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Pentecostals see persecution throughout Russia


A second demonstration against discrimination against the rights of protestant Christians was held on Sunday, 26 June, on Pushkin Square, a correspondent reports. Despite rain, cold, and a strong wind which threatened to carry off the placards, around 300 believers of the "Emmanuel" central church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) of Moscow and other churches participated in the demonstration.

Alexander Purshaga, the senior pastor of the church who has now been on a hunger strike for nineteen days, noted while opening the demonstration that instances of unjust treatment of protestant churches have become more frequent and have taken on the characteristics of systematic persecution. Threats, refusals of permission for construction or reconstruction of their own buildings, slanderous articles in news media and broadcasts on TV, in which evangelical churches are represented as satanic sects--all of this has now become a part of the life of believers not only in Moscow but also throughout Russia as a whole.

Alexander Alexandrovich Munilkin, pastor of the church of Krasnoarmeiska, in Moscow province, confirmed this in his speech:  "I want to say that many churches and believers of the suburbs of Moscow support you and this demonstration in defense of the rights of protestant churches. What is happening in Moscow does not surprise us, since discrimination against the rights and freedoms of believing people is happening everywhere. We are being accused not for our actions but for our adherence to a confession that is nontraditional for Russia, and for this alone. Although in the three-hundred-year history of the evangelical movement in Russia protestant churches have been reproached for practically nothing. Ever since the time of Peter I protestantism and evangelical believers have played an enormous role in establishing the Russian state and in the economic and moral development of people and society. Today nobody else is as involved as evangelical churches in charity and humanitarian work, helping the poor and needy."

Sviatoslav Purshaga, the senior pastor of the "Emmanuel" church of the city of Vladimir, stated the same thing, recalling that in all times the church has stood fast for the freedom of religious confessions; the pastor of the Pentecostal church of Solnechnogorsk confirmed the fact of discrimination against protestant churches in the provinces.

The press secretary of "Emmanuel" church, Yury Popov, noted in addressing the demonstration that progress has been made in the activity of law enforcement agencies and offices of the executive branch of government. Now all sorts of agreements are issuing from the prefecture without delay, along with suggestions regarding transfer of public events accompanied by explanations. Police officers are not breaking up pickets any more. To be sure, believers have had to endure humiliation, arrests, and fines to achieve this. "It is sad that only at such price have believers been able to achieve observance of the law," Popov said.

During the period of chanting slogans, several representatives of the prefecture of the Central Administrative District expressed concern that this could lead to the hypnosis of the audience. However these same prefecture workers were unanimous in the opinion that they themselves were not in the least hypnotized. Subsequent chanting did not evoke such criticisms.

The senior pastor of the  "Emmanuel" central church of Moscow closed the protest demonstration with a speech. Alexander Purshaga declared that the church will not retreat and will seek by all legal means for justice with respect to the land questions, which Moscow city hall has not been at all able to resolve. (tr. by PDS, posted 29 June 2005)

They are being conducted at City Hall, OVD, Moscow City Duma, Architecture Commission, 29 June 2005

The "Emmanuel" church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) has increased the number of places in Moscow where its parishioners are conducting individual pickets as a sign of protest against arbitrariness of Moscow bureaucrats who confiscated the land parcel on Vernadsky Porspect previously allocated to the church for construction of a spiritual culture center.

A correspondent reports that whereas last week an individual picket stood only on Tver Square across from city hall, on 29 June the number of such pickets grew to seven. According to "Emmanuel" Press Secretary Yury Popov, individual pickets now are standing, in addition to Tver Square, on Voznesensky Lane, onto which the windows of the mayor's office look, on Pushkin Square, at the city hall on Novyi Arbat (the former Comecon building), at the building of the Moscow City Duma on Petrovka, at the building of the Federation Council on Bolshaia Dmitrovka (the Tver district department of internal affairs is located in the vicinity of this building, where last month several members of the "Emmanuel" church spent many hours under arrest), and on Triumph Square (formerly Mayakovsky Square) across from the building of the Moscow City Architecture Commission.

