Apparent crackdown on non-Orthodox religious activity


For what are Russian authorities prosecuting Evangelical Christians-Baptists?

by Andrei Koshik

Radio Svoboda, 23 April 2019


This week, there is supposed to be a trial in the case of a pastor of a church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in the village of Verkhnebakansky in Novorossiisk, Yury Kornienko. He is charged under article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law ("Violation of legislation on freedom of  conscience and freedom of religious confession and on religious associations"). And before this, a group of personnel of security structures and cossacks tried to break up a worship service of Baptists in a rural house of worship, without providing any accusations. Believers consider the application of the "Yarovaya Package" regarding illegal missionary activity to be arbitrary.


This congregation is officially registered and the house of worship in Verkhnebakansky has existed since before the Great Patriotic War.


"On 7 April there was a Sunday worship service devoted to the feast of the Annunciation. For Evangelical Christians-Baptists, the first Sunday of each month is a special day, because communion in the Lord's Supper is conducted. For this service, those who share our religious confession gather and there are no outsiders there. This is not a closed service, but as a rule only members of the congregation attend," Evgeny Kokora, the presbyter of the local religious organizations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, told Radio Liberty.


At approximately twenty minutes after the start of the worship service, a group of ten men burst into the building: a couple of police in uniform, cossacks, FSB officers, representatives of city hall of Novorossiisk, and a photo correspondent. At that time the believers were singing "Jesus is my beacon," and an MVD officer approached the stage and signaled with crossed arms demanding to turn off the music and to be silent.


"The one in charge of the meeting addressed the intruder: it is our feast day, the Lord's Supper; what are you doing here? And he urged the church to sing the song again and at that time he himself conversed with the security forces," Kokora explained. "Then after about a half hour a protocol was drawn up concerning the operational investigative activities. What they had to do with our congregation is unclear; the intruders were not even able to explain clearly what they wanted. When the service ended, they also left without explanations."


The next day, Kokora and the pastor of the rural church, Yury Kornienko, went to the prosecutor's office of Novorossiisk, but they were told there that they could be received by the city prosecutor, Igor Stukonog, only three weeks later. Then they went to the local department of the FSB. The duty officer listened to the clergymen, but he was not able to explain anything clearly. On 9 April the pastor was first telephoned and then was sent an official summons to appear at the prosecutor's office in order to give an explanation. In parallel, believers wrote a complaint against the actions of officials who had tried to break up the worship service and invaded a private home.


And only after eleven days (according to law from the moment of the commission of a violation of law until composition of a protocol there is a two-day maximum) was an administrative protocol regarding the pastor of the church in Verkhnebakansky drawn up on the basis of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law.


"Russian President Vladimir Putin has given the order to look into the notorious Yarovaya Package and to look into the prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, but such a legal outrage occurs here. Originally I thought that this is a policy of the state and the FSB. Not at all. Most likely this is simply an attempt of petty bureaucrats from the Novorossiisk administration who want to curry favor," Evgeny Kokora thinks.


The so-called Yarovaya Package, which comprises two draft laws, was adopted in the summer of 2016. It required service providers to preserve calls and communications of subscribers for three years, introduced criminal responsibility for not reporting terrorist and extremist crimes, and also prohibited conducting religious proclamation without the official permission of a registered religious organization.


"Our congregation is registered and Yury Kornienko was appointed its pastor. Where there is a violation I am unable to understand," Evgeny Kokora throws up his hands. "On the phone they said that the trial will be this week. So perhaps we will find out why they drew up this protocol and who is making the confrontation."


The pastor noted that in the past year, relations between Baptist congregations in Novorossiisk (there are eight of them here) and local authorities have become extremely tense. Originally the clergy were phoned every week and required to report what the recent worship service was about and how many believers attended it. About a year ago, after one of the visits to the house of worship in Verkhnebakansky by an employee of the administration, they tried to demolish it: the building was designated for individual residence and therefore the employees of the administration considered it to be a violation to conduct worship services here. But after talking with the head of the city the pastors were able to settle this issue.


"Recently they demolished the Pentecostals' house of worship. Formally the authorities were correct, because it was unauthorized construction, but they could have applied an 'amnesty,' as is done for other religious organizations in such circumstances. I heard that they forbade the Seventh-Day Adventists to meet. Apparently they wanted to close our congregation in Verkhnebakansky in this way, but we will fight in the legal field to the end," Kokora says.


The history of the Baptist congregation of Novorossiisk began back in tsarist times. Under the bolsheviks, churches were frequently taken from believers, like throughout the U.S.S.R., and clergy were arrested. The Novorossiisk Baptists continued to meet secretly, and by the end of the 1940s, when their activity was officially permitted, the congregation numbered several hundred persons. About twenty years ago the believers acquired the building in Verkhnebakinsky and services have been attended regularly by about 50 Evangelical Christians.


All eight Novorossiisk churches actively conduct social activity: rehabilitation centers for drug addicts were opened, a small charity house operates for elderly folk who have been left without a roof over their head. Believers participate in city workdays, regularly distribute food to the needy, and recently reroofed at their expense the house of a housekeeper in a hospital who is the mother of several children and who is not a parishioner of their church; they simply learned about the problem and helped.


This is not the first case of holding religious groups administratively accountable, says Alexander Popokov, a lawyer for the international rights advocacy group "Agora." Now the European Court of Human Rights is considering the case of a pastor of an unregistered group of "Community of Christians," Aleksei Koliasnikov, who was brought to justice under article20.2 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law ("Violation of established procedure for conducting a public event") for reading the Bible in a closed cafe. The chief of the service of the FSB in Sochi, General Major Alexander Rodionov, among other things, accused the pastor of, "in violation of the rules of the canons of Christianity," reading to believers not a printed Bible but the text of Sacred Scripture from a tablet.


In 2017, in Sochi, a local resident was fined for illegal missionary activity. He was a teacher of the "International Academy of Kabbala," who conducted classes in Vaishnavism on a beach in Sochi. In 2018 a Pentecostal believer was fined for preaching without a "license." This year in Novorossiisk, volunteers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from the U.S.A. were arrested. They were charged that besides missionary activity the men "tweaked" the English of fellow believers by conducting classes with them. Among those who turned up as targets of the special services in Kuban there also was a Lutheran pastor, an adherent of the Chinese movement of Falun Gong, and Adygai who gathered at a prayer tree. (tr. by PDS, posted 27 April 2019)


Russian original posted on site of Credo.Press, 23 April 2019

Background articles:
Local official regrets arrest of protestant preacher

April 19, 2019

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