RUSSIA: FURTHER FOOT-DRAGGING OVER PENTECOSTAL BUILDING APPLICATION?

by Mikhail Edelstein, Keston News Service, 4 December 2000

For the past year, the leaders of the Ivanovo Christian Centre (ICC) have been applying in vain for permission to turn a former textile factory building they have bought into their church centre. The authorities in Ivanovo - a city with a population of almost 500,000 situated 190 miles (300 kms) north-east of Moscow - have imposed on the Pentecostals ever new conditions for the granting of permission. Currently, the church's application is languishing in the legal department of the city administration.

Dmitri Blagoyev of the ICC told Keston News Service on 30 November that the saga began at the beginning of 1999, when the church bought the building from a large textile company which was then on the brink of bankruptcy. The church proposed to convert the two-storey building into a centre to include a hall for prayer meetings, premises for children's work and a cafeteria. In August 1999, the church appealed to the mayor of Ivanovo, Valeri Troyeglazov, for permission for the conversion. By October of the same year church leaders had collected all the necessary signatures for their application, other than that of the mayor himself. According to information reaching Blagoyev, Troyeglazov had refused to endorse the application, saying that he would not allow `sectarians' into the city centre. It was then, according to Blagoyev, that the mayor instructed the city's lawyers to find formal grounds to refuse the application.

At the beginning of 2000, the church received the official rejection, which cited the absence of documents proving that the church owned the land on which the building stands. In March, the ICC submitted an application to the city administration to gain ownership of the land. The secretary of the city committee for land resources and land use, Nina Smirnova, told Keston on 30 November that the application had been approved by her committee in the summer and had been sent to the mayor on 3 August. All the necessary documentation had been obtained over the past two months, and since 10 October, the church's application has lain untouched in the legal department of the city administration.

However a specialist at the legal department, Svetlana Nesterenko, who has direct responsibility for a decision on the application, told Keston by telephone on 30 November that she would not comment on the case. She said that she had not yet had time to familiarise herself with the issue as she had seen the relevant documents for the first time only a few hours before Keston spoke to her. Nesterenko was unable to explain where the documents had been for the past six weeks.(END)