Tuesday 11 May

UKRAINIAN BAPTISTS DETAINED AS EVANGELISTIC MEETINGS KICK OFF



by Felix Corley, Keston News Service



Three preachers of the Baptist Church in Ukraine have been detained

and imprisoned for a ten-day period, the US-based Russian

Evangelistic Ministries reports. `Following the rehabilitation of

Christian prisoners in the late 1980s, this is the first instance of

imprisonment solely for Christian activity in Ukraine,' the mission

adds. The three, PAVEL SITKOVSKY, NIKOLAI BURLAKA and GRIGORI

SAFRONOV, were arrested in the town of Kegichevka in eastern

Ukraine's Kharkov region on 4 May as an evangelistic 'tent mission'

was beginning.



All three were then reportedly sentenced to ten days' imprisonment,

presumably under the Ukrainian Administrative Code, although it

remains unclear on what charge. The men's relatives have been denied

access to them and are therefore unable to ascertain the reason for

their arrest and imprisonment, or whether they have also been fined.

However, it is known that the three have gone on hunger strike. The

authorities are reportedly waiting for an Orthodox priest to speak

with the prisoners.



Two of the three are ministers and one is a layman; all belong to

Baptist Churches that rejected state registration during the Soviet

period. Sitkovsky is pastor of the church in Krasnograd, while

Burlaka is pastor in Merefa, both in Kharkov region of eastern

Ukraine. Safronov is a lay preacher.



These arrests are the first that the Baptists have suffered in

Ukraine since the end of the persecution of the congregations

belonging to the unregistered Council of Churches during the rule of

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV. Baptists in Ukraine are reported to be concerned

that this might be a response to the start of the evangelistic

campaign, which begins in tent missions in the spring as warmer

weather arrives. `Overall, there have been no problems in the area,'

Russian Evangelistic Ministries told Keston. `What troubles

evangelists is that this was done at the beginning of the

evangelistic season.' (END)





Tuesday 11 May

CHECHEN RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS OFFICIAL KIDNAPPED



by Felix Corley and Lawrence Uzzell, Keston News Service



In the night of 28 to 29 April, ABUZAR SUMBULATOV, the Chairman of

the Ministry for the Affairs of Religions and Confessions of the

Chechen Republic, was abducted from his apartment in Grozny, sources

in the North Caucasus region told Keston News Service. Sumbulatov was

the leading religious affairs official in Chechnya; his office,

though the successor to the Soviet-era Council for Religious Affairs,

was instrumental in trying to promote harmony between different

faiths and in channelling humanitarian aid into the secessionist

republic. A practising Muslim, Sumbulatov was also chairman of the

Berkat non-governmental charity.



Keston News Service had interviewed Sumbulatov in his Grozny office

during a 1995 trip to Chechnya, when the capital of the rebellious

province was under the precarious control of a pro-Moscow government

- to be overthrown in 1996 when the anti-Moscow rebels captured

Grozny. Strikingly, the victorious rebels allowed the widely

respected Sumbulatoov to continue serving in thereligious-affairs

post in which he had already been serving under the pro-Moscow

government. In that 1995 interview, when the rebels' later victory

was still far from certain, Sumbulatov told Keston on the record that

the government in which he was then serving was a 'puppet' regime; he

had equally harsh things to say about Chechnya's anti-Moscow

extremists.



By training and profession Sumbulatov was not a clergyman or

politician but a professor of Russian literature at Grozny

University. `He is a highly educated person,' a local source told

Keston after the recent kidnapping. `He has collected a big private

library including also over 150 Christian books. It must be

especially underlined that he was always well disposed to

Christians.'



Sumbulatov's private library played an especially important role, he

told Keston in the 1995 interview, because the library at Grozny

University had been totally destroyed by Russia's air raids. For

months his students at the university had to take their courses

without textbooks. In his opinion Moscow had deliberately targeted

cultural monuments such as Chechnya's archives: 'What was done was

very similar to genocide.'



But Sumbulatov was equally critical of Chechnya's anti-Moscow JOKHAR

DUDAYEV government, which he accused of deliberately allowing the

province's ethnic Russians to be subjected to rape and pillage by

Chechen extremists. When Dudayev was in power, he said, Grozny radio

was used to spread a warped version of Islam which included the

constant playing of martial songs in order to create a 'background'

for political agitation.



