Issue 6, Article 12, 9 June 2000

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

Friday 9 June 2000

by Mikhail Edelstein, Keston News Service

In the wake of the decision of the Kostroma regional department of justice to
refuse reregistration to two Pentecostal congregations, department officials
have told Keston that it is now preparing legal suits to liquidate both churches
under article 14, clause 2, point 7 of Russia's 1997 law on religion (which
allows religious groups that use hypnosis to be liquidated or banned). The order
refusing reregistration to the Kostroma Christian Centre (KCC) and the Grace
Church of Evangelical Christians - dated 15 May and signed by the head of the
justice department, LYUDMILA ALIYEVA - cited the conclusion of a
committee of experts on religion that both churches used hypnosis during
services. Their pastors reject these allegations. ANDREI MUDRY, pastor of
the Grace church, told Keston on 4 June that a counter claim was being

Both churches have been active for nearly a decade in Kostroma, a town 300
kilometres north-east of Moscow. The KCC, which has about 300 members,
was registered in 1992; the Grace church, with about 60 members, was
registered two years later. Pastor of the KCC, ANDREI DANILOV, told
Keston on 2 June that throughout this period the two churches have been under
some pressure from the law enforcement agencies, the media and the Kostroma
diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, though previously the pressure did
not cause `serious obstacles' to their work. Both Danilov and Mudry told
Keston that their churches began experiencing major problems in late summer
last year when the question of reregistration arose. For several months officials
at the department of justice used various technical pretexts to block the start of
the reregistration process. Once the churches submitted the applications, the
situation worsened.

On 2 November 1999, Kostroma state television broadcast a news item about
religious organisations which were `the subject of particular attention from the
guardians of law and order'. The report accused the Pentecostals, who were
mentioned in the same breath as satanists, of employing `psycholinguistic
techniques to induce hypnosis' during services. The author of the report,
FYODOR LAPSHIN, admitted to Keston on 5 June that the report and its
editorial comment had included factual inaccuracies. In April he had told
Keston that the film extracts shown in the report had not been filmed by the TV
station but had been given to it by a man who wished to remain anonymous
(see KNS 20 April 2000).

After this report was broadcast, the TV station directors met Danilov and
Mudry at the request of the latter, but the meeting satisfied neither party. The
TV station director, SERGEI SITNIKOV, decided to pass the video material to
the regional procurator's office, asking for an assessment of whether the
Pentecostals were acting in accordance with the law. The procuracy passed the
material on to the department of justice, which handed responsibility for a
judgement to a committee of experts of the Kostroma regional administration.

The committee of experts appointed at the end of 1999 was made up of seven
people: one representative from the regional administration, a regional
department of justice official, two university lecturers on religion, two doctors
(a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist) and a lawyer specialising in religious law.
SERGEI GALITSKY, deputy head of the regional administration who had for
a number of years been in charge of regional agriculture, was appointed
chairman. The committee did not begin work until February of this year and
the Pentecostals were its first `case'.

The committee concluded that the two pastors employed `psychological
manipulation' during services, leading their parishioners into a trance-like state.
The author of the report, psychotherapist IGOR SHERSTENIKIN, told Keston
on 3 June that he believed church members reached the second (intermediate)
stage of hypnosis. Sherstenikin admitted to Keston that he had not attended any
Pentecostal services, had not talked to the pastors or church members and had
reached his conclusion on the basis of the video material alone, but claimed
that he had thus avoided any bias in his conclusions by confining himself
solely to facts.

Although the report nowhere declares that the pastors have caused any harm to
the health of citizens, under article 14, clause 2, point 7 of the law on religion it
is essential to prove this to obtain a court order for the liquidation of a religious
organisation. MARINA SMIRNOVA, a member of the committee and head of
the department for relations with social and religious organisations, told Keston
on 29 May that the committee had also considered declaring the activity of the
Pentecostals harmful to morality, but the majority of committee members did
not support this.

Danilov and Mudry deny using hypnosis. They told Keston that the video
material examined by the expert committee was genuine, but explained that the
scenes filmed showed the effects of the `anointing of the Holy Spirit'. Both
pastors explained that they were invited to give evidence to the committee only
after it had already reached its conclusion, adding that while the committee was
compiling its report they were not approached even once to give an
explanation. The pastors consider the very fact that they were investigated by
this committee to be illegal, maintaining that procedures for the investigation
of organisations belonging to a centralised organisation lay down that they
should be investigated by a committee of experts appointed by the federal
ministry of justice, and local authorities could only appoint committees of
experts to assess organisations which did not belong to a centralised body. The
KCC belongs to the Association of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) led by
SERGEI RYAKHOVSKY, while the Grace Church belongs to the Union of
Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) headed by VLADIMIR MURZA.

By contrast, a third Pentecostal group in Kostroma, the Word to the Nations
church, which also belongs to Murza's Union, achieved reregistration in
autumn 1999 without any problems. Deputy head of the department of justice,
NINA KOLUPAYEVA, explained to Keston on 5 June that the sole reason for
appointing a committee to investigate the KCC and the Grace Church was the
videotape which the TV station had passed on to the department of justice. If
the department of justice had not received this material, Kolupayeva maintains,
the reregistration of all the Pentecostal congregations would probably have
been achieved without any difficulty.

Danilov claimed that even before the KCC had been refused reregistration, he
and his church had faced increasing pressure from the authorities. In April, a
Kostroma TV programme showed an interview with a woman who was
portrayed as a former member of the KCC. The woman - whose face was not
shown and whose voice was disguised - accused the KCC leadership of
misusing funds and claimed that the church had forced her to reject her parents
and turned her into a zombie. On the day this interview was broadcast Danilov
was called in by the tax police. The police then accompanied him back to his
home (the juridical address of the church), checked through his computer files
and removed the church accounts for further investigation. This material is
currently being assessed by the tax inspectors.

Kolupayeva insists that the department of justice will go ahead with its
intention to bring to court its action to liquidate the two churches, but declined
to predict the outcome. Danilov and Mudry are convinced that if the courts
consider their case objectively, the Pentecostals will win. (END)

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