KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 22 November 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: CHRISTMAS DEMOLITION FOR
BAPTIST CHURCH? A Baptist congregation in the town of Tiraspol has
been told that the authorities will demolish its prayer house if it does not
transfer it to residential use or pull it down by 25 December, local
Baptists complained in a statement received by Keston News Service.
The State Building Inspectorate warning, issued on 8 November, follows
increasing pressure on the church. Local officials have insisted to Keston
that the church is "illegally built" and that they are not targeting the
building because it is used for worship.

II. MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: POLICE CLOSE BAPTIST
MEETING - WITH ORTHODOX HELP? An evangelistic meeting
organised by the Tiraspol Baptist church in a nearby village was closed
by police on the evening of 6 October, local Baptists reported in a
statement received by Keston News Service. Those addressing the
meeting were later fined. The Tiraspol church reported that the police
were accompanied by an Orthodox priest, who appeared to be directing
the operation. They identified him as Hieromonk Arseni (Manko), the
head of the Tiraspol diocese's missionary department, but Keston was
unable to contact him to discuss the report.

I. MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: CHRISTMAS DEMOLITION FOR
BAPTIST CHURCH?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A Baptist church in the town of Tiraspol, the capital of the breakaway
region of Transdniester, has been told that if it does not pull down its
prayer house or transfer it to residential use by 25 December the
authorities will demolish it, local Baptists complained in a 21 November
statement received by Keston News Service. The warning was handed
down by the commission of the State Building Inspectorate on 8
November and follows increasing pressure on the church which peaked
on 6 October when the police and a senior priest of the Orthodox diocese
of Tiraspol and Dubossary burst into an evangelistic meeting the church
was holding in a village near Tiraspol (see separate KNS article). Local
officials have insisted to Keston that they are taking action against the
church solely because it is "illegally built" and that they are not targeting
the building because it is used for worship.

Despite these claims, the authorities in Tiraspol insist that the church
must register to be allowed to function. The head of the Building
Inspectorate inspection service, Ivan Kramchaninov, told church
members verbally that they should register and then have their prayer
house registered as a "cult building", but the congregation rejects this
suggestion. Like all congregations of the Council of Churches of
Evangelical Christians/Baptists in all the former Soviet republics where
they operate, the Tiraspol church has a policy of not seeking or accepting
registration, regarding it as state intrusion into the church's activity.

"The building was built illegally - they put it up unilaterally without
permission," Kramchaninov told Keston by telephone from Tiraspol on
22 November. "This is against the law. Lots of buildings are being put up
without permission. We have to stop this." Asked how long the Baptist
church had already been standing, he responded: "I don't know, maybe
ten years, maybe less, maybe more." Baptist sources confirmed to Keston
that the church was built more than ten years ago.

Kramchaninov complained also that the church was unregistered. Asked
what difference that made to whether the building had been illegally
constructed he declared: "It makes a great difference. It was built as a
private building for private, domestic use, not for any other purpose."
Asked why a private home-owner was not allowed to invite people for
any kind of meeting, including religious meetings, he repeated that the
house had been built for private use. He rejected suggestions that the
destruction of a place of worship would arouse suspicions around the
world that the authorities were targeting the free practice of religious faith
he responded: "It will look like it is. Every state requires buildings to be
approved and for people to abide by the law. If any believers break the
law they must be punished."

Kramchaninov stressed that he was just an official of the executive
branch and that to find out more about laws governing religion in
Transdniester Keston should contact Pyotr Zalozhkov, the commissioner
of religion and cults, who reports to Igor Smirnov, the president of the
unregistered entity.

Zalozhkov was at a meeting on 22 November, but his colleague Tamara
Alekseevna (who refused to give her last name) rejected any suggestions
that the Baptist church was being targeted. "No-one is acting against
them," she told Keston. "According to the law everyone must show that
the building was put up with permission. They built illegally." She
claimed there were frequent moves to demolish illegally constructed
buildings in Tiraspol, pointing out that some might not be safe as the area
is prone to earthquakes. She stressed that no-one is banning the Baptists
from meeting for worship just because they are not registered. "Religious
groups can function without registration from the Ministry of Justice."
(END)

II. MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: POLICE CLOSE BAPTIST
MEETING - WITH ORTHODOX HELP?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

An evangelistic meeting organised in a nearby village by the Baptist
church in the town of Tiraspol, the capital of the unrecognised entity of
Transdniester, was closed by police on the evening of 6 October, local
Baptists reported in a 21 November statement received by Keston News
Service. The Tiraspol church reported that when the Slobozia district
police raided the meeting in a tent in the village of Nezavertailovka, 40
kilometres (25 miles) south of Tiraspol, they were accompanied by a
priest of the Orthodox Church who, they said, appeared to be directing the
operation. They identified the priest as Hieromonk Arseni (Manko), the
head of the Tiraspol diocese's missionary department.

The Baptists said the police officers, Junior Sergeant Lepikov and
Sergeant Teorpek, demanded to see the identity papers of P. Timoshchuk
and V. Baron (first names unknown), who were addressing the meeting.
The police officers then declared that the Baptists had no written
permission to hold the event, nor did they have registration as a religious
organisation. They threatened to bring in the OMON special police to tear
down the tent if the Baptists failed to do so themselves.

Several weeks later, Timoshchuk and Baron were summoned to the
administrative commission, where they were each fined 50
Transdniestran roubles (eight US dollars or five UK pounds).

Keston was unable to contact Hieromonk Arseni to confirm whether he
did indeed lead the police to close down the evangelistic meeting and, if
so, what authority he had to do so, given that he is not a state official.
However, a colleague, Father Dionisi, told Keston on 22 November
Hieromonk Arseni was on holiday in Ukraine. The Baptists and members
of other religious organisations have complained in the past that clergy of
the local Orthodox diocese are close to the Transdniester authorities and
have worked with the police and the KGB to prevent minority religious
communities from holding visible public events. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.