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Russia Religion News Current News Items

All protestants threatened by actions against Jehovah's Witnesses

It seems the modernization of Russia has begun with the struggle against those who think differently
by Roman Lunkin
For, 9 December 2009

The escalation of the struggle with "nontraditional" religions is a sign of the onset of a crisis in relations between the Russian state and various confessions. Against the background of ever more open and exacting initiatives of official Orthodoxy in the person of the political heavyweight Kirill, the authorities do not know how to behave and what to do. Bureaucrats and employees of law enforcement agencies do not even begin to imagine what kind of religious associations they are and what their doctrine and activity consist of. They do what they can to strengthen the Russian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate as the institution of national development, as the highest authorities of the contemporary Russian federation acknowledge. They have transformed Orthodoxy into an ideology, they use inquisitorial tortures for it as if it were the state church, and they liquidate the best known "sectarians." And the circle of hatred closes: many hierarchs of RPTsMP look with approval upon the contempt toward the "sects" in the press and upon the actions of prosecutors, but this hardly works in the favor of the mission of official Orthodoxy within a society that takes note of the participation of the clergy in such antireligious campaigns.

A precedent has been set by the decision of the College on Civil Cases of the Supreme Court of RF on 8 December, according to which the decision of a Rostov provincial court concerning the liquidation of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization of the city of Taganrog and the declaration of 34 titles of Jehovist literature as extremist was left in force. The court refused to recognize as defendant the parent body, the "Administrative Center" in the suburbs of St. Petersburg in the village of Solnechny, although it is that body that is the distributor and owner of all the religious literature. Otherwise, in the event of the liquidation of the Administrative Center, all 160,000 Jehovists in Russia would be placed outside the law, and the Kremlin does not have the "political will" for this yet. Instead, the decision of 8 December can be used for initiating the liquidation and examination of literature with regard to each individual congregation throughout the country in every city and region, gradually, step by step, liquidating groups, confiscating literature, and finding all new publications of the Jehovists extremist. In so far as believers in any case would distribute the "Watchtower" magazines, then it will be possible to initiate criminal cases against Jehovists if the police or prosecutor's office suddenly find publications prohibited by the Rostov court. According to information from the Witnesses themselves, even before the decision of the Supreme Court of RF, they had begun to conduct raids at "Kingdom Halls," apartments, literature storage places, and so forth. Prosecutors in a whole number of regions have experienced unprecedented ease in the struggle with believers and in the promotion of the Orthodox identity of the state, which leads to titles and promotion.

It is also evident that the struggle with Jehovah's Witnesses has some public support. Without treating the systemic sickness of their own system, principally the total corruption in its most aggressive forms, prosecutorial workers, the FSB, and the police gain the "national love" and the gratitude of the "multimillion Orthodox community." They are protecting the social order from "sects" quickly and efficiently in a way that never occurs in the cases of terrorists, hooligans, and raiders. They willingly support the demonstrations against the "sects" that are overtly xenophobic and ignite strife that are conducted by the "Young Guard," and the collections of signatures for the prohibition of Jehovists, as for example in Kaluga, expressing the demands of citizens and dioceses of RTPsMP for the liquidation of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The organizer of the Kaluga demonstration (October 2009) raised the logical question about the adherents of the religious organization which now has appeared in every city:  "By this appeal we are posing the question to the powers that be: why is it that in some cities they are extremists and in others they are poor, good lambs?" The demonstrators demand that more than 500 of their fellow citizens, who evangelize from house to house, be found to be extremists.

Following Taganrog, the decision of the city court of Gorno-Altaisk will most likely be left in force, which on 1 October found 18 liturgical publications of the Witnesses extremist. Following a similar scenario, trials were begun in Krasnodar in the spring and in Novouralsk in the fall. In Toliatti the attempt to liquidate Jehovists failed. In Asbest of Sverdlovsk province, the investigation was halted because the expert analyst lacked religious studies education, but the case was not closed. The expert analyst from the Directorate of FSB, S.A. Mochalova, wrote of herself in the text of her expert analysis:  "higher education—philology. Attended the following special courses: History of Religions, 100 hours; Church Slavonic Translation of the Bible, 55 hours."

In Moscow the Jehovah's Witnesses organization was liquidated back in 2004, but the desire of the Moscow authorities not to recognize the Jehovists at the time had no effect on their actual activity. At the present time we are facing a whole campaign against Jehovah's Witnesses that has been initiated by the federal center.

Few people in the world like Jehovah's Witnesses, and their evangelism "from house to house" and aggressive distribution of literature have become the subject of folklore and jokes, including in Hollywood films ("Don't open the door; it's probably Jehovah's Witnesses"). No doubt, their strictly centralized structure, with the subordination of younger people to elders, is generally known, as is their perception of patriotism and respect for state symbols as being paganism and betrayal of Jehovah. However it is this strict discipline and attempt to live independently that has engendered the strict legal consciousness of the Witnesss, who in every country strictly obey the laws. The question about refusal of blood transfusion is extremely complex, but it is a matter of principle for Jehovists, since according to biblical teaching the soul is contained within the blood. Problems with blood transfusions and their consequences lie on the conscience of Witnesses, but Russian legislation, like the laws of a majority of the countries of the world, permit adults (but not children) to make the decision for themselves in such cases.

However, the expert analysis that became the basis for the decision of the Rostov court did not deal essentially with the teaching of Jehovists and their activity, but it condemned them for the fact that they consider themselves to be the true religion and all the rest are representatives of false religions and they state this without compromise in their magazines. Similar conclusions are contained in the expert analyses in Asbest and Gorno-Altaisk.

The decision, which is an embarrassment to Russia, was made on the basis of the demands of the prosecutor's office of Rostov province and the expert analysis of Tatiana Kasianiuk, who headed up the study, who directed the group of linguistic experts, and whose higher education was in the specialty of philology and who has the academic degree of kandidat of Sociology; Sergei Shipshin, head of the department of judicial-psychological expert analysis, whose higher education was in the specialty of Psychology and who has the academic degree of kandidat of Psychology; and Sergei Astapov, whose higher education was in philosophy and who has the academic degree of kandidat of Philosophy and who is a docent at the Southern Federal University.

After reading the expert analysis, one gets the impression that the level of education of the experts is quite adequate, but it lacks common sense (of course, with regard to experts it is hardly possible to conduct a psychological or psychiatric analysis).

We quote the most critical items in the text of the expert analysis. The experts, for example, write:  "A number of statements demonstrate the negative attitude of Jehovah's Witnesses to various elements of traditional Christianity: 'true Christians do not worship icons, crosses and statues.' . . ." Thus, practically all of the protestant churches are condemned along with the Jehovists. Many statements are categorized as "pejorative and insulting," in particular those in which Jehovah's Witnesses call for refusal to celebrate Christmas. Apparently the experts viewed the film "The Grinch who stole Christmas" and wanted to equate it with the evil Jehovists, but when the expert analysis was written the film "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens still had not come out, where the one who hated Christmas, Scrooge, was not at all viewed as extremist and, in the final analysis, he was reformed.

In the expert analysis "in the capacity of a judgmental and pejorative condemnation with respect to a certain social group" there is a quotation from a Jehovist magazine based on verses from the Revelation of St. John the Divine, where it was easier for the experts to find signs of extremism in the original.

The Witnesses also are accused of equating patriotism and idol worship, that is, the following expressions:  "Refrain from idolatrous patriotic ceremonies;" "Christians who worship Jehovah God cannot participate in patriotic worship," although it is noted that they "respect the symbols of the country in which they live and submit to its laws and work for the good of society and their neighbors."

Finally, one of the "extremist" accusations should be quoted as a whole, since it recognizes as extremist all of the religious compositions of Lev Tolstoy of the last period of his creativity:  "The 'Awake' magazine of 22 February 2000 on page 23 contains statements that create a negative attitude toward the Russian Orthodox church. One of them is a historical lie and the other is a quote from Lev Tolstoy, an opponent of Russian Orthodoxy:  'The Russian Orthodox church, like the Roman Catholic, held the people in ignorance regarding the Bible;' 'Lev Tolstoy came to a similar conclusion: 'I am convinced that the teaching of the [Russian Orthodox] church is an insidious and harmful lie, practically an assemblage of the crudest superstitions and wizardry, concealing completely the entire meaning of Christian doctrine." It turns out that the experts are principally defending Orthodoxy, but by absurd and anti-Christian methods.

The majority of believers in Russia sincerely think that "the pseudo-Christian movement of Jehovists" deserves such treatment. However in 2007 the prosecutor conducted an inquiry of the Lipetsk "Holy Trinity" church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists regarding the presence of signs of extremist activity. And in 2008 the Perov inter-district prosecutor issued a "warning concerning the impermissibility of conducting extremist activity" to the pastor of the "Novogireevo" church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, Peter Sautov, without stating the bases. Several such warnings and the church could be closed. In October 2009 the "Exodus" Pentecostal churches and rehabilitation centers for drug addicts in Rostov province were subjected to massive searches and investigations conducted by the same prosecutor of Rostov province (The Exodus believers were told that they would be next after the Jehovists).

One of the important consequences of the liquidation of the Jehovah's Witnesses may turn out to be the adoption of the amendments of the Ministry of Justice of RF to the law on freedom of conscience regarding regulation of evangelistic activity. If it is practically unrealistic to catch Wahhabis, now potential extremists have appeared whom it will be possible to fine and put into jails for distributing extremist literature (since according to the amendments evangelistic activity is forbidden for extremists).

The campaign against Jehovists is absurd and illogical in its essence, although in the eyes of bureaucrats it has accumulated public energy and is directed against "terrible sectarians," with whom the government is able to cope. Obviously, bureaucrats do not like comparison with nazi Germany, which removed Jehovists to the camps, and with Stalin, who exiled them to Central Asia (including the current director of Russian Witnesses, Vasily Kalin, who was among those exiled). This is why persecution is being conducted within the framework of modernization—to destroy and resettle, in the way accepted in Russia, until there is no one more. (tr. by PDS, posted 11 December 2009)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Jehovah's Witnesses lose in high court

Slavic Legal Center, 8 December 2009

The Supreme Court of the Russian federation left in force the decision of the Rostov provincial court concerning the liquidation of the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and the ruling that a number of their liturgical publications are extremist, the press service of the Slavic Legal Center reported. The accusation was presented by prosecutor of Rostov province and not the Procurator General of the Russian federation.

We recall that on 8 December 2009 the Supreme Court of RF reviewed the appeal of the Jehovah's Witnesses of the city of Taganrog of the decision of the Rostov provincial court on liquidation of the local congregation and ruling a number of liturgical publications extremist. The decision of the first instance was issued almost three months ago, on 11 September 2009. Without awaiting its taking legal effect, various agencies and organizations began raids and searches in the religious buildings and private homes of Jehovah's Witnesses. During them books were confiscated, worship services were interrupted, and stocks of religious literature were seized.

The case that the Supreme Court has reviewed could become a precedent and, in essence, will be evidence of whether religious freedom is possible in Russia or not and whether any "nontraditional" religious associations can be declared extremist without adequate bases or whether courts and law enforcement agencies will operate in accordance with the constitution of RF and international standards.  (tr. by PDS, posted 9 December 2009)


The Supreme Court of the Russian federation left in force the decision of a Rostov provincial court concerning the liquidation of the Jehovah's Witnesses local religious organization in the city of Taganrog, Rostov province.  As a correspondent reported from the courtroom, the verdict was made public at 5:40 p.m. on 8 December.

During the day, the Supreme Court of RF reviewed the appeal of the Jehovah's Witnesses against the decision of the Rostov provincial court on liquidation of the Taganrog congregation and the finding of a number Witnesses' publication as extremist. The decision of the first instance was issued in Taganrog on 11 September. Without waiting for it to take legal effect, various agencies began raids and searches in religious buildings and private homes of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the whole country. During these, books were seized, worship services were interrupted, and stocks of religious literature were confiscated.

Representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses have not ruled out the possibility that they will challenge the absurd, from their point of view, decision of the Russian courts, that tramples upon their right to freedom of religious confession, in the European Court on Human Rights.

Several dozens of local Jehovah's Witnesses religious organizations function officially in Russia and their Administrative Center also is registered. During the soviet period the activity of the Witnesses was prohibited and thousands of their adherents were subjected to harsh repressions. The current Russian authorities pose claims against members of this religious organizations in connection with their rejection of blood transfusions, prohibition on service in the armed forces, and "extremely aggressive" forms of preaching.  (tr. by PDS, posted 9 December 2009)

from Official site of the Moscow patriarchate
8 December 2009

The Judicial College on Civil Cases of the Supreme Court of RF turned down the appeal of the Taganrog Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization against the decision concerning its liquidation in connection with the finding of their literature as extremist.

Thus, the court confirmed the decision of a Rostov provincial court of 11 September 2009 and a prohibition on the organization's activity took legal effect.

In addition, according to the decision of the Rostov provincial court, the organization's activity is forbidden in Taganrog and in the Neklinov and Matveevo-Kurgan districts of the region, the property of the organizations—parcel of land, office, and adjoining residence attached—reverts to the ownership of the Russian federation, and 34 of 68 books and pamphlets distributed by the organization, which in accordance with the prosecutor's declaration were found to be extremist, are subject to inclusion in the list of extremist materials and to confiscation.

Speaking on Tuesday in the court, a representative of the provincial prosecutor's office declared that several publications distributed by adherents of the organization "contain insulting expressions."

"The claim that traditional Christianity is a false religion runs like a red line through practically all of the literature (distributed by the organization)," the prosecutor noted.

To a judge's question of how it treats atheists, a representative of the supervisory department answered: "Exercise of the right to freedom of religious confession should be based upon the rights of both believers and nonreligious people. A violation of the rights of nonreligious people is an infringement on their private life in attempts to enter into their residence for preaching and intrusive evangelistic activity."

In their turn, representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses requested that materials of the civil case be sent for a new review in the Rostov provincial court. In their opinion, the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian federation on this case will have consequences for citizens throughout the country.

At the present time, a similar territorial subdivision of the Witnesses has been liquidated in RF only in Moscow. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 December 2009)

from Official Site of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia
8 December 2009

On 8 December 2009 the Supreme Court of the Russian federation reviewed the appeal of the local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses of the city of Taganrog and left in force the decision of a Rostov provincial court recognizing 34 titles of religious educational literature as "extremist materials."

Arly Chimirov, an attorney representing the interests of the Jehovah's Witnesses, expressed disappointment with the decision:  "Today's decision of the Supreme Court confirmed the illegal application of the law on extremism with regard to Jehovah's Witnesses' literature. I fear that this decision will provoke a multitude of expressions of intolerance and xenophobia. We are forced to appeal it to the European Court."

The Jehovah's Witnesses' congregation in Taganrog (Rostov province), which appears at the center of this case, as well as believers throughout the territory of Russia and abroad, are profoundly concerned by this decision, fearing that it will evoke another, larger wave of persecutions than occurred after the decision of the court of the first instance. Today's decision differs strikingly from the status and reputation of Jehovah's Witnesses in the greater portion of the world—conscientious people who freely talk with others about faith and bring them consolation from the Gospel.

Vasily Kalin, the chairman of the Directing Committee of the "Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" religious organization, noted:  "I fear that this decision will open a new era of persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses. The right to assemble peacefully, to possess Christian literature, and to share evangelical hope with neighbors has been restricted to a great degree." Vasily Mikhailovich shared his own personal experience: "As a child I was exiled to Siberia simply because my parents were Jehovah's Witnesses and read the 'Watchtower' magazine, whose articles have today been declared extremist. More than fifty years have gone by, during which I was a constant reader of this magazine. However I did not become an extremist. My desire is not to repeat those bleak times in which I had to live and that my grandchildren will be able freely to confess the religion of our family."