As the province's chief official for religious affairs, Sumbulatov

told Keston that he had once received a visit from one of his retired

predecessors from the Soviet era, a KGB officer. According to

Sumbulatov's account, this 'Chekist' offered to share with him

confidential information from his old files: compromising material on

various religious leaders which would be 'useful' in Sumbulatov's new

job. The KGB veteran was astonished at his refusal, he said.



Sumbulatov told Keston that the study of religion had begun 'almost

as a hobby' for him. Paradoxically, he said, he became a serious

Muslim under the influence of the Russian literature he so loved.



Among those who have been in continuing contact with Sumbulatov is

the North Ossetian Mission of Christian Compassion, based in the

North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz. `For many years he is a closee

friend of ours and the only connecting link providing an official

base for our work on evangelical and humanitarian projects in

Chechnya and official contacts to the Chechen Government up to the

moment he was abducted,' the Mission reported on 8 May. `Thanks to

his unremitting efforts a great amount of Christian literature - also

in the Chechen language - and humanitarian aid was delivered into

Chechnya and distributed as far back as before the war there.

Children's Bibles and a Christian magazine for children were

distributed to schools. In 1997, Chechen children were handed one

thousand Christmas presents from American children. This March, we

received a thank-you letter from the Chechen vice-prime minister for

medicines and medical supplies delivered into the Chechen Republic

via our mission through Abuzar Sumbulatov.'



Another Christian who spoke highly of Sumbulatov was FR ANATOLI

CHISTOUSOV of Grozny's Russian Orthodox parish, who strongly

recommended the religion minister to Keston in 1995. Fr Anatoli was

himself later kidnapped and murdered.



Sumbulatov's own abduction has come amid a fresh spate of kidnappings

of Christians in and around Chechnya. In summer 1997, three members

of the Baptist church in Grozny were subjected to maltreatment for

distributing Christian literature. The literature was confiscated and

burnt. In May 1998, the driver of the North Ossetian Mission EDUARD

TOMAYEV was kidnapped in Vladikavkaz, and nothing has been heard of

him since. In October 1998 an Orthodox priest Father ISSIKHY was

kidnapped, though he was later released. Also kidnapped in October

1998 was the pastor of the Baptist Church in Grozny ALEKSEI SITNIKOV,

and nothing has been heard from him since. There are fears he has

been murdered. Last February his successor as pastor ALEKSANDR

KULAKOV was kidnapped and two weeks later found beheaded. In March, a

Baptist youth worker VOLODYA KARGIYEV was kidnapped in Vladikavkaz

and taken to Chechnya. His family recently received a video of him

in which he begs them to find the money for his ransom. Also in

March, two Orthodox priests, Father PYOTR MARKOV and Father PYOTR

SUKHONOSOV, were kidnapped in neighbouring Ingushetia and taken

across the border into Chechnya. In April another Orthodox priest,

Father SERGI POTAPOV, was kidnapped in Ingushetia.



Although Chechnya has been plagued with lawlessness since the end of

the brutal war with Russia, it seems that Christians are now being

specifically targeted. It is not clear if this is connected with

growing Islamic awareness at a time when Chechnya is moving rapidly

to become an Islamic state or whether it is because the overwhelming

majority of the Christians that remain in Chechnya are ethnic

Russians. The Russian Baptist Union advised all its members to leave

Chechnya last year; few now remain.



Keston's current sources say that they do not know whether the

kidnapping of Sumbulatov is connected with his work. But many who

have been in contact with him in recent years, Muslims and Christians

alike, have appealed for prayer and support for his release. (END)





Tuesday 11 May

RUSSIAN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES FINALLY RE-REGISTERED



Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service



The religious organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses was finally

registered in Russia - on 29 April, one day before the expiry of the

six-month period stipulated by the 1997 law on religion within which

a decision must be reached. �Now the question arises of re-

registration on a local level�, says ARTUR LEONTEV, the lawyer who

prepared the documents for registration.



The Expert Council of the Ministry of Justice , which decides whether

to issue a registration, delayed the decision five times. The head of

Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, VASSILI KALIN, was asked questions

like �Does your organisation force its members to refuse blood

transfusions?� or �Does the organisation press its members not to

serve in the armed forces?� Each time he had to give written

answers.



The deliberate dragging out of the registration process seemed to

have a specific, though unspoken, explanation. The Moscow

Golovinsky court is still hearing a case against the local Jehovah's

Witness community initiated by a Committee for the Salvation of

Youth . This Committee demands that a stop be put to Jehovah's

Witness activities as harmful to young people. The hearing has been

adjourned for the gathering of expert opinions. Kalin claims that

local Jehovah�s Witness communities have received refusals to

register them in twenty cases - all because of the Moscow court

case.



However, the Ministry of Justice Expert Council could not postpone

its decision further because of six months' rule and finally

considered the Jehovah�s Witness registration. It was granted. But

the Ministry itself demanded that certain amendments had to be

introduced into the charter of Jehovah' Witnesses Russian

organisation. The main demand was to exclude preaching at the

doorstep. The law on religion of 1997 says nothing specific against

this activity but the Ministry officials insist that as this method

of preaching was not mentioned in the law, it should not be in the

charter either. The lawyer representing the Jehovah�s Witnesses was

told that the Ministry receives telephone complaints from members of

the public who object to Jehovah's Witnesses calling at their doors

as �arousing displeasure�.



Another demand was that the Jehovah�s Whitnesses Administrative

Centre draw up contracts with its voluntary workers. The Centre was

against this because it might be interpreted as hiring workers

commercially. SERGEI VASSILEV, one of the leaders of the Moscow

Jehovah�s Witness community , told Keston that in his opinion the

Ministry was trying to establish a mechanism for applying pressure

on Jehovah's Witnesses in the future.



Keston�s Moscow representative interviewed a highly-placed Ministry

official and was assured that the disagreements would be discussed

with Jehovah's Witnesses in search of a compromise. And indeed

Vassily Kalin soon reported that all the problems have been resolved.

For example, asa far as preaching is concerned the words �home to

home� have been replaced with �on domestic premises�.



The leaders of Russian Jehovah's Witnesses hope that the

registration of their Administrative Centre in Saint-Petersburg will

have a positive effect on the general standing of the organisation

and its local communities. It may even influence the outcome of the

Moscow court case since a decision to ban Jehovah�s Witness

activities in the capital of Russia would fly in the face of their

recent registration nationwide. But Kalin is not overly optimistic.

He told Keston: � The Russian media wage a campaign of hatred

against us. Last year, there were some 600 hostile reports in the

press, on radio and television. In the first four months of this

year we spotted more than 200 such slanderous reports. These include

the most absurd charges. A man allegedly beat up his wife and

children because they did not want to attend the Jehovah's Witness

meeting. We checked this out - this man has never been a Witness.

Or, in a town where several Jehovah's Witnesses work at the nuclear

power station, the local paper warned: �Beware! The Jehovah's

Witnesses have access to nuclear weapons!� In a broadcast of one of

the national TV networks, an allegation was made that Jehovah's

Witnesses collaborated with Hitler; in fact, the Nazis severely

persecuted the Jehovah's Witnesses. But our attempts to refute such

slanderous inventions are usually met with evasive replies like �your

article is not in accord with our editorial policy�.



One day after the registration, on 30 April, the newspaper Segodnya

published an account of the remarks made by GENRIKH MIKHAILOV, the

secretary of the Russian government's commission for liaison with

religious associations. He spoke of an activisation of 'all sorts

of religious sects' ahead of parliamentary elections due later this

year .Jehovah's Witnesses, said Mikhailov, were conducting a campaign

�of an openly aggressive character' and were even trying to get their

representatives into legislative bodies. Strangely, during the Moscow

court case the Jehovah's Witnesses were accused of just the opposite

- of refusal to recognise the state and the authorities. (END)





CORRECTION:

In the article '"Hooligan" Orthodox Priest Disrupts Adventist

Meeting� (31 March) Keston News Service reported the sequence of

events described by Anna Ilyash as follows:

Two of Fr Iosif's sons and his deacon attended the Adventist meeting

despite attempts to prevent them, Fr Iosif arrived at the meeting and

started shouting, Anna Ilyash was hit over the head and had her

clothes torn, the main protagonists were taken to the police station

where the police found scissors in the pockets of the deacon and the

elder son.



This should have been as follows:

Two of Fr Iosif's sons and his deacon attended the Adventist meeting

despite attempts to prevent them, they started shouting, Anna Ilyash

was hit over head and had her clothes torn, the three were taken to a

local police station where the police found scissors in the pockets

of the deacon and the elder son, Fr Iosif arrived at the police

station and began shouting. (END)