RUSSIA: Will Independent Baptist Church be Liquidated?

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 21 February 2001

The fate of the independent Baptist church founded by US missionary Dan Pollard in the Pacific port of Vanino depends upon a decision by Khabarovsky krai regional court, church secretary Dina Morozova told Keston on 21 February.

After repeated refusals by the local department of justice to re-register the church in accordance with the requirements of Russia's 1997 law on religion, the church decided to challenge the reason given most recently by the department - the irregularity of citing the church building as its legal address since it is Pollard's private property.

The church filed suit against the local department of justice at a Khabarovsk city court in December (see KNS 12 January 2001). On 8 February, according to a message to Keston from Pollard, who is currently in the United States having been repeatedly denied a visa to enter Russia, this court ruled in favour of the church and ordered the justice department to reregister it, but 'officials from the registration office [justice department] were angry and threatened to take it to a higher court.'

Notwithstanding the fact that the church had filed a suit against it, Morozova told Keston, on 25 January the local department of justice ordered a local Vanino court to liquidate the church since it had failed to obtain re-registration by the deadline of 31 December 2000. A court representative subsequently visited the church, said Morozova, but no further action was taken once a fax of the Khabarovsk city court's order to re-register the church was shown.

On 21 February main specialist at Khabarovsk krai department of justice, Anna Vodnenko, said that she was unable to tell Keston anything concrete in view of the fact that legal proceedings were in progress. However, she confirmed that the department had already submitted documentation to Khabarovsk krai regional court appealing against the Khabarovsk city court's order that the church be registered. She did not know when the appeal was likely to be heard.

Since the Vanino court is an executive organ, according to Morozova, the outcome of the department of justice's appeal to the regional court will determine whether it follows through the order to liquidate the church. (END)