On 28 June, the day before leaders of the church were to meet with the first deputy of the director of the Department of Construction for the city of Moscow, A.D. Kosovan, the prefecture of the Western Administrative District offered to the "Emmanuel" central church of Moscow land in the Moscow suburb of  "Vnukovo" settlement to replace the illegally confiscated plot. It is located about a half-hour trip from Moscow on the express bus; it is at the last stop of the southwestern subway line.  If one takes into account that the church had undertaken expensive preparatory work for the earlier location and that ninety percent of parishioners of "Emmanuel" church are Muscovites, it is difficult to call such an offer "equitable." It is hard to understand what the bureaucrats were being guided by in making such a suggestion, Yury Popov noted. (tr. by PDS, posted 30 June 2005)

Moscow prosecutors and police overcome it by illegally arresting Pentecostal picketers
by Yury Popov
Press Secretary of "Emmanuel" church, 29 June 2005

On 27 June Alexander Alexeivich Soloviev, a parishioner of the "Emmanuel" church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) stood as an individual picket at Moscow city hall on Tver Square. At 13.15 police officers approached him and, without introducing themselves, announced that they had an order to arrest the picketer. Alexander Soloviev managed only to make out the badge number of the lieutenant (PPS 363913).However Moscow has still not introduced officially a curfew so for arresting a person who is a citizen of Russia, somebody's oral order is not sufficient. Without providing any explanation, the police officers rolled up the placard, stating that this is visual agitation, and transported the detainee to the very same Department of Internal Affairs of Tver district to which last month participants in the general picket by "Emmanuel" church had been dragged.

In accordance with article 7 of the law "On gatherings, meetings, demonstrations, processions, and picketing," notification of a picket conducted by one person is not required. Thus, any citizen may stand alone with a placard or sign in any place other than those specified in article 8 of the same law, and there are not very many. Point 1 of this article says:  "A public action may be conducted in any places suitable for the purposes of the event, provided that its conduct does not create a danger of damage to buildings or furnishings or any threat to the security of participants in the specific public event." Point 2 of the same article enumerates the places in which conduct of public actions is prohibited: 1)grounds immediately adjoining dangerous construction objects and other objects whose use requires observance of special rules of technical security; 2) overpasses, railroad mainlines, and railroad switching zones, petroleum lines, gas lines, and high voltage electric lines; 3) grounds immediately adjacent to the residence of the president of the Russian federation, buildings occupied by courts, or prisons; 4) national boundaries, without special permission of official border authorities. The square across from city hall is not one of these places, and only the federal legislature can expand this list, that is, the State Duma of the Russian federation, and not a police lieutenant, even one from the capital.

During the past several weeks believers participating in the protest actions have been tirelessly enlightening and raising the judicial literacy of the law enforcement agencies. Now it is difficult to find among the workers of the Tver district OVD people who desire to break up a legal picket. And now they know precisely that the federal law "On gatherings, meetings. . ." in defining "picketing" says that "it is conducted with placards, signs, or other means of visual agitation." Having delivered the arrested picketer to the police station, the anonymous police officers from an unknown police department hurried away.

Here Alexander Soloviev learned that he had been summoned in such an extravagant way to a conversation with the chief of the Tver Department of Internal Affairs [OVD], Lt. Paukov. The conversation began with the seemingly innocent question: why is it Tver Square where the picket is being conducted? The question was purely rhetorical since during the past month Mr. Paukov has frequently ascertained this matter from the picketers. Believers have wearied of repeating that they have claims against the work of the Moscow city hall regarding land for the location of a house of worship. But something apparently still bothered the diligent lieutenant. Alexander Soloviev began by clarifying his status: was he under arrest or only summoned. The conversation never happened. Mr. Paukov gave instructions to draw up an arrest warrant. The reason for the arrest was given as impeding pedestrian traffic on the part of the picketer. How one person could block a walkway six meters wide and 100 meters long remains a secret.

And this time, apparently, the judicial literacy of his subordinates came to the aid of the police commander. During the mass arrests, believers continually cited that part of the federal law that enumerates the places where conducting public actions is prohibited. Among such places, listed above, pedestrian walkways are not included. The workers on duty in the department could not fail to know this and, evidently, they refused to draw up the warrant on such bases.  It was suggested that the bewildered arrestee, that is, the one who had been summoned, be detained for a new conversation, this time with a worker of the prosecutor's office, the acting prosecutor of the Tver district, Mr. Sergeev.

