RUSSIA: Regional and Village Decrees Halt Pentecostal Mission.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 17 April 2001

According to Pastor Pavel Shlyaga of the ‘Victory of Faith’ Full Gospel Church, the Khabarovsky Krai authorities are particularly opposed to his church’s missionary activity, with plenipotentiary for religious affairs Viktor Nikulnikov insisting that, under its 1994 charter, the church should limit its activity to the town of Amursk and the immediate region. However, claimed Shlyaga, every time ‘Victory of Faith’ has tried to register a daughter church in its own right, it has been refused registration. The only exception, he said, is the church in the town of Vyazemsk, ‘but it is only two hours from Khabarovsk, so church members were able to keep on at the department until they were registered.’ The other daughter churches, he said, could not afford to travel repeatedly to Khabarovsk in the same fashion.

Questioned by Keston about this situation, Svetlana Panchenko of the Krai department of justice said that she knew ‘nothing about’ any daughter churches and sounded quite disconcerted at the prospect of there being some. As far as she knew, ‘Victory of Faith’ had originally been registered as being in the town of Amursk, in which case, she maintained, the church did not have the right to conduct its activity throughout Khabarovsky Krai, but was ‘strictly limited to that town.’

According to Shlyaga, ‘Victory of Faith’ has been asked to cease its missionary work by the local authorities, which frequently obstruct the activity of its eleven daughter churches. For four years, he told Keston, the Vyazemsk church was denied use of empty municipal premises. When it made a formal complaint, according to information sent by Shlyaga to Keston, president of the local council A. Ostapets responded on 19 May 1999 with a reminder ‘that the Russian Federation is a secular state in which the church is separate from the state. The use of socio-cultural institutions belonging to the state or municipality for religious preaching is a violation of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation.’

When ‘Victory of Faith’ tried to distribute gospels in autumn 1999 in the Nanai region of Khabarovsky Krai (where it currently has daughter churches in Troitskoye, Innokentyevka and other villages), according to Pastor Shlyaga, he was asked by the regional public prosecutor to cease open evangelisation. As public prosecutor, she reportedly explained, she was obliged to follow a decree issued by Nanai regional administration to stop all such activity ‘using police warrants.’ Keston has not seen this decree, reportedly entitled ‘On Halting the Activity of “Victory of Faith” Church on the Whole Territory of Nanai Region’ and issued on 7 September 1999. However, Keston has obtained a copy of a decree evidently issued in response to it by head of the village of Innokentyevka, V. Iosifov, on 9 September 1999. Entitled ‘On Halting the Activity of the Branch of “Victory of Faith” Church on the Territory of Innokentyevka’, it orders that the activity of the church in the village be stopped, since it is not registered in Nanai region.

Contacted by telephone on 13 April, Viktor Nikulnikov was extremely reluctant to speak with Keston, towards which, he explained, he had ‘a very negative attitude’. Although Keston did not suggest otherwise, he did give assurances, however, that he did not ‘watch’ religious organisations and that churches in Khabarovsky Krai functioned ‘independently, in accordance with the law.’ When Keston then asked whether ‘Victory of Faith’ was violating the law, Nikulnikov replied that he did not have any information to that effect and did not know whether or not the church was operating at all. ‘No one has ever come to me about them,’ he said. (END)