KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 31 January 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: METHODIST PROTESTS AT
HARASSMENT. Moldova's Methodist leader has protested against what
he claims is harassment by the authorities of the breakaway Moldovan
region of Transdniester, including the denial of registration for its two
communities in the unrecognised entity and KGB pressure to cut his ties
with the outside world. "We have requested registration for the past six
years," he told Keston News Service from Bendery/Tighina on 29
January. "They have refused - and more, threatening us. They told us the
state is Orthodox and no sectarians are allowed here, especially
Methodists." An official in the office of the commissioner of religion and
cults dismissed Hantil's claims as "fabricated".

MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: METHODIST PROTESTS AT
HARASSMENT

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Moldova's Methodist leader, Dmitri Hantil, has protested against what he
claims is harassment by the authorities of the breakaway Moldovan
region of Transdniester, including the denial of registration for its two
communities in the unrecognised entity and KGB pressure to cut his ties
with the outside world. "We have requested registration for the past six
years, lodging our first application in 1997," Hantil told Keston News
Service from Bendery/Tighina on 29 January. "They have refused - and
more, threatening us. They told us the state is Orthodox and no sectarians
are allowed here, especially Methodists." An official in the office of the
commissioner of religion and cults dismissed Hantil's claims as
"fabricated". "It's not pleasant to hear this rubbish," Tamara Kovalchuk
told Keston from Tiraspol on 31 January. "Remember the bit in the Bible
when it talks about the 'father of lies'. He has given you false information.
It is not professional for you to publish it."

Hantil complained that a Captain Soin of the National Security Ministry
(Transdniester's successor to the KGB) visited him at home on 7
December. "He warned me that if I do not cease cooperating with
international organisations and conveying to them distorted information
on the TMR [Trandniestran Moldovan Republic], I would be punished as
an enemy of the TMR," Hantil wrote in an appeal to the Chisinau Mission
of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on
12 December. Captain Soin alleged that Hantil was �an agent of a foreign
secret service, using church activities as a cover�. �Therefore unless I put
an end to all my preacher activities, they will be regarded as an open
confrontation with the TMR authorities and I will be reprimanded in a
manner that is required in such cases," Hantil wrote. He told Keston that
Soin had returned on 9 December to warn him to stop applying for
registration for his churches with the Transdniestran authorities.

The Methodists - who began working locally eight years ago - now have
four communities in Moldova, two in Transdniester - Tiraspol and
Bendery/Tighina - and two in government-controlled areas of Moldova �
the capital Chisinau and Comrat. An official of the Moscow headquarters
of the United Methodist Church - which is headed by Bishop Rudiger
Minor and which includes congregations in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova
- confirmed to Keston on 31 January that the congregations Hantil leads
are fully-fledged members of the Church. Hantil reported that his four
communities together have some 150 adult members, plus children. An
application to register the communities with the Moldovan authorities is
currently underway.

Pyotr Zalozhkov, the commissioner of religion and cults who reports to
the president of the unrecognised entity, Igor Smirnov, was out of the
office on 30 and 31 January. However Kovalchuk, his assistant, claimed
that Hantil had applied for registration for his churches only once,
"several years ago". "He came and gave in his list of founders," she told
Keston. "We examined it and discovered that half were people who had
been sentenced and the other half were under criminal investigation. We
refused the application and gave him the refusal in writing." Under
Article 14 of Transdniester's law on religion of 23 August 1995, only ten
citizens are required to form a registered religious organisation.
Kovalchuk declined to say why the fact that the founders might have
served sentences or be under investigation would prevent them being
founders of a religious organisation.

She said she had not seen Hantil since then. "I don't know what's
happened to him," she claimed. "He's disappeared." Asked whether the
Methodists would get registration if they applied again, Kovalchuk
responded: "They have not applied again." Pressed by Keston, she
declared: "Of course they can register. There is no order preventing it."

Natalya Chernova, the Church's lawyer and also pastor in the Russian
town of Veliki Novgorod, disputes Kovalchuk's claims. She told Keston
that Hantil had unsuccessfully applied for registration with the
Transdniestran authorities three times. "The first time they said they had
to examine what kind of church it was. Then they issued a written refusal,
based on 'inconsistencies' in the documents," she told Keston on 31
January. "The second time they just told him privately that he would not
get registration. Then, in early 2000, Bishop Minor visited Tiraspol and
spoke to Zalozhkov. The discussion was very pleasant and there was hope
for registration." Chernova said she herself had visited Tiraspol to work
on the documentation in May 2000. "Zalozhkov said everything was in
order with the application, but after some delay that too was refused."

Hantil said that the two churches can meet privately in members' homes,
but that is all. "Officially we are not allowed to rent premises for worship
or build churches." He stressed that his communities wanted registration
not just to gain legal status, but to be able to start a centre to treat
alcoholics and drug-addicts. "Methodists are noted for this work," he told
Keston. "Without registration we can't do it."

Hantil identified the local National Security Ministry as the source of the
official hostility. "There is constant interference by the KGB - they play
the leading role, using old Soviet methods." He singled out in particular
the security minister General Vladimir Antyufeev (who, under the name
Vadim Shevtsov, was involved in the Soviet OMON riot police in their
crackdown in Latvia in 1991). "Everything comes from him."

Security ministry officers had not interrupted services of the Methodist
churches in Bendery/Tighina or in Tiraspol, Hantil reported, although in
recent years there had been harassment after services of the church in
Tiraspol. "At the end of 1999 they even beat some of our church members
after the service there." He also claims that he sustained a light gunshot
wound to the head in 2000 when he was shot at while walking home late
one evening. He maintains he was shot at by security ministry officers,
who had been following him. Kovalchuk refused to give Keston the
Security Ministry's telephone number to verify Hantil's claims.

Chernova said that despite the authorities' "beautiful words" to visiting
Methodist leaders, the authorities have been "very obstructive" over
registration. "They do not want to register the Methodists. It is obvious
that the Orthodox Church rules there and it is the basic censor as to who
is registered and who is not." Hantil is sceptical that the Transdniestran
authorities will respond to pressure. "The local authorities are not afraid
of anything," he complained to Keston. "They still have Soviet laws and
the whole structure is still in the old style."

Matti Sidoroff of the OSCE office in Moldova confirmed to Keston from
Chisinau on 31 January that it had received Hantil's appeal and was
following the case. (END)

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.