RUSSIA: FSB-INSPIRED SMEARS ON PENTECOSTALS IN KOSTROMA MEDIA

by Mikhail Edelstein, Keston News Service, 24 November 2000

Keston News Service has learnt that the FSB provided information for local newspaper articles aiming to discredit Pastor Andrei Danilov of the Kostroma Christian Centre (KCC). The articles appeared several days before the scheduled resumption of legal suits for the KCC’s liquidation, which were brought by the regional justice administration and subsequently won by the Centre. (See KNS 21 November 2000).

Two Kostroma newspapers – Torgoviye ryady and the local supplement to the Moscow newspaper Komsomolskaya pravda - published slightly differing versions of the same article under different names (Denis Sudeikin and Andrei Yershov, respectively). They focus on Pastor Danilov’s income and property, citing the sum reportedly given to him each month by fellow believers abroad and the registration number of his private car. Reference is also made to his account with an American bank.

Danilov told Keston on 16 November that the information that appeared in the local press was taken from a property and income declaration that he completed several months ago in the course of a tax inspection of the KCC. He explained that the 14,000 US dollars cited in the article as his personal income was in fact a donation to the Centre by overseas supporters.

The director of the Moscow-based Institute of Law and Religion Anatoli Pchelintsev told Keston on 16 November that he considers the disclosure of such confidential information by the Kostroma journalist to be an infringement of Article 137 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which punishes unlawful intrusion into the private life of citizens. Danilov is considering an application to the public prosecutor to initiate an investigation into how private information about his property and income was made public.

The regional representative of Komsomolskaya pravda Viktor Burdin admitted to Keston on 21 November that he was the author of the article. At the end of October, he said, he received a call from an employee responsible for religious affairs at the Kostroma administration of the Federal Security Service (FSB, the ex-KGB), who offered ‘compromising material’ about the Pentecostals and their pastor. At a face-to-face meeting, the journalist was given information about the results of a tax inspection into the KCC, and also details of Danilov’s property and income.

Other sources who declined to be named told Keston that approximately six months ago the same FSB employee offered at least one other Kostroma newspaper documents that would ‘expose’ the Yaroslavl Pentecostal church Novoye pokoleniye (New Generation). The employee reportedly justified his actions by saying that it was necessary to prepare public opinion for the future rejection of re-registration to Kostroma’s Pentecostals. On that occasion, however, the documents relating to Novoye pokoleniye did not appear in print.

The ‘case’ of Pentecostals in Kostroma began in November 1999, when a video recording of a KCC service and a service at the Blagodat (Grace) Pentecostal Church was shown on local television. In an interview with Keston on 26 October, the director of the Kostroma State Television and Radio Company, Sergei Sitnikov, said that the videotape of the services had been left for him at the Company’s reception desk by an anonymous individual.

The only incident of open participation of the special forces in the ‘case’ of the Pentecostals occurred this summer, when FSB employees submitted documents about KCC activities to the local public prosecutor, who subsequently embarked upon an investigation of the KCC.

It appears that the recent publications are linked to the fact that the case being brought by the regional justice administration for the KCC’s closure of the KCC had already collapsed, and the Centre’s opponents decided to revert to what the Burdin article calls the ‘Kirov version’. In Kirov, the Komsomolskaya pravda correspondent writes, ‘the Pentecostals have won the court case, but the local media have so minutely reported on the course of proceedings that the majority of the congregation has dispersed of its own accord’. However, according to Danilov, in fact nothing of the kind has happened in Kirov. (END)