Suburban Moscow evangelical church object of official harassment


VoSvete., 10 June 2019


On 6 June, representatives of the prosecutor's office, the E Center, MVD, MChS, and FSB arrived at a private home where the "Word of Life" Pentecostal church gathers in the city of Dolgoprudnyi. The believers permitted the group to enter the territory, and after presenting a court order the group began a search (the owner provides part of the nonresidential premises for worship services). According to members of the church who were in the building at the time, psychological pressure was put on them. Everyone was forbidden to use cell phones. The church's lawyer, Alexander Fomichev, was expelled from the building, despite his protests. Several of the officers acted defiantly and said that "we have put pressure on the Jehovah's Witnesses, so consider how we can treat you and act calmly."


The parishioners were shocked by what was happening, as was the pastor of the "Word of Life" church in Dolgoprudnyi, Andrei Mitskevich. The church has more than 100 members; worship services are regularly attended by about 50 persons. It is registered and is a member of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith. "It is a Christian church of the Pentecostal variety, which does not by any means hide its existence and its whereabouts. Therefore it was possible to conduct an inspection of the church by other, completely civilized means—like a personal communication with the pastor," the religious studies specialist Roman Lunkin writes in his article on the website of the Slavic Legal Center.


However law enforcement agencies went a different route. On 31 May a court permitted the conduct to an inspection at the address where the church gathers. The order indicates that "in the course of operational search events it was established that at the address . . . religious rituals are conducted, possibly with violation of the legislation on freedom of conscience." Also it was reported that violation of some article may be incriminating with respect to the owner of the building: "Actions of aforesaid persons contain signs of the elements of a crime stated in article 148 of the Criminal Code of the RF." This article, "violation of the rights to freedom of conscience and religious confession," provides for punishment for "public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and conducted for the purpose of offending the religious feelings of believers."


On 5 June the prosecutor's office issued its order for inspection of the religious organization. The inspection sought to ascertain compliance with legislation in the sphere of assuring anti-terrorism protection . . . in the activity of the 'Word of Life' church of Christians of Evangelical Faith."


"Since the religious rituals—morning Christian prayer—were not like illegal actions and offense to religious feelings, then the inspection discovered other violations," Roman Lunkin notes. "A representative of the Ministry of Emergency Service (MChS) found fault with the wooden covering of the ceiling. Other agencies found fault with the absence of a sign with the full name of the church on the gate and at the entry door. The sign was inside the building. Besides this, the agents confiscated 'dangerous' literature: the Bible for Children, a New Testament and Psalter, the Gospel of John, and the like. And although the literature was seized from the worship building, law enforcement agencies nevertheless considered that it was possibly illegal evangelistic activity. Both violations fall under the provisions of the Yarovaya Law, although formally the law does not indicate where the sign must be and the literature was not distributed publicly for the purposes of evangelistic activity." (tr. by PDS, posted 3 July 2019)

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