Russian Santa charged with illegal evangelism


The chief winter wizard guilty of distributing religious literature at celebration

Moskovskii Komsomolets, 28 February 2017


A new high-profile case on the basis of the "package" of Irina Yarovaya has arisen in Ekaterinburg. In its absurdity it is able to rival all previous cases taken together. The person leading the New Year's holiday parade, dressed as Grandfather Frost, was convicted of violation of the "missionary" amendments of the antiterrorism law. The winter wizard is accused that women who joined the celebrations offered religious brochures to passers-by. And the man did not want to prevent this. The details of what happened are in "MK."


On 24 December 2016, Krishnaites in Ekaterinburg got the consent of authorities for the parade. The organizer of the event was Aleksei Pomazov, who works as a chief engineer of one of the construction companies. In respect to the upcoming holiday, Aleksei donned the costume of Grandfather Frost and several women dressed as snow maidens. The group of merry people went along the streets of the city with musical instruments, songs, and dances. Passers-by greeted the parade warmly, smiled, photographed, and joined in the dances especially vigorously.


This holiday of life was also attended by personnel of the Center for Combating Extremism. They also noted that several women were offering brochures of religious content to passers-by for donations. This was enough to show that the holiday had ceased to be simply a holiday. In the eyes of the guardians of order it had been turned into illegal missionary activity. And as we have already explained in a previous article in MK, devoted to this topic, the law does not give a clear definition of this term. And today the authorities are ready to consider as missionary activity any public religious activity. And it is not important what its goal really is; nobody will investigate.


"The absurdity is that Grandfather Frost himself had permission to conduct missionary activity at this event, in any case," says an attorney from the Guild of Experts on Religion and Law, Mikhail Frolov. "If somebody were to decide to hold him accountable for the fact that he was singing songs, he would simply show the permission which gave him the right to do so. But he was charged with something else.


And that was that "missionary activity" was being conducted near him: several women were distributing books that had no identifying inscription. Although the requirement to identify literature lies only on religious organizations, of which these women were not members. The authorities considered that Aleksei's guilt was that he did not put a stop to these actions. The order for opening the case states: "A.V. Pomazov's guilt consists in the fact that he had the opportunity to comply with the rules and norms, for the violation of which there is administrative accountability, but the aforementioned person did not take all actions dependent upon him for compliance." In the opinion of law enforcement agents, Grandfather Frost was supposed to immediately drive the women away and prevent their offering books to passers-by. And the fact that this is a right guaranteed by the Russian constitution (which guarantees to everyone the right to choose and disseminate a religion to their liking, regardless of membership in religious associations) worried the representatives of law and order very little. Or they simply did not think about it. Therefore the organizer was charged with conducting missionary activity in violation of the requirements of legislation on freedom of conscience, on freedom of religious confession, and on religious associations.


Personnel of the Center for Combating Extremism questioned witnesses there, whose testimony was recorded in the case. While lawyers note that, judging by everything, it was their fellow officers who gave testimony as witnesses. The women with the literature also were questioned. A police officer wrote up a report about the discovery of a violation of law.


And then the police thought for two months about what to do with all this. It is possible to understand their delay: traditionally New Year's in Russia is a time of stagnation and temporary halt in all cases. You prepare for the holiday for some time and you recover from it for some time and, lo, it's already February. In the end the case was turned over to the prosecutor's office. And since the statute of limitations had already expired, it was necessary to quickly find who would answer for the violation. After all, it is necessary to punish a specific person who can be summoned to the prosecutor's office and to draw up an order for opening a criminal case. But it turned out that it was not so easy to find the immediate "violators."


One of the women who were distributing the books had come to Ekaterinburg from Novorossiisk and she had returned to her native city long ago. They were not about to summon her to the capital of the Urals. But this procedure is necessary for the proceedings and they cannot open a case in a person's absence. Therefore they found someone nearby, a local resident, and decided to "work out" the Yarovaya law on him.


"It was Aleksei who was Grandfather Frost who had notified city hall that there was going to be a public event," Frolov explains. "He was well known there, as he conducted such events just about every week."


It is easy to follow the logic of the law enforcement agents: we will punish the one who is the organizer. More precisely, for now they will try to punish him. But as practice of such things shows, Pomazov has a chance of changing his status from accused to guilty.


For Pomazov himself what happened was completely unexpected. He could not imagine that he would become the key figure in this ridiculous story. Of course, he had seen that the women had given an explanation, but for his part he had fulfilled all necessary conditions so as not to violate the law. The parade was sanctioned; a local religious group had gotten permission for missionary activity. He personally followed the letter of the law. But none of this has any significance if the law enforcers have the goal of distinguishing themselves before their superiors in breaking in the new law. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 March 2017)



SOVA Center for News and Analysis, 1 March 2017


A case was opened regarding "illegal" evangelism with respect to the leader of the Krishnaite society of Ekaterinburg, who had permission for conducting missionary activity. The reason for opening the case was the distribution of undemarcated [that is, not bearing the full name of the religious organization—tr. note] literature at the sanctioned parade.


Late in February 2017 it was learned that a case about "illegal" evangelism was opened against the leader of the Krishnaite society of Ekaterinburg.


The reason for opening the case was a New Year's parade of Krishnaites that was conducted on 24 December 2016. The leader of the society was dressed in a Grandfather Frost costume and his associates in costumes of snow maidens, and all of them, about 12 persons, were singing hymns of praise to Hindu gods ("Hare, Krishna, Hare, Rama").


While the parade had been cleared with authorities and its organizer had permission for conducting missionary activity. He was accused not for the parade as such but for distribution of "undemarcated" religious literature at the event. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 March 2017)

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