. What the pastor did for children in the village is good."


In predictions the rights advocate is cautious: "If the prosecutor's office has begun interpreting the norms of the law in this way, then it is difficult to imagine what the future will be. We are hoping in the court, which, God willing, will agree with our position that this is a simple recreational event for children and that there will be nothing about pickets and rallies, and calls about socially acute problems are not intended nor sounded."


With regard to actions of the prosecutor's office, Timur Rakhmatulin expressed himself harshly on social networks: "And now my friend is threatened with a fine of up to 30,000 rubles for an illegal 'rally.' And 'bravo' to the assistant prosecutor of Novosergiev district, V.A. Babeshko; he defeated the children's playground, he dispersed the unsanctioned public demonstration, he raised official signals, and he contributed to the treasury of the Russian federation. And the children? Who cares about them? The prosecutor's children do not need children's playgrounds to be organized for them."


From Ozolin's point of view, by these actions the prosecutor's office is undermining the authority of law enforcement agencies and looks more like a punitive body.


At the administration of domestic policy of the governor's staff and government of Orenburg province an IA REGNUM correspondent was told that Baptists constitute 1-2% of the believers in the region and they have not evoked any alarms. No conflicts have occurred before the situation in the village of Suzanovo.


"We know about the situation in the village of Suzanovo. Now local government bodies are conducting inspections. We  can only examine the results of the inspection and give recommendations, and the prosecutor's office takes definite actions," the administration stressed.


The chairman of the Council of Protestant Churches of Orenburg province, Alexander Biriukov, thinks the conflict in the village was created artificially. "Someone is eager and wants to get either rank or promotion in office. We hope for a peaceful resolution of the situation." In addition, he emphasized that they intend to defend their rights, although the picture is bleak. "Unfortunately, these government bodies to which we have appealed throw up their hands," he acknowledged. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 September 2016)


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