Friday 25 September

PRESSURES REVIVED AGAINST AMERICAN MISSIONARIES IN RUSSIA'S FAR

EAST



by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service



For the second time this year the secular authorities of Russia's

far eastern Khabarovsk province are trying to expel an American

missionary from the country. Like the first case, the second

involves a missionary affiliated with the Baptist Mid-Mission

organisation, ARTHUR BRISTOL, who has taken the place of DAN

POLLARD in the town of Vanino. (For details of the local

authorities' harassment of pastor Pollard, see Keston News

Service, 24 March and 2 June 1998.)



On 16 July pastor Bristol arrived in Khabarovsk, but the secular

authorities refused to let him go to Vanino--on the ground that

Vanino was not specifically mentioned in Bristol's visa.

According to Bristol, after two weeks of visits to the visa

office and to VIKTOR NIKULNIKOV, the province's top official for

church-state relations, Bristol decided to return to the USA,

where he obtained a new visa specifically mentioning Vanino.



According to Bristol and his lawyer YEKATERINA SMYSLOVA, who were

interviewed by Keston News Service in Moscow, the missionary

arrived again in Khabarovsk province on 20 August and in Vanino

on Friday evening, 22 August. But on Monday, 25 August, he was

told that he could not remain there. At first he was informed

by the local visa office that the invitation signed by Pollard

and bearing the seal of the Vanino congregation was invalid

because Pollard no longer lived there. Bristol then rewrote the

invitation, replacing Pollard's signature with that of one of

Pollard's Russian assistants who was living in Vanino on 25

August. But he was told that he must leave Russia within two

days or else he would be arrested.



At the visa office in Vanino Bristol was told that he was being

sent back to America on the basis of Article 84 of the

Constitution and of the local rules of Khabarovsk province

concerning foreign residents. He later realised that the local

officials were using article 84 of the old 1976 Constitution;

Article 84 of the 1993 Constitution now in effect concerns the

powers of Russia's president. The officials told Bristol that

his mission was not registered in Khabarovsk province, that it

could not invite preachers and that therefore his visa was

invalid. But according to Mrs Smyslova, Bristol, like Pollard

before him, also had an invitation from Mission Emmanuel, a

centralised organisation registered at the federal level. The

reason why the authorities did not interfere with Pollard as

aggressively as they have with Bristol, she suggested, is that

the question of suspending US financial aid to the Russian

government had still not been decided when Pollard's case was

being considered.



In Bristol's case, Mission Emmanuel had authorised the

congregation in Vanino to receive him as a missionary. The

Baptist congregation in Vanino is in fact registered in

Khabarovsk province but it has not existed for fifteen years and

is therefore subject to the restrictions on its rights spelled

out in Russia's 1997 law on religion. But Mrs Smyslova pointed

out that even Khabarovsk province's rules for inviting foreign

citizens, cited by the local officials, to justify their

treatment of pastor Bristol, authorise invitations by any

organisation 'legally functioning on the territory of Khabarovsk

province'. Such organisations might include religious

associations, she told Keston. After consulting with his lawyer,

Bristol decided not to accept the demands of the secular

authorities threatening him with arrest and expulsion.



On 27 August Bristol was summoned to a discussion with the head

of the visa office in Vanino. The officials who were present did

not identify themselves, but simply asked for Bristol's personal

documents. According to Bristol he recognised that the person

speaking for the town administration was someone who had been

following him and who he and some of his Russian friends believed

to be an agent of the FSB (the latest name for the secret police

best known in the west as the KGB ). This person told Bristol

that he was breaking the law and threatened him with arrest. The

visa officials drew up a document for Bristol to sign, admitting

that he had violated the province's rules on the residence of

foreigners; the missionary refused.



Bristol's firm position led to the secular authorities deciding

on 31 August not to expel him. But they decided to register him

in Vanino without specifically granting him permission to engage

in religious activities, warning him that if he were caught

publicly praying or preaching he would be forced to leave Russia.

Bristol refused to be registered under these conditions. On that

same day the provincial administration sent a representative to

Vanino to inspect the congregation's documents and property.

Captain SERGEI DROZDOV of the province's visa office concluded

that the congregation was legally registered - but he then began

to ask questions about Bristol's visa and invitation and insisted

that everything be put into written form for the sake of

precision. He demanded detailed information about the church

building, including its interior furnishings and equipment, even

asking whether its printer was registered with the town

administration.