The Jehovah's Witnesses' publication are distributed in multimillion editions throughout all the world in more than 500 languages. Jehovah's Witnesses have confessed their religion in Russia for more than 100 years now. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 December 2009)

Russian Supreme Court agreed with hetmans and left decision of Rostov court on liquidation of Jehovah's Witnesses in force
by Mikhail Zherebiatiev, 9 September 2009

An hours-long hearing in the Russian Supreme Court is a unique phenomenon. Yesterday's review of the Jehovah's Witnesses' appeal against the decision of a Rostov provincial court finding literature used by Jehovah's Witnesses believers extremist (a list of 34 titles) and liquidating their local religious organization in Taganrog also is among unique events.

At the very beginning of the hearing, one of the judges (the appeals were heard by the College on Civil Cases, comprising Kharlanov, Getman, and Gorshkov) announced that the previous day supplementary documents had been received from attorneys for the defendant. The opposing side--the representative of the Rostov provincial prosecutor's office, the assistant head of the Department for Participation of Prosecutors in Civil and Arbitration cases, Galina Prishchenko, the chief expert specialist of the Directorate for the Russian Ministry of Justice for Rostov province, Valery Bendin, chief of the Department of Registration and Monotoring of Activing of the Ministry of Justice, Olga Goleva—was granted more than two hours to become acquainted with the thick package. It was announced that, in view of the large number of persons attending the hearing, it would be assigned a large courtroom.

Among those attending were journalists, attorneys, religious organization workers, right advocates, religious studies scholars and, it seems, JW believers themselves, including those who suffered during soviet times for their convictions, such as Nikolai Dubovinsky. This 67-year-old Jehovah's Witness spent 24 years of his life in soviet prisons and camps for his convictions, but they did not break him. In 1957, that is, after the death of Stalin, a soviet court sentenced Dubovinsky to be shot--no more nor less-- for his religious activity (the Jehovah's Witnesses had been driven underground by the authorities); the sentence was commuted to 25 years confinement. He spent a substantial portion of this sentence in a special camp created in the Khrushchev era in the Mordovian camp for "religious prisoners" and he stayed there until the beginning of the 1970s. It was to this place that the authorities sent those persons who did not wish to restrict their activity to the performance of religious worship, as was prescribed by the most progressive legislation on freedom of conscience in the world. Here one could also find Ukrainian Greek Catholic activists, priests, monks, and laity (at on time Josef Slipy was a campmate of Dubovinsky), Roman Catholic priests from Lithuania, and Orthodox believers, especially many True-Orthodox believers, and, of course, protestants of all types, Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostals, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

During the time of the Khrushchev persecutions, state security and party ideological departments represented protestants as none other than agents planted within the fabric of soviet society by foreign intelligence and, consequently, protestant denominations as affiliates of the special services of imperialist states.

Within a short period of time the religious sphere began to include adherents of quite rare religious, for example, the Ilin Jehovah's Witnesses.  "Religious prisoners" belonging to various religious confessions had understanding relationships with one another. Dubovinsky described his campmates--who were not his fellow religionists—with great respect, although the camp authorities tried by all means to create divisions, promote provocations, play people off against each other, and encourage informants. Despite all efforts, Jehovah's Witnesses' literature, which was totally forbidden in USSR along with Bibles, reached the few who were at liberty and it regularly penetrated the barbed wire. "Watchtower" magazine, which had the reputation among the authorities of the epitome of evil anti-Soviet literature although few had ever seen it, was read, studied, and recopied in the camp barracks.  In their turn, camp authorities and guards also did their thing: they conducted shakedowns and confiscated the texts. And until the end of the existence of camps for "religious prisoners" the relations of prisoners and guards began even to become rather rational and in accordance with the rules of the game established by the authorities. The regime was mitigated and the authorities conducted themselves in accordance with the principle "It's your business to receive and recopy and it is ours to confiscate." The abolition of the camps for the special religious contingent essentially signified the authorities' admission of their own impotence in the face of the courage and steadfastness of people of faith.

"Is it really possible that democratic Russia will go down the soviet path?" Nikolai Dubovinsky asked in conversations with those attending the trial, while the representatives of the plaintiff studied the documents.

