RUSSIA: Lawyers Challenge Threatened Expulsion of Ghanaian Pastor.

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 6 March 2001

Attempts are underway to expel a Ghanaian pastor from Russia on the grounds that the church at which he serves does not have authorisation from the Department for Labour Migration to employ foreign workers. Joseph Adu Baah has served as pastor of the Pentecostal church Istochnik Sily (Power Source) in the town of Novomoskovsk near Tula, 200 kms (125 miles) south of Moscow, on a contractual basis for the past five years. Vladimir Ryakhovsky, director of the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice in Moscow which is representing Pastor Baah, told Keston News Service on 6 March that they have lodged a complaint against what they argue is an unlawful demand on the part of the local agency in Tula region of the Ministry for Federal Affairs and National and Migration Policy. The appeal will be heard in a district court in Tula, although no date has yet been set for the hearing.

The Istochnik Sily church is a member of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals), led by Sergei Ryakhovsky.Svetlana Nuzhdina, who is responsible for the reception and registration of foreign citizens at the church, told Keston on 12 February that on 22 January she, the leader of the church and Pastor Baah were summoned to the city visa and registration department, where officials read them a letter from the Tula agency of the Ministry for Federal Affairs announcing that the pastor would be expelled from the country in 10 days' time on the grounds that the church did not have permission to use foreign labour. Later, at the local administration offices, church representatives were informed that after the expiry of his visa in March, Pastor Baah would in any case have to leave the country.

Nuzhdina reported that on 26 February the pastor received a new visa, valid for a year, and had tried to register it at the local visa and registration department, but had been refused on the basis of instructions from the migration service.

The local agency of the Ministry for Federal Affairs in Tula region explains in a letter sent to the church that an investigation conducted on 20 October last year by its officials had established that the church had infringed the regulations on the recruitment and exploitation of foreign labour. It claimed that employing Pastor Baah without permission violated the December 1993 presidential decree on the recruitment and exploitation of foreign labour under which `an employer who recruits foreign citizens to work on a contractual basis must obtain appropriate authorisation from the Ministry for Federal Affairs, and foreign citizens must obtain confirmation of their right to work'. The letter claims that the provisions of point 18 of the regulations on the recruitment and exploitation of foreign labour cannot apply to Pastor Baah `as he is working on a contractual basis in the religious organisation of the evangelical church Istochnik Sily and receives a salary, for which documentary evidence has been produced by the relevant organisations'.

Vladimir Ryakhovsky maintains that the ministry's demand is unlawful. `It's true that the order on the recruitment and exploitation of foreign labour says that the migration service must give an organisation a licence for the recruitment of foreign labour and that a citizen must receive permission to work in the Russian Federation,' he told Keston on 1 March. `But in point 18 of the regulations there is a list of categories of citizen to whom this legislation does not extend, including religious workers who are working in a professional capacity at officially registered religious organisations and societies, and this is what we have in the case of Pastor Joseph Adu Baah.'

Yelena Semichastnova, a consultant at the Committee for work with the regions and public associations at the Novomoskovsk administration, reported that the local administration is unhappy about the church's activity. `Their work has developed rapidly - they already have a daughter church registered in Tula, and there is a sister church in Novomoskovsk,' she complained to Keston on 27 February. Semichastnova insisted Pastor Baah's employment as pastor was illegal because he was paid. `The migration service discovered only recently that he receives a salary from the church. If he were working on a voluntary basis, there would not be a problem. But now, if he does not apply for permission to work, he will have to leave.' (END)