MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: Police Close Baptist Meeting With Orthodox Help?

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 22 November 2001

An evangelistic meeting organised in a nearby village by the Baptist church in the town of Tiraspol, the capital of the unrecognised entity of Transdniester, was closed by police on the evening of 6 October, local Baptists reported in a 21 November statement received by Keston News Service. The Tiraspol church reported that when the Slobozia district police raided the meeting in a tent in the village of Nezavertailovka, 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Tiraspol, they were accompanied by a priest of the Orthodox Church who, they said, appeared to be directing the operation. They identified the priest as Hieromonk Arseni (Manko), the head of the Tiraspol diocese's missionary department.

The Baptists said the police officers, Junior Sergeant Lepikov and Sergeant Teorpek, demanded to see the identity papers of P. Timoshchuk and V. Baron (first names unknown), who were addressing the meeting. The police officers then declared that the Baptists had no written permission to hold the event, nor did they have registration as a religious organisation. They threatened to bring in the OMON special police to tear down the tent if the Baptists failed to do so themselves.

Several weeks later, Timoshchuk and Baron were summoned to the administrative commission, where they were each fined 50 Transdniestran roubles (eight US dollars or five UK pounds).

Keston was unable to contact Hieromonk Arseni to confirm whether he did indeed lead the police to close down the evangelistic meeting and, if so, what authority he had to do so, given that he is not a state official. However, a colleague, Father Dionisi, told Keston on 22 November Hieromonk Arseni was on holiday in Ukraine. The Baptists and members of other religious organisations have complained in the past that clergy of the local Orthodox diocese are close to the Transdniester authorities and have worked with the police and the KGB to prevent minority religious communities from holding visible public events. (END)