Squeezing non-Orthodox Christians out of Russia


by Elena Racheva

Novaia Gazeta, 11 August 2017


The police car overtook Pastor Evgeny Peresvetov on the Moscow Ring Road, when he and his wife were taking their nine-year-old son to the hospital. "I saw the police flying along the oncoming lane, cross the double line, and yell, 'Pull over. Brake,'" Peresvetov recalls. "Straight out of a movie. And I understand that the movie is about us. I stop. I get out of the car. The police take a step backward and shout: 'Stand still.' I say, calmly, that we have a child in the car. I turn around, and two men with automatic weapons are already near my son."


We recall: Novaia Gazeta wrote about how in early January the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against the organizers of a charitable foundation, "Restoration," which opened a network of shelters for rehabilitation of drug addicts. Employees of the foundation were accused of illegal imprisonment of six drug addicts and of kidnapping two of them. Five of the accused were sent to a SIZO [pretrial investigation cell] and later three were placed under house arrest, two of the kidnapped persons disappeared (lawyers for the accused are sure that they are being hidden within the witness protection program), and the rest of the drug addicts, living in the shelter, gave testimony that they came there voluntarily.


Novaia Gazeta explained that the foundation had been opened by parishioners of the evangelical church of the same name—Restoration Christian Center—that was created ten years ago in Moscow by a native of Ukraine, Pastor Evgeny Peresvet. All volunteers and employees of the foundation were parishioners of the Restoration Christian Center (Khristianskii Tsentr Vosstanovlenie—KhTsV). As residents of the rehabilitation centers told us back in March, during interrogation investigators demanded that they give evidence against the organizers of the center and against the head of KhTsV.


At the time, experts questioned by Novaia Gazeta suggested that the case against the employees of the rehab center was opened specifically to pressure the KvTsV. In recent times, Evangelical and Baptist churches have frequently come under close attention of law enforcement officers. The sociologist of religion, senior scientific fellow of the Center for Study of Problems of Religion and Society of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences [Roman] Lunkin posited then that in arresting employees of the rehab center, special services were trying to frighten the leaders of churches and to restrict their activity. Because of the recently intensified "struggle with sects," such cases have begun to occur regularly. The KhTsV was able to attract the attention of special services because of the Ukrainian origin of the pastor. All recent cases of forcible detention and those based on the Yarovaya Law (which placed restrictions on the activity of religious organizations) involved churches created in Latvia and Ukraine.


The supposition turned out to be correct. Six months later the pastor of the KhTsV actually has turned out to be under threat of arrest. Tomorrow, 11 August, Peresvetov is supposed to arrive for interrogation in the First Investigation Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia. The investigator previously warned the pastor that after interrogation he would not be released.


* * *


The episode of the arrest on the Moscow Ring Road ended for Peresvetov surprisingly peacefully: a fine of 500 rubles for an alleged dirty license plate. The next day Peresvetov went out in his car again, and again he was stopped and fined for an illegible license plate. His wife, Olga, went out several times in the car. Each time, Peresvetov said, an escort of armed traffic police also drove out behind here, but after checking her documents they disappeared, without even fining her.


"We were stopped two or three times a day," the pastor recalls. "The last time a pot-bellied uncle officer stopped Olga. She burst into tears and asked: well what do you need? He showed her an electronic tablet: 'Your car is wanted. Reporter is Russian F.S.B. The car is a suspect as a participant in an especially dangerous crime.' And he explained that when he stopped her car, he phoned for instructions. He was told: if Peresvetov is behind the wheel, fine him for some administrative offense. If it is somebody else, let them go without a fine."


According to law, any foreigner can be deported from the country for two administrative offenses. So the Ukrainian citizen Peresvetov guessed that they want to expel him from Russia.


The pastor began being attacked from all sides. At the Federal Migration Service, Peresvetov was told (still unofficially) that his permit for residence in Russia has been cancelled (he now lives in Russia on a permit for temporary stay, which expires in December 2018) and the documents for his deportation have already been drawn up.


And two weeks ago Peresvetov received a summons for interrogation at the Investigative Committee of the RF. The investigator for especially important affairs, Alexander Neriutin, summoned the pastor as a witness in the same case of kidnapping and imprisonment.


"The investigator put the question: are you his permanent attorney?" Peresvetov's defense attorney, Anatoly Pchelintsev, explains. "I say: what does permanent mean? The witnesses have been questioned once or twice. To which Neriutin answered that Peresvetov is not a witness any longer: 'We will change his status.'"


The attorney understood that the investigator plans to make the pastor a suspect or a defendant in the case of kidnapping and detention. For a citizen of another country, this means detention in a SIZO.


Both Peresvetov and his attorney do not very much believe in an arrest, but they are stressed. "The case was opened seven months ago," Pchelintsev says. "If the investigation had evidence of Peresvetov's guilt, he would have been in custody long ago. Besides, investigators of such things do not usually talk. Neriutin clearly wanted that I would relay to my client: 'Chap, here is your choice: either they imprison you or you leave.'"


Peresvetov also is sure that the investigator's words are "100 percent provocation": "We are not living in 1937." But he takes the threat of detention seriously.


"Unofficially, in the security structures they told me, derisively, that this year has been declared the year of struggle with religious extremism," the pastor says. "Originally, they banned the Jehovah's Witnesses—it is a sect, I do not dispute. Now they want to ban protestants. Dvorkin (church historian, leader of the anti-sect movement—E.R.) generally wants to destroy everything that is not Orthodoxy. When they (special services—E.R.) saw the connection of the rehabilitation centers with our church, they were not happy about this. Now they are trying to declare both the centers and the church to be criminal."


Peresvetov himself denies not only the fact of a crime but also his own participation in creating the rehabilitation centers. "If one is to consider criminal a community of volunteer activity of people, then yes, I am their inspiration. In our church hundreds of people consider it their biblical duty to be useful to society. Many will say that I inspired them to do this. Although Andrei Malakhov, for example, inspires thousands of people. In comparison with him, my work is peanuts."


In his last sermon, Peresvetov, just in case, bid farewell to his flock. "I said that we may not see each other any more. I thanked them for a decade of attention. Of course, many cried out," he said with contentment.


The flock really did react to the news stormily. As KhTsV parishioner Ilya Kovalev told Novaia Gazeta, the believers intend to stand guard at the building of the Investigative Committee until Peresvetov comes out of there. "About a hundred persons or more. This will not be an unsanctioned demonstration. It is simply peaceful citizens strolling around. Several citizens, about ten persons, decided to demonstrate more fully and declare an indefinite hunger strike, and I intend to declare a dry hunger strike. We suspect that we will be screwed. Therefore people will go to the Investigative Committee, who are ready to go to the pretrial cell or be locked up 15 days."


Tuesday afternoon Alexander Neriutin told Novaia Gazeta that in the case of illegal imprisonment, "five are accused. Peresvetov does not have such a status." The investigator refused to answer the question whether this status will be changed. In the evening of the same day, Neriutin was removed from the case and on Friday someone else will conduct the interrogation. Neither Peresvetov nor his attorney yet understands whether this will change anything for the pastor and the five suspects. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 August 2017)



ReligioPolis Center for Religious Studies Research,  11 August 2017

The administrative campaign for squeezing out of Russia the majority of the religious movements that are existing within it is a natural consequence of the sowing within it of the new totalitarian ideology. The first to suffer in the process of the religious "purge" were, as is known, the Jehovah's Witnesses, all organizations of which were declared by a court to be extremist and the fundamentally new religious denomination of Scientology, the only organization of which in Moscow was liquidated on the basis of a "required" expert analysis. All the rest, among whom are many protestant churches, Muslim religious groups, alternative Orthodox parishes, groups of pagans, new religious and even cultural movements and organizations, will gradually be subjected to increasingly strong pressure with the formation of a negative image of them by the establishment news media.


What kind of logic of further development of events poses no puzzle. Such a scenario in the conditions of German nazism was exhaustively described by the evangelical pastor Martin Niemoeler: "When they came for the communists, I was silent because I was not a communist. When they came for the Catholics, I was silent, because I was not a Catholic. When they came for the Jews, I was silent, because I was not a Jew. When they came for me, there was nobody left to defend me."


Therefore, when in the situation that Novaia Gazeta has presented, the contemporary Pastor Evgeny Peresvetov himself says that "first they banned the Jehovah's Witnesses—this is a sect, I do not dispute," while sincerely regretting that "now they want to ban protestants," then he illustrates splendidly the justice of the well known statement of his colleague of the first half of the last century. And of course it shows that history teaches little to anybody. . .  (tr. by PDS, posted 14 August 2017)


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