RUSSIA: Christian Newspaper Distributor Robbed

by Mikhail Edelstein, Keston News Service, 21 December 2000

On 3 December a woman distributor of the Living Faith newspaper published by the Living Faith Pentecostal church in Penza, a town 440 miles (700 km) east of Moscow, was robbed in the Russian capital. Church representatives are unsure whether the incident was purely criminal or had a religious or political motivation, although the incident comes in the wake of increased pressure on the church from the regional authorities (see KNS 15 December 2000).

Sergei Strokov, the secretary of Living Faith, told Keston that a man who introduced himself as an employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs detained and interrogated the distributor who had come from Penza to Moscow. After this the `militiaman' bullied the woman into taking him to the hotel where she was staying. In her room he carried out a search without a warrant and confiscated the money received from the sale of the newspaper without giving any written record. After the search the `militiaman' got the woman to give him details of the paper's distributors in Moscow and then left, telling her he was called Artyom and giving her the number of his Moscow pager (telephone 9508050, subscriber number 29623).

The distributor immediately phoned Penza to report what had happened. Church representatives sent a message to the pager and Artyom responded with a phone call to the church office. Artyom confirmed to the church's pastor Oleg Serov that he works for the Moscow division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but refused to state his precise place of work or to give his surname. He offered to come to Penza to meet church representatives, but church leaders fear Artyom intends to continue extorting money from them.

Keston was unable to contact this `militiaman'. Artyom did not respond to the message sent to his pager or phone the number given by Keston. (END)