RUSSIA: Pentecostal Church Liquidated in Far East.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 17 April 2001

On 5 April the Amursk town court liquidated the ‘Victory of Faith’ Full Gospel Church. The church, with some 200 members in the town of Amursk (population approximately 40,000), has 11 daughter churches of between ten and 50 members elsewhere in Khabarovsky Krai (5,300 miles east of Moscow). Since only one of these has managed to register in its own right, they are also affected by the liquidation proceedings. Liquidation appears to be the culmination of local officials’ persistent efforts to restrict the activity of the church, which places a strong emphasis on missionary work.

Filing suit to liquidate the church on 25 January, the Khabarovsky Krai department of justice states that ‘Victory of Faith’ was twice informed of the necessity to reregister by the deadline of 31 December 2000, ‘but the aforementioned religious organisation did not pass the stated procedure.’ Contacted by telephone on 12 April, Svetlana Panchenko of the Khabarovsky Krai department of justice told Keston that the church did attempt to reregister on three occasions – towards the end of 1999, in approximately November 2000 and at the very end of 2000. She suggested to Keston that the case was ‘just like’ that of the independent Baptist church founded by Dan Pollard in the port of Vanino, which is also in Khabarovsky Krai. ‘They are also using a home address as a legal address – that is the only problem,’ she explained to Keston. ‘Their charter and everything else is in order.’

Speaking to Keston by telephone from Amursk on 10 April, ‘Victory of Faith’ pastor Pavel Shlyaga confirmed that the church, first registered on 15 November 1994, had been refused re-registration three times. On the first occasion, he said, numerous minor objections had been raised, of which he had corrected all but the siting of the church’s legal address at his home address, arguing that ‘Russian law has been amended to allow a legal address to be sited at the home address of the legal personality applying to register it.’ No objections were cited with the second rejection on 6 December 2000, which states simply that re-registration is refused ‘in accordance with the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”.’ On the third occasion, according to Shlyaga, entirely petty reasons were given for the refusal, such as the words ‘Amursk town’ in the church’s full title not being placed high enough on the title page. By the time these emendations were given, however, there was no time for the church to make a further attempt before the re-registration deadline.

According to Shlyaga, ‘Victory of Faith’ is currently still able to meet as usual at a House of Culture in Amursk town on the strength of its affiliation to the Pentecostal union led by Sergei Ryakhovsky, which is registered as a centralised religious organisation (CRO) at the federal level. So far, said Shlyaga, the director of the House of Culture has resisted pressure exerted by Khabarovsky Krai plenipotentiary for religious affairs, Viktor Nikulnikov, who, he claims, telephoned her to suggest that she expel the church from the building.

Even once the church is liquidated, Shlyaga is hopeful that it will be able to operate on the basis of its affiliation to a CRO. Asked why such affiliation had apparently not assisted the church’s re-registration application with the Khabarovsky Krai department of justice, Svetlana Panchenko explained to Keston that confirmation of affiliation to a CRO ‘doesn’t mean that we have to reregister in all cases – CRO documentation is only part of what a religious organisation may submit.’ If everything else is in order with its papers and CRO documentation is submitted, maintained Panchenko, a department of justice is obliged to reregister a religious organisation, ‘but not otherwise.’

When Keston asked Viktor Nikulnikov about the activity of ‘Victory of Faith’ on 13 April, he would say only that he did not know whether or not the church was operating. (END)