MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: New Deadline for Baptist Church Demolition.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 29 January 2002

A Baptist church in the town of Tiraspol, the capital of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, has been given a new deadline for enforced demolition, Keston News Service has learnt. The family of Vasili Timoshchuk, pastor of the Tiraspol church - which stands in the yard of a private home - told Keston from Transdniester on 28 January that officials from the State Building Inspectorate visited the building on 23 January and ordered the Baptists to "think again" about continuing to use it as a church. They gave them a new deadline of 15 February to halt using the building as a church or face demolition.

The commission of the State Building Inspectorate told members of the Tiraspol Baptist congregation on 8 November that if it did not pull down its prayer house or transfer it to residential use by 25 December the authorities would demolish it, on the grounds that the building had been put up illegally. That deadline passed without the Baptists' changing their usage of the building (see KNS 27 December 2001).

"They gave us nothing in writing," Timoshchuk's family reported of the latest visit, "all the warnings were verbal." The family added that in the wake of the visit, the church had written to the president of the unrecognised entity, Igor Smirnov, and the government. Pastor Timoshchuk had also telephoned Pyotr Zalozhkov, the commissioner of religion and cults who reports to Smirnov. "He didn't want to discuss the issue and put the phone down."

Contacted by Keston by telephone on 29 January, the head of the Building Inspectorate inspection service, Ivan Kramchaninov, confirmed that his office has given the Baptists no written warnings or letters. "There won't be any letters," he told Keston. "We've warned them - that's enough." Declaring that he was aware of the Baptists' letter to Smirnov, he repeated his arguments that the prayer house had been built illegally, but said it was not a question of what the building was used for but the way it had been built. "We're not concerned with what it is used for - whether it's a church or anything else. The land has been designated for residential use and can only be used for economic or living activity."While acknowledging that the Baptists had paid a fine last year because of the illegal building work thirteen years earlier, Kramchaninov said that had no impact on the decision as to whether to legalise the building. He then refused to discuss the case further and put the phone down.

Zalozhkov was not in his office on 29 January, but his assistant, Tamara Kovalchuk, told Keston that Pastor Timoshchuk's information "does not always accord with reality". She asserted that the Baptists have the right to profess their faith, "but not to break the law". She said she did not know why Zalozhkov had refused to discuss the issue with Pastor Timoshchuk, adding that she was not aware of all the recent developments in the case.

Timoshchuk's congregation, like all congregations belonging to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists in any of the former Soviet republics, refuses to register, arguing that such registration would lay them open to state meddling.

An official of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) mission in the Moldovan capital Chisinau told Keston on 29 January that the organisation is following the case. (END)