KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 20.00 21 November 2000

RUSSIA: COURT VICTORIES FOR KOSTROMA PENTECOSTALS
The justice department has ordered both churches to be reregistered within a
month. One case concentrated on seeking to prove that by allegedly
`hypnotising' citizens, the church members were harming their morality. But
the procuracy depended on a video of the church service recorded illegally and
ultimately not admitted as evidence.


RUSSIA: COURT VICTORIES FOR KOSTROMA PENTECOSTALS

by Mikhail Edelstein, Keston News Service

The long-running legal case against the largest Pentecostal church in the
Kostroma region north east of Moscow, the Kostroma Christian Centre (KCC),
has ended in victory for the church. On 16 November judge Tamara Koshkina
of the Lenin district court in Kostroma rejected the liquidation suit brought
against the church by the Kostroma regional justice department. The following
day the court hearing in the case against another Kostroma-based Pentecostal
group, the Grace Church, which the justice department was also seeking to
liquidate, likewise went in favour of the church. The justice department has
been directed to re-register both churches within one month.

Last May the justice department, citing the findings of a panel of experts,
accused the KCC's pastors of using hypnosis during services. This was used as
grounds for refusing to re-register the KCC and the matter was referred to the
courts. At the first hearing, held at the end of October, it became clear that the
conclusions of the plaintiff were based on a videotape of a service conducted
by KCC pastor Andrei
Danilov with foