RUSSIA: Local Baptist Missionary Harassed.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 2 April 2002

The local police, a headteacher and Orthodox leader in a small Siberian settlement are restricting the missionary activity of a Russian Baptist, the Council of Churches of the Evangelical-Christian Baptists reports. Members of the Council of Churches are otherwise widely known as the "Initsiativniki" since they comprised an "initiative group" which broke away from the Soviet Union's mainstream Baptist Church in the 1960s in protest at state demands that it cease missionary activity and religious instruction to children.

Late last year, according to the Initiativniki's 13 March statement received by Keston News Service, their church member Dmitri Mannikov moved to the settlement of Ugut, which lies approximately 100 km or 60 miles south of the town of Surgut (approximately 3000 km or 1875 miles east of Moscow) in the Siberian region of Khanty-Mansiisk. Aiming to evangelise Ugut's ethnic Khanty population, continues the statement, Mannikov soon attracted a regular congregation of some 15 locals. This reportedly aroused the disquiet of the local Orthodox warden (starosta), who threatened to call in the FSB (former KGB) to deal with Mannikov if he did not leave the settlement, and circulated anti-Baptist leaflets entitled "Against the Sect."

Once children at an Ugut school "began to pray to God and stopped taking part in sinful events," maintains the Council of Churches' statement, their headteacher made a formal complaint to the local police in which she urged them to take preventative measures "against the negative influence of a sect in the form of D. Mannikov" on the psyche of her pupils. Over recent weeks Mannikov and his parishioners have been repeatedly called in to the local police department for questioning, the statement concludes. While officers have filed suit against Mannikov, it maintains, they refuse to divulge why he is being charged.

While it was "evidently threatened," no suit was in fact filed against Mannikov, according to Galina Tuzova, Surgut regional administration's leading specialist on interconfessional relations. Speaking to Keston News Service by telephone on 28 March, Tuzova maintained that Mannikov's arrival had "somewhat troubled" Ugut's inhabitants since they did not know who he was. The behaviour of the local Orthodox warden, she suggested, could be attributed to the fact that "everyone fights for their flock."

Although Mannikov had indeed broken the law by trying to preach to local schoolchildren without the permission of their parents, said Tuzova, he had since "recognised his mistake," and the conflict had been resolved. In her view, it had arisen due to a "misunderstanding between individual citizens." With a population of just 2,000, she explained, Protestantism is almost unknown in small Khanty settlements such as Ugut, whose inhabitants are largely non-religious. (END)