The court began review of the case after one o'clock and the session lasted until six o'clock without a break, in one of the large courtrooms known to Russians from television reporting on significant trials, with badly working microphones and zero acoustics, because of which very many of the statements from both judges and the representatives of the sides, sitting in the courtroom, could barely be made out.

The first item to be reviewed was a personal appeal from the director of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, Vasily Kalin. The gist of it came down to  the fact that since the Taganrog Jehovah's Witnesses organization was a member of the centralized Russia-wide organization, it should logically be a part of the trial. Besides, the literature was sent to the JW congregations by the Administrative Center of the organization, so it is formally its owner. "Denied," the court pronounced its verdict. This strengthened the conviction among those present in the courtroom that the decision on the appeal will be determined in the defendant's favor, since usually the appellant instance averages out its decision: a denial in one matter signifies a grant of requests in another. Observers who discussed among themselves during the trial expressed a general opinion that all decisions without exception in this case have a "political" character, and that means that they had been discussed beforehand at the highest levels where clearly another disgrace for Russia is not desired.

Of the long list of materials that the representatives of the Jehovah's Witnesses—Chimirov, Shipilov, and Zhenkov—requested be joined to the case, the court allowed only a few documents, although before this members of the college had asked several times the representatives of the defendant a strictly procedural question: whether they had had the opportunity to present these document in the Rostov trial. As far as could be concluded, observing the reaction of the judges, they thought that there were not any impediments for the defendant at the first instance. Nevertheless, several documents were joined to the case.

It seems, the most interesting part of the trial was connected with the presentation of the conclusions on the part of the plaintiff. It seems that all three advocated that the decision of the Rostov provincial court should be left in force.

The speeches of G. Prishchenko (the longest), V. Bendin, and O. Golieva could not avoid reference to the negative public opinion of Orthodox Cossacks, who have an extremely negative attitude toward Jehovah's Witnesses. If one follows the logic of the prosecutor and the regional directorate of the Ministry of Justice, such opinions are the consequence of a reaction, since Jehovah's Witnesses provoke their neighbors. For example, the Jehovah's Witnesses offend the Orthodox because they force their literature onto them.

Galina Prishchenko acknowledged that the JW literature does not contain "a call for violence," but it in directed, in her words "toward undermining respect for other religions." Here she quoted the formulation of an expert conclusion by which the provincial court was guided.  For example, the JW interpretation of the holiday of Christmas evokes displeasure among their neighbors because, according to the statement of JW literature, it has pagan roots, and this is offensive for Orthodox believers.

As Prishchenko noted, she still had not gone through all JW literature but only that which was on hand.

To the court's question about the relationship to the fact of the existence of atheists, the representative of the Rostov prosecutor's office responded that the "exercise of the right to freedom of conscience pertains to religious and nonreligious persons." In addition it observes in the actions of Jehovah's Witnesses "infringement on the freedom of private life, personal space, and attempts to invade residences."

All religions consider themselves to be the most correct, Mrs. Prishchenko admitted, but not all "engage in offensive statements" against other religions.  From her words it became clear that it is forbidden to say, for example, that icons are an unrighteous form of representation of deity, since for centuries icons have been taken as symbols of Orthodoxy and this undermines the social structures and cultural traditions.

In the opinion of Valery Bendin, local Cossacks saw in the preaching of Jehovah's Witnesses a violation of their "inner world and peace." One of the judges then posed to him the question: "Is this particularly so in your region?" "I cannot say; Cossackdom is very developed in our region," came the answer.

The judge then clarified the formulation of the answer: "The perception of the population of a given locality must be taken into account."

Other general, standard assessments of the influence of the religious organization on its adherents were heard: such as "interference in the right of choice of medical treatment," "aggressive form of expression," "attraction of minors" into religious activity. Vigilant hetmans, in particular, told about the last item.

The representative of the prosecutor's office could not get past certain imprecisions in the formulation of the JW appeal, which said: "promoting the disruption of the family," when in the expert analysis it merely said: "Leads to the break up of familial and kinship relations."