After this review, in effect a police search, Bristol decided to

appeal to higher authorities in Moscow. He bought aeroplane

tickets on 1 September. When he presented his passport and visa

for review at the airport an officer of the Ministry of the

Interior took the documents away, went off to consult a

colleague, then failed to return them. According to Bristol both

officers then refused to talk with him further, even though they

clearly understood him, and even laughed at his attempts to get

his personal documents back. He finally decided to fly to Moscow

without them, and managed to get onto the aeroplane by showing

photocopies of the documents along with his US driver's licence.

He noticed the officer who had taken away the documents boarding

the same aeroplane - but in business class, unlike the

missionary.



According to Bristol all of these events were most likely

organised by Nikulnikov, since the other officials always cited

his instructions. In July, he said, Nikulnikov personally told

him that he hated Americans and Christians and that missionaries

were bringing an American ideology which was 'destroying our

country'. Nikulnikov added that Russia's federal law meant

nothing, that the main thing was local instructions. As in his

conversations with Pollard, Nikulnikov suggested that Bristol and

the congregation in Vanino join the regional branch of the Union

of Baptists headed by GENNADI ABRAMOV. But Bristol replied that

one of the key principles of his Baptist Mid-Missions

organisation was independence.



Bristol told Keston that the provincial authorities had long

tried to convince the Vanino congregation's members that their

church did not have the full status and rights of a 'legal

personality' under Russian law. The church has not even been

registered by the consular service of the Foreign Ministry on the

list of those approved for services . According to Bristol

several Russian members of the congregation have been told that

to get such approval they must get the consent of Nikulnikov.

In the opinion of these members, he said, dealing with the

Khabarovsk province officials is like dealing with officials from

a foreign country which is not part of Russia.



Requesting comment from Nikulnikov's office, Keston was referred

to one MIKHAIL SVISHCHEV who said in a telephone conversation of

3 September that Nikulnikov had left for holiday a week earlier

and that he himself knew little about the situation. However he

endorsed the previous accusation of the authorities that an

invitation to a missionary such as Bristol could be issued only

by an organisation registered in the territory of Khabarovsk

province, not by a 'Moscow organisation'. According to Svishchev,

Nikulnikov had nothing to do with the problem. 'Everything has

happened as it has because of the fact that the invitation came

from Moscow', he said.



Bristol told Keston that he had come to Moscow because 'I'm

worried about my own safety'. But all the same he said that he

wished to return to Vanino. His visa was due to expire in

November when he would be compelled to return home.



In an 11 September meeting at the Institute of Religion and Law,

pastor Bristol said that after receiving a new passport through

the US Embassy, he accidentally found in his suitcase his

original passport and visa. The missionary stated that he

himself could not possibly have put those documents there; he

suggested to Keston that the officer who had boarded the Moscow-

bound aeroplane with him in Khabarovsk must have done so. He

suggested that perhaps it was precisely for this purpose that

the aircraft stood waiting at the airport in Moscow for two hours

after landing.



On 14 September Bristol flew from Moscow to Khabarovsk, to pray

with the members of his congregation. That evening he called his

wife in the US but was disconnected twice after saying firstly

that the US Embassy in Moscow advised him against bringing his

family and secondly that the Khabarovsk government thought that

he was a spy, again, according to the US Embassy.



On Friday 18 September, Bristol contacted the US Consulate in

Vladivostok after being refused registration by OVIR (Visa

Registration Department). The consulate told him they had a

letter from the head of OVIR of Khabarovsk stating that Bristol

would be registered. The same day Bristol received a letter from

OVIR stating that he was not allowed to live in Pollard's house

because the church met there. Smyslova had already assured

Bristol that there was no legal basis for this statement. The

letter also cited Article 20 Section 2 of the 1997 Law on Freedom

of Conscience and Religious Associations to assert that Bristol

could not participate in religious acts. But Section 1 of Article

20 gives him the freedom to be an active member in church life.

Again, he was threatened with being 'punished' and or 'deported'

if he did participate in religious acts.



Finally, three days later, on 21 September, OVIR registered him

under their 31 August conditions, but not before ordering Bristol

to sign a letter stating that if he participated in religious

acts he would be breaking the law and be 'punished'. Bristol

wrote on the letter: 'I have received this letter and understand

what it implies as compared to the law of the Russian

Federation.' This registration, he was told, was only as a guest

in Vanino of fellow foreigner Dan Pollard and was considered a

personal invitation (not an invitation from the centralised

organisation Mission Emmanuel or from his church in Vanino.) If

his initial invitation to Vanino by Dan Pollard was rejected by

authorities because Pollard no longer lived there, his position

recognised by OVIR as Pollard's guest remains precarious.



According to Bristol, the most important thing is not to be

silent--otherwise the officials will engage in even more

violations of the law. (END)