Issue 9, Article 2, 5 September 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
SUMMARY: One day before the annual regional Jehovah�s Witness congress
began, the city administration announced that without explicit permission to
rent the stadium from the town�s mayor, their annual three day meeting would
be illegal. On the second day, police arrived to halt the meeting but the mayor�s
office granted permission for them to complete the event. Soon thereafter, the
stadium director was charged under the adminstrative code, but the deputy head
of the district has been unable to explain exactly which law has been broken.

Tuesday 5 September 2000

by Mikhail Zherebyatev, Keston News Service

The director of a stadium in the central Russian town of Voronezh has been
charged under the administrative code after renting his stadium to the Jehovah's
Witnesses for the group's annual regional congress in late July, which was
attended by 4,500 people. Although city officials argued that the congress was
`illegal', they have been unable to explain to Keston News Service what law the
stadium director violated.

The city authorities had initially tried to prevent the congress from going
ahead, stating that the congress was `unnecessary' and citing objections by the
local Orthodox bishop, Metropolitan MEFODI (NEMTSOV).

VLADIMIR CHUGUNOV, representative of the town authorities, repeated the
same arguments in a telephone interview with Keston, adding that `we cannot
allow mass gatherings to take place when there is military activity in the
country'. Claiming that `anything could happen' with such a large gathering of
people, he noted that a `considerable police presence' is needed to maintain
order at football matches held in the same stadium, which costs a lot of money.
`The Jehovah's Witnesses have money as they are financed by the CIA. They
fall upon smaller towns in order to deceive the people.'

In the Voronezh region there are approximately 4,000 Jehovah's Witnesses: the
community has grown rapidly in the last decade and is now the third largest
religious community in the region after the Russian Orthodox and the
Evangelical Christians/Baptists. None of the Jehovah's Witness communities in
Voronezh own any property where they could hold meetings. They have
several times asked the authorities to allocate them a plot of land to build a
place of worship. They have not received an official refusal, but the authorities
are so far not responding to their requests.

Two months before the date set for the congress, the Voronezh Jehovah's
Witness community - which has registration - took steps to hire the central
municipal sports arena. GRIGORI DZHUROMSKY, director of the Chaika
stadium, told Keston that the day before the congress officials from the Lenin
district of Voronezh and the district militia told him that since the Jehovah's
Witnesses had no written permission from the mayor's office, the congress was
illegal. Deputy head of the district militia department IVAN ZATONSKIKH
also promised that he would send a police detachment to the stadium on the
opening day of the congress to bar entry to the delegates.

Nevertheless, the congress opened as scheduled on 28 July. On the second day,
which was a Saturday, the head of the Lenin district administration, ALEKSEI
KOTENKO, visited the stadium with a regional police representative. He
declared that the meeting was taking place illegally and demanded either that
the congress be immediately brought to an end or that it seek written
permission from the mayor's office. The leaders of the congress went straight to
the mayor. LEONID POPOV, head of the department for law and order, who
represented the mayor in discussions with the Jehovah's Witnesses, told them,
`we are against this congress, but since you have started proceedings and have
worked for two days, you may meet tomorrow as well'.

Three days after the congress ended officers of the Lenin district militia visited
Dzhuromsky to serve him with an indictment accusing him of breaking article
166.1 of the administrative code (`infringement of Russian law on meetings,
gatherings, demonstrations and pickets'). On 16 August Dzhuromsky was
summoned to a meeting of the Lenin district administrative committee where
he was told that his case would be examined by the district court. The director
told Keston that he had no idea what he was being accused of, as article 166.1
envisages punishment for hindering the activity of an organisation or the
holding of a public meeting, as well as for enforced participation in an
organisation. No date has yet been set for the hearing.

Asked what the director of the Chaika stadium had done to infringe the
administrative code, deputy head of the Lenin district administration Kotenko
was unable to explain. He told Keston that some time had already passed and
he had a poor recollection of the case. (END)

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