However, as is known, a change in venue does not affect the result. That turned out to be so in this case.  (tr. by PDS, posted 10 December 2009)

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Siberian Protestants face property dispute

by Evgeny Salko, Olga Potapova
Nash Novorossisk, 26 November 2009

On 21 November, a letter arrived at the address of the only Lutheran church in Krasnodar territory from the Department for Preservation, Restoration, and Use of the cultural heritage of Krasnodar territory regarding the cancellation of the contract for permanent use of this building. The premises are supposed to be evacuated by 21 December, the eve of Catholic Christmas.

We recall that the Lutheran church  building was built in 1908. Its architect was O.V. von Desen, who had built many famous historic buildings in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Even after the revolution worship services were conducted here another dozen years, until in 1929 the cross was removed from the former church and the church building was turned over to the "Proletarian" factory for use as a club for cement workers.

In subsequent years various institutions were located here, including stores. In 1997, at the time of the religious thaw, the beleaguered Lutheran sacred building was again turned over to believers. For long years the building was under restoration while the renovation was carried out by the efforts of the congregation. Besides the "Novorossisk Evangelical Lutheran Congregation" organization, the Seventh-day Adventist organization was also located here. Up to now, every Sunday people of Novorossisk resident in this region or people passing through were able to see well dressed women and men coming happily from the services. In this place charitable activities and organ music concerts were held. On weekdays, the place was empty and quiet. The current inhabitants of the church maintain that the premises are not used for any other purposes than religious ones.

The administrator of the church, Vadim Shishkin, explained that the department of state treasure of the territory, in the persons of Berlizov (the composer of the order) and Medved (the head of the department) ordered, without explanation why, that the building be evacuated within a month. In the official letter from the territorial administration there is reference to a point of the contract concluded between the sides in 2003 that says specifically:  "Each of the sides has the right at any time to withdraw from the contract for free use for an indefinite period of time by giving notice to the other side one month in advance, unless the contract specifies some other term for notification. Upon the expiration of the month, the premises of the monument must be evacuated." After recovering from the shock, the members of the congregation decided to act. They sent letters to various governmental and religious organizations, hoping for support. The response has already occurred. The directors of the church decided to turn not only to that organization that created the problem, the department of state treasure itself. Because the flock, consisting of several hundred persons, cannot be satisfied by any explanations.

But we turned, in the first place, to the authors of the letter for an explanation. What was the reason for such a decision?

"The point is that the budget finance administration of the territorial administration recently conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness of the use of territorial property and it decided that some of the objects were being used ineffectively," said the primary specialist of the second rank of the territorial Department for Preservation, Restoration, and Use of Historical Cultural Valuables (state treasure) Mikhail Berlizov.  "In their times, a very great number of objects were allocated for free use. Now, when the territorial treasury is in need of finances, the administration of the territory has decided to review such contracts."

According to Mikhail Pavlovich, most likely after the cancellation of the contract it may be possible to conclude a lease contract to pay for the church premises. So is it necessary to evacuate the premises now? According to the source, it is necessary. Otherwise this could pose the question of a forcible eviction.

Despite the surprise, the church continues to prepare Christmas presents, is planning holiday events, and keeps the hope alive: we survived both a revolution and the troubled war years, so can we really not survive this order?  (tr. by PDS, posted 3 December 2009)

Russian original posted on site, 1 December 2009

Russia Religion News Current News Items

Secular press takes note of proposed anti-evangelism law

Clergy criticize intention of Ministry of Justice to restrict evangelistic activity
by Pavel Korobov
Kommersant, 2 December 2009

Kommersant has in its possession a draft of a law developed by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian federation, "On introducing amendments to the law 'On freedom of conscience and religious associations' and the Russian federation Code of administrative violations of law." The document, whose chief goal is to regulate evangelistic activity in Russia, has already evoked protest on the part of representatives of religious organizations. Clergy are concerned that adoption of the draft law will mean "a transition from freedom of conscience to repressions and persecution of believers in Russia."

