Religious rights group "Article28" publicizes violations


Law enforcement personnel disrupted worship service in Orekhovo-Zuevo

by Moisei Kondrashin

Religiia i Pravo, 20 October 2020


On Sunday, 18 October, at about 5:00 p.m., a group of law enforcers disrupted a religious gathering in the city of Orekhovo-Zuevo, the website of project "Article28" reports [also referred to as "Svoboda28" (Freedom28)--tr.]. According to eyewitness accounts, these were personnel from the prosecutor's office, the police ("E" Center), and the F.S.B.


The aforesaid persons invaded the premises where a worship service was going on for youth at which about ten young people were present, including girls.


In violation of the procedure established by law, none of the law enforcers identified himself and the participants in the gathering were not told the purpose of the visit. Without notifying any of the attendees about the decisions that had given legal bases for the actions, the group of law enforcers began to search the premises, desk drawers were dumped, documents containing personal data were photographed, the kids' passports were taken and they were not permitted to use their telephones and nobody was allowed to make a call. The participants in the religious gathering were arrested without any procedural documents being drawn up and they were taken to police department no. 1 of the Russian directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for Orekhovo-Zuevo, where testimony was taken from everybody. The kids also were finger-printed. The young people were released only after a pastor arrived. A representative of the prosecutor's office, S.V. Kliukina, who turned out to be an assistant prosecutor, summoned the pastor to the Orekhovo-Zuevo city prosecutor's office of Moscow oblast the next day.


On Monday, 19 October, attorneys Anatoly Pchelintsev and Stanislav Kulov went to Orekhovo-Zuevo. The lawyers report that about ten persons participated in the raid, including: an assistant prosecutor of the city prosecutor's office of Orekhovo-Zuevo, S.V. Kliukina; an agent of the criminal search department named "Galina;" an F.S.B. agent, Alexander Zhemchugov; and other unidentified persons. To the legitimate question of the youth pastor, Viktor Stepanov, a part-time volunteer of a charity fund: "Why are you disrupting the worship service?" the answer came: "We know what we have to do, and if you press the law then drugs or extremist literature will be discovered on you."


The agents asked questions about baptism, tithing, and also means of conducting evangelism; the questions were posed in a provocative and derisive manner.


"The actions of the personnel of the law enforcement agencies contain, at a minimum, the crimes defined by part 4 of article 148 of the Criminal Code of the R.F. (Illegal interference with the activity of religious organizations or the conduct of worship services or other religious rituals and ceremonies . . . by a person using his official position) and article 286 CC RF (abuse of authority). Such blatant and illegal actions are unacceptable," attorney Anatoly Pchelintsev, a senior partner of the Slavic Legal Center, commented on the incident. "This happened in the presence of an employee of the prosecutor's office who distanced herself from fulfilling the professional obligations imposed on her by law."


"The actions of law enforcement agencies in this case were not based on the law and violated a number of procedural standards and standards of substantive law. The religious community exists as a religious group that is a part of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals). This information has not been concealed from anybody and it is available to the attention of anybody who visits the rented premises. Moreover, the religious group had given notification about the commencement of its activity by the procedure established by law, and it received its own account number from the territorial agency of the justice ministry," explains attorney Stanislav Kulov, the director of the Rule of Law Institute. "The religious group regarding which these illegal actions were committed was not engaged in extremist activity and in no way did it violate public order or existing legislation of the Russian Federation. It is extremely difficult to comment upon the actions of the law enforcement agencies that interrupted the worship service."


"It turns out that an enormous army of law enforcers artificially created problems out of the blue. The young people who attended the worship services, which included five girls, were forced to seek psychological help after this performance by the 'guardians of the law,'" attorney Anatoly Pchelintsev explained.


"We are extremely disturbed by what happened in the city of Orekhovo-Zuevo. At the present time we are monitoring violations of the right to freedom of religious confession, the results of which are extremely sad. Along with a team of rights advocates, we are traveling out to various regions of our country in order to publicize such incidents of lawlessness. We urge believers not to keep silent but to make each such incident as public as possible, in order to react to all such events by all available legal means, and to create a so-called prophylactic effect so that such a thing is not repeated anywhere in contemporary Russia," attorney Stanislav Kulov notes.


Unfortunately it is necessary to conclude that this was not the first instance of such treatment of believers in Moscow oblast on the part of law enforcement agencies. Previously the internet publication "Religiia i Pravo" has already described the situation involving an evangelical congregation in the city of Dolgoprudny, where lawlessness also was created with the direct participation of personnel of the prosecutor's office.


At the present time, lawyers are preparing an appeal to higher law enforcement agencies in order to bring to accountability officials who have arranged and participated in such lawlessness, in addition to appeals to the Public Chamber of the R.F. and the Council on Development of Civil Society and Human Rights under the president of the Russian Federation. (tr. by PDS, posted 21 October 2020)

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