KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 4 December 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: SECOND BAPTIST CHURCH
THREATENED WITH DEMOLITION. Just three weeks before a Baptist
church in the town of Tiraspol, the capital of Moldova's breakaway region
of Transdniester, is scheduled for enforced demolition, Keston News
Service has learnt that a second Baptist church affiliated with the Tiraspol
church has also been threatened with demolition. The pastor of the
Tiraspol church told Keston on 3 December that the head of the local
administration in the village of Krasnoe issued the verbal threat "because
the congregation is not registered as a religious organisation". The two
congregations, like all those belonging to the Council of Churches of
Evangelical Christians/Baptists in any of the former Soviet republics,
refuse to register, arguing that registration would lay them open to state
meddling.

MOLDOVA/TRANSDNIESTER: SECOND BAPTIST CHURCH
THREATENED WITH DEMOLITION

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Just three weeks before a Baptist church in the town of Tiraspol, the
capital of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, is scheduled for
enforced demolition, Keston News Service has learnt that a second
Baptist church affiliated with the Tiraspol church has also been threatened
with demolition. Pastor Vasili Timoshchuk, pastor of the Tiraspol church,
told Keston from Transdniester on 3 December that the head of the local
administration in the village of Krasnoe in Slobozia district south of
Tiraspol issued the verbal threat "because the congregation is not
registered as a religious organisation". "No official warning has yet been
received," he added. Timoshchuk insisted that the Krasnoe church - which
was opened in September - was built with planning permission. "The
building plans were approved and it was built exactly to the size on the
plans."

Timoshchuk alleges that the threat to the Krasnoe Baptist church followed
complaints about the congregation's activity to the Transdniestran
authorities from the local Orthodox priest. Keston has been unable to
confirm this claim.

The commission of the State Building Inspectorate told members of the
Tiraspol Baptist congregation on 8 November that if it does not pull down
its prayer house or transfer it to residential use by 25 December the
authorities would demolish it, on the grounds that the building had been
put up illegally (see KNS 22 November 2001).

Pastor Timoshchuk conceded that the church had been built without
planning permission, but said it had already stood for fourteen and a half
years. "It was built on private land as a light, temporary structure during
the perestroika era of the late 1980s when religious freedom began," he
told Keston. "No-one complained about it at the time, neither the
authorities nor the neighbours."

Timoshchuk reported that difficulties intensified three or four years ago,
when the local State Security Ministry, the successor to the KGB in the
unrecognised Transdniester Republic, started putting pressure on the
Baptists. "They demanded a written statement explaining why we were
not registered. We wrote that according to the law our pastors would then
be required to seek accreditation. We said this would represent
unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of our church." He added
that the Baptists had written several times to the Transdniester authorities
demanding a change to the local religion law, which dates from 22
August 1995.

Timoshchuk's congregation, like all congregations belonging to the
Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists in any of the
former Soviet republics, refuses to register, arguing that such registration
would lay them open to state meddling.

Earlier this year, Timoshchuk reported, the Transdniester authorities
began investigating the church building. When they discovered it had
been built without planning approval the church was forced to pay what
Timoshchuk described as a "small fine". "Usually when the fine is paid
they then legalise the building. However, they refused to do this because
our congregation does not have registration."

Pyotr Zalozhkov, the commissioner of religion and cults who reports to
the president of the unrecognised entity, Igor Smirnov, claimed that the
order to destroy the Tiraspol Baptist church was taken strictly on planning
grounds. "It is an illegal building put up without permission," he told
Keston by telephone from Tiraspol on 3 December. "They have no
documents saying it was built legally. It must therefore be removed. That
is the law."

Zalozhkov claimed that the unregistered status of the congregation was
not an issue. "I don't connect registration with the question of the
building. No-one is banned from holding religious meetings in their
home." He declared that Transdniestran law does not ban unregistered
religious organisations. Asked why the authorities had suddenly decided
to take action against a building that had stood for nearly fifteen years he
declared: "It is difficult to say when it was built." Told that the Baptists
say it is fourteen and a half years old he responded: "There are no
documents that prove that." Zalozhkov confirmed that he had never been
inside the building, but said he had driven past it many times. "It is a two-
storey building and is clearly visible from the street."

Timoshchuk described the building to Keston as just one storey with a
balcony, adding that it did not even have any foundations, let alone a
cellar as Zalozhkov maintained. Timoshchuk said he was prepared to
have the church examined by independent observers, such as officials
from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) office in the
Moldovan capital Chisinau. (END)

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