Everything happened like in the story about the two policemen who were called to the door of a private apartment. To the question of what they needed they answered that they had to have a talk. From behind the door came the question: "How many of you are there?" "Two," the policemen answered naively. "Well then have a talk there among yourselves," came the reply from behind the door. It was explained to Alexander Soloviev that the prosecutor's office deals with "oversight of the action of law enforcement agencies." The summoned, that is, the arrested picketer stated reasonably that he had nothing to do with such agencies and he did not want to talk with Mr. Sergeev, nor did he have the time. Such a frank statement apparently confused the policemen. Having ascertained several more times whether Mr. Soloviev really wanted to talk with the district prosecutor and having made enough phone calls to the prosecutor's office, the detainee was released.  At that time the officer on duty urged the picketer not to go to Tver Square but go straight home.

At 14.00 Alexander Soloviev again began conducting his individual picket near the building of the Moscow city hall that is completely immune to explosives, taking up his position with his visual agitation in the passageway, which is not forbidden by law, and without in any way impeding pedestrian movement.

The next day actions unfolded in accordance with the same scenario as the day before. For a second time the police officers arrested the picketer in front of city hall. As usual, they did not introduce themselves, in the style of the 1980s, and without any explanation they took the parishioner of "Emmanuel" church to the Tver police station. Having done their illegal deed, the guardians of order, who for understandable reasons wanted to remain anonymous, disappeared. And this time the detainee was told that he had been "summoned" for a conversation.

In the ordinary conversation the believer was again "warned about the consequences," despite the absolute legality of conducting the picket (see above). This time the representative of the law displayed specifics: first, on Tver Square there will be no more individual pickets. Second, any methods will be used to achieve this. For example, the personnel of the OVD threatened to send their "own" picketer, so that then the picketing would cease to be a solitary individual. And then, for an unsanctioned picket by a group of persons, the guardians of the law promised a fifteen-day sentence. And some other, direr possibilities, were predicted.

One does not cease to be amazed at the outrages being committed in the very center of the capital. Who is protecting such blatant illegality? Why are policemen who are committing such gross violations of all legal norms acting so confidently? The perpetrators give as the basic reason an order from city hall. One would not want to believe such a banal state of affairs, but. . . Are the city fathers really unable, through civilized dialogue, to resolve the painful questions? Is it really simpler to order illegal action than to fulfill the law? As they say, not everything that is simpler is easier. Perhaps Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who responsible employees of city hall say has taken this matter under his personal control, will give answers to our questions. (tr. by PDS, posted 30 June 2005)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Criminal case against Moscow Jewish organization


The prosecutor general's office in Russia issued an order to conduct an investigation of the book "Kitzur Shulchan Aruch" ("Condensed Shulchan Aruch") which is an abridgement of the collection of Jewish religious rules of the sixteenth century, as a manifestation of incitement to racist activities and antirussian displays, reports, citing Haaretz.

In addition, according to information of the publication, the prosecutor's office has opened a criminal case with respect to one of the Jewish organizations functioning in Russia, which is engaged in the distribution of the abridged version of "Shulchan Aruch" in Russian.

As the newspaper reports, the prosecutor's office has already questioned the president of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations in Russia (KEROOR), Zinovey Kogan. Specifically, the head of KEROOR was asked to explain the book's contents, especially those parts that speak of "non-Jews."

The "Shulchan Aruch" was first published in 1565 in Venice. In the nineteenth century there appeared a brief version of the book, the "Kitzur Shulchan Aruch."

We recall that last Thursday it became known that the case regarding the publication and distribution in Moscow of the book "Kitzur Shulchan Aruch" was returned to the Basman prosecutor's office "for conducting a supplementary investigation of activities."  Previously that office had refused to open a criminal case on this matter.

Doubt was cast upon the legality of distribution of this book by the authors of the so-called "Letter of 5000" (referring to the number of signatures), which was sent in March of this year to the Russian prosecutor general. The signatories of the letter included, in particular, members of the "Rodina" party.

According to the Israeli newspaper, last weekend the leader of the party, Dmitry Rogozin, sent a letter to the chief rabbi of Moscow, Pinkhas Goldshmidt, in which he criticized actions of his political colleagues. Goldshmidt expressed a positive attitude toward Rogozin's letter, although he called him to take stern measures against those who signed the antisemitic letter. (tr. by PDS, posted 27 June 2005)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Amendments to religion law contemplated


Parishes of religious organizations in Russia may be deprived of the status of legal entity (juridical person).This is addressed in recently composed amendments to the law "On freedom of conscience and religious organizations," Moscow attorney Mikhail Voronin told Interfax on Monday.

In addition, he said, the amendments contain provisions for "concentration of the administration of parish property in the hands of the higher leadership of religious organizations."

Adoption of such a law, in the opinion of the agency's informant, conceals a danger of "abuse on the part of officials at the higher level and will essentially became a throwback to the communist past."

At the same time the attorney noted that "just like it was in soviet time, when parishes did not have the status of legal entity and something was confiscated by the communists, now once again it is being returned into the hands of a narrow circle of people."

In Voronin's view, "the very review of such amendments with the participation of the government violates the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state in Russia." Today in Russia, the attorney said, are operating in particular 22,000 parishes, 400 of which are in Moscow, and there are only 90 diocesan administrations. "Instead of 22,000 legal entities there will be only 90. They will possess enormous power over the disposition of church property and, consequently, parishes in the persons of their rectors and Orthodox citizens will be deprived of any rights to the disposal of this property," the agency's interlocutor said.

According to Voronin's information, it is planned to review the amendments in the autumn of this year. "If they are adopted, then we will immediately appeal regarding their constitutionality, since the government does not have the right to interfere in the activity of religious organizations and dispose of property on the basis of its own review," the attorney said. (tr. by PDS, posted 27 June 2005)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Jehovah's Witnesses threatened by legislators

Voronezh provincial duma warns:  "Do not anger our God"
by Alexander Yagodkin
Novaia gazeta, 27 June 2005

Heretofore the Voronezh diocese and sixteen religious confessions have peacefully coexisted on the "interconfessional field." However recently, as reported from the provincial duma, infuriated citizens of Voronezh have showered it with letters; it turns out that "Jehovah's Witnesses" are planning to conduct a service in the stadium at the beginning of July, in which 6500 persons from various regions will participate. The anger is evoked by the fact that the invaders are gathering during those days when the Orthodox church celebrates the feast of "all saints resplendent in the Russian land." RPTs has always blessed Russia's troops for holy deeds and honored those who gave their lives for the fatherland. Among the saints so honored are not only military commanders, but also rank and file soldiers. But "Jehovah's Witnesses" refuse to bear arms for the defense of the motherland.

Parishioners of the church of Elijah sent a collective letter with 333 signatures to the duma: "For their pious work for the welfare of the fatherland and military feats, the holy prelate Mitrofan, Admiral Ushakov, the surgeon Pirogov, and others have been canonized. This includes the soldier Evgeny of the Russian army who was martyred in Chechnia in defense of the constitutional order. And it is on this day that is holy for us Orthodox that the Jehovists will conduct their action in the stadium, which offends our religious and patriotic feelings. They summon people not to serve in the army. They sow doubts in citizens regarding love for the fatherland and for its defenders."

In another letter the community is upset by the fact that "they will sing, dance, and make merry in all ways, and this at the moment when all Orthodox people will honor the memory and mourn for 'all saints resplendent in the Russian land.'"

The essence of the letter to the duma is to forbid the gathering of the Jehovists, who have already pestered them to death, waylaid passersby, and invaded apartments, spreading their doctrine and even seducing people into their congregation. All of this is a direct violation of the constitutional rights of citizens of Voronezh to inviolability of person and residence.

Some in the duma agreed. "In the event of war, my son, an artillerist by military specialty, will defend the motherland with a rifle, while his peer 'Brother Peter' from the Jehovah's Witnesses congregation will be located far to the rear merely because his faith does not permit him to bear arms."

The duma warned the Jehovists about terrorist acts, the growth of crime in Voronezh, the displeasure of people over social problems and, most important, the presence of citizens of Voronezh who have radical opinions regarding Jehovists. And even insane persons. And the duma will not be responsible if something happens.

And the duma considered the president himself a spiritual ally who last year declared to the whole world "the danger of religious expansion from abroad." (tr. by PDS, posted 27 June 2005)

Russian text posted at Interfax site, 27 June 2005

See also:  "Contrasting Situations Of Moscow Jehovah's Witnesses And Salvation Army"
Forum 18, 22 June 2005

Jehovah's Witnesses have told Forum 18 News Service that they are experiencing "escalating and more overt" obstruction as a result of the local court ban on their activities in Moscow. They state that they have experienced police harassment in their door-to-door preaching, lost meeting places and "those who still provide them are becoming fearful of the consequences". (More. . . .)

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