Changes in legislation affecting evangelistic activity of religious organizations were prepared by the Ministry of Justice on instructions from the president of the Russian federation. "The idea of the draft law was born in 2000, after the adoption of the concept of national security of the Russian federation, in which the necessity of regulating evangelistic activity was specified," the director of the Institute of Religion and Law and senior fellow of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Roman Lunkin, told Kommersant.  "This draft was intended to serve as a prevention of the work of foreign missionaries and Islamic extremist Wahhabis." In 2006 the Ministry of Justice presented to the government a draft of a law "On evangelistic activity," which, however, was returned for improvement. By the fall of 2009 the Ministry of Justice had reworked the document and presented it as amendments to the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations" and to the Russian Code on administrative violations of law.

The document gives, for the first time, a definition of evangelism in Russia as activity "among persons who are not members, participants, or adherents of a particular religious association, for the purpose of drawing such persons into a religious association and conducted by religious associations or by persons immediately authorized by them, in public, using means of mass communication or other legal means." At the same time, the right of proclamation is granted only to leaders of religious organizations or persons who have specific authorization from the leadership of their church. For others, proclaiming religious ideas will be forbidden, whereas at the present no permissions for this are required.

The document provides for a number of other restrictions on evangelistic activity. Thus, for example, evangelistic activity is prohibited for "persons who have been convicted of incitement of inter-ethnic and inter-religious strife or other crimes of an extremist nature."  It is forbidden to evangelize in the vicinity of "objects having religious significance that belong to another religious association, without written agreement of its directing organ," as well as in buildings of government agencies, hospitals, children's homes, and orphanages without the consent of the administration. Another innovation is the prohibition on "attracting minors into the activity of a religious association against their will and without consent of their parents."  Children and minors cannot be invited to attend church, be engaged in theological discussions, or be given written, audio, and video materials for their information. Sanctions for violations of the restrictive norms have been provided for the first time:  fines of from 2,000 to 5,000 rubles for individuals and from 5,000 to 7,000 rubles for legal entities.

The initiatives of the Ministry of Justice have already evoked protest on the part of representatives of religious organizations. The Moscow church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists sent a letter to the president of the Russian federation in which they complained that "the law draft contains gross violations of the constitution of the Russian federation, the law 'On freedom of conscience and religious associations,' and international standards." "The proposed amendments have a deliberately restrictive character and Christians who observe all of Christ's commandments may be subjected to repression," the appeal says. "Adoption of this law will mean a transition from freedom of conscience to repressions and persecutions of believers in Russia." "We are concerned that all of this is being done in order to liquidate nontraditional religious groups in the Russian federation," Kommersant was told by the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, Vitaly Vlasenko. "We will continue to review the document."

The Baptists were supported by the cochairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Nafigulla Ashirov:  "This draft law is a prohibition on speech. It can cause suffering to ordinary citizens who discuss religion on the train, for example." He said that such restriction did not even exist in the times of the USSR. "I would not rule out that some bureaucrats would be fully capable of using this law for destruction of religious organizations they do not like. In essence, this document substitutes bureaucrats for the state."

The Russian Orthodox church holds a more moderate attitude toward the intentions of the state to severely regulate religious activity. "Of course, this draft law needs some improvement in a portion of its provisions, but on the whole it can be supported," a legal consultant of the Moscow patriarchate, the nun Kseniia Chernega told Kommersant, specifying that RPTs has suggested relaxing the requirements regarding attracting minors into religious activity. The chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations of Russia, Rabbi Zinovy Kogan, also called for not dramatizing the situation; "after all, there is yet to be discussion of the document."

When Kommersant asked the Ministry of Justice for comment, it was advised to submit a written inquiry with the promise that it would be answered within a week.

"All the restrictions on evangelistic activity proposed by the Ministry of Justice are a violation of the right to disseminate one's convictions, which contradicts the constitution of the Russian federation," Roman Lunkin thinks. "If the state has decided to take under its control, in this way, the activity of religious organizations, it will not succeed. They will just go underground." "The draft law has still not been submitted to the government, but one can now say that it is absolutely a nonstarter until the contradictions with the constitution are removed," thinks the secretary in charge of the governmental commission on matters of religious associations, Andrei Sebentsov. (tr. by PDS, posted 3 December 2009)

Russian original posted on site, 2 December 2009

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