RUSSIA: Independent Baptist Church Faces Liquidation Hearing.

Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 28 August 2002

Liquidation of the independent Baptist church in the Pacific port of Vanino is due to be considered by a local court tomorrow (29 August).

"If no one intervenes, our church will be liquidated," the church's founder, Dan Pollard wrote to Keston from the United States on 23 August. "Since it is registered as an independent Baptist church, once that is lost, we can never register again as an independent Baptist Church, like all our mission churches around the world do." Only independent status, explained Pollard, "is acceptable to our supporting churches all across America."

Under Russia's 1997 law on religion, the church would in fact be able to register anew independently of any other church structure if it were liquidated - but only after a 15-year wait, during which it would be deprived of such basic rights as distributing literature and inviting foreign citizens.

Vanino Baptist Church currently has an appeal pending against the Khabarovsky Krai department of justice's 25 October 2000 refusal to re-register it under the same law because its legal address is also registered as living accommodation. (See KNS 7 August 2002) However, according to church member Inna Vaulina, the local judge due to consider liquidation, Tamara Afanasyeva, told the church's lawyer on 22 August that she was not prepared to postpone the liquidation hearing until after the church's appeal had been heard.

Speaking to Keston by telephone from Vanino on 28 August, Tamara Afanasyeva explained that this was because the two cases were essentially unconnected in law; the church's appeal related to a decision by a Khabarovsky Krai regional court, she said, while liquidation would be considered at her - lower - level.

Keston asked Afanasyeva whether she thought that the outcome of tomorrow's hearing would be affected by a ruling of the Russian Constitutional Court on 7 February 2002, according to which liquidation of a religious organisation registered prior to the 1997 law on religion is permissible only if it "is properly proven to have ceased its activities or to be conducting activity in violation of its obligations as a legal personality according to the Russian Constitution." Giving assurances that she would take the Constitutional Court ruling - which she claimed to know well - into account, Afanasyeva said that she would consider all the circumstances of the Baptists' case in order to determine "if there are any which support liquidation, such as violation of the constitutional order."

Meanwhile, Pollard has still to be permitted to return to Vanino, despite a 15 May 2002 ruling by a Khabarovsk city court which declared invalid a previous decision not to admit him to the Russian Federation until March 2004. "Our lawyer went to the proper authorities in Khabarovsk with the court document proving I am innocent, but they have refused to remove me from the blacklist," he told Keston News Service. "It is apparent that they don't want me there so that they can liquidate our church without interference." (END)