Issue 5, Article 19, 22 May 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Monday 22 May 2000

by Xenia Dennen, Keston News Service

Unregistered Baptists in the village of Chernyshevsky, in the north Siberian
autonomous republic of Sakha-Yakutia, whose congregation belongs to the
Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, have complained of
harassment by their local authorities. The flat where the church meets was
raided by militia (police) officers and a fire-safety inspector, according to a 10
May statement issued through the Council of Churches, and the militia officers
questioned the legality of the church's activity. Speaking to Keston News
Service, the local police chief confirmed that his officers had visited the flat,
but denied that there had been any `incident', claiming this was a legally-
sanctioned visit following up on a fine for violating fire-safety regulations.
However, his complaints against the congregation ranged beyond this narrow
issue, focusing on the church's activity as an unregistered congregation.

Member congregations of the Council of Churches refuse on principle to be
registered with the state authorities in any of the former Soviet republics where
they are active because they believe registration leads to unacceptable
interference in their internal church affairs. Russia's 1997 law on religion does
not require religious groups to have registration.

On 5 May three women members of the Chernyshevsky congregation, V.I.
BELOUSOVA, S.I. ZOTOVA and M.V. MARINOVA, were cleaning the two-
roomed flat in which their congregation regularly hold services when at 9 p.m.
two local militiamen, SHITIKOV and R. PRIVALOV, a fire-safety inspector
called D. AKIMOV and another young man called V. PAVLOV entered the
premises. 'They examined everything and asked for the name and address of
the pastor,' the Baptists reported. Privalov went through the card index of those
who had borrowed books from the congregation and began writing down their
names and addresses. They asked Belousova about the activity of this Baptist
group on the basis of an 'alleged' request from the procuracy, the Baptists
reported. The militia then threatened to ban all access to the flat.

At this point one of the three Baptist women went to find their pastor VIKTOR
MARINOV, who managed to grab from Privalov the list of names and
addresses which he had made. 'This evoked great indignation', added the
Baptists in their statement. Shitikov and Akimov suggested Pastor Marinov
answer some questions but he refused to talk to them about his church's
activities, inviting them instead to attend a prayer meeting. He was then
forcibly taken to the police station and the card index was confiscated.
Members of the congregation were quickly informed of what had happened,
and they hurried to the police station, where they began singing psalms. The
local police chief KAPITON SEMYONOV and the other officials questioned
the Baptists about their activities, their community's finances, leaders, statutes
and members and whether they were registered. Pastor Marinov was ordered to
report to the police station the next day but he refused to do so.

On 6 May Semyonov approached a group of Baptists who had set up a
bookstall in the village, took down their names and ages, and threatened to take
Pastor Marinov to court, saying, according to the Baptists' report, 'If you don't
behave properly, we'll act differently. We'll handcuff you and bring you in by

In a 19 May telephone interview from Chernyshevsky, police chief Semyonov
told Keston that the Baptist congregation of 30-40 were 'illegal' because they
had not registered. He added that they had been given a court order to pay a
fine of 40 roubles (1.40 US dollars) for breaking fire regulations on the grounds
that too many people had been packed into the flat at one time during their
services. He had sent two militiamen and a fire safety inspector to check on the
legality of the Baptists at the request of the procuracy, he said. He had acted
within the law, he assured Keston. 'I did not forbid them to meet, because the
Constitution allows freedom of religious confession.' He insisted that no force
had been used, no-one had been evicted from any premises, that 'there had been
no incident'. In addition to the community's refusal to register, Semyonov was
also concerned that the Baptists were breaking the law by bringing children to
their meetings. According to Keston's information children can attend religious
meetings under the 1997 law on religion if they have the written permission of
their parents, but Semyonov did not claim that children were attending without
such permission.

AFANASI NIKOLAYEV, head of the department dealing with religious
questions in the administration of the republic of Sakha-Yakutia told Keston
from Yakutsk on 22 May that this religious group might belong to the category
of 'destructive totalitarian sects' which turned people into 'zombies', 'exploited
its members' and 'destroyed the personality', because this group did not belong
to the Russian Orthodox Church. Furthermore, Nikolayev claimed, the
Chernyshevsky group in question might not even belong to the Baptist church.
He gave as an example a group in Aldan, prosecuted for abusing children,
which last year had claimed to belong to the Pentecostal church, but which on
examination had been found to be a quite separate group. As another example
of the dangerous exploitation of people by a religious organisation he cited an
alleged case in St Petersburg where a Scientologist had been examined in a
psychiatric hospital, had been found to be 'zombified' and quite untreatable. Of
course there was freedom of conscience according to the federal law, but the
authorities had to be wary of 'new formations' with 'extremist tendencies'
which, in his view, might endanger society.

Despite Nikolayev's doubts about the affiliation of the Chernyshevky Baptists,
the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists has clearly
identified the church as one of its congregations. The Chernyshevky Baptists
have already faced harassment for their religious activity. In June 1999 the
local police broke up a street evangelism meeting, confiscated a tent (which the
Baptists claim was damaged when it was eventually returned) and detained
three Baptists, who were threatened with a trial on charges of breaking passport
regulations and the rules on public meetings, although in the end the three were
released some three hours later (see KNS 24 August 1999). The church now
fears that the state authorities may be trying to stop them holding their services
and spreading their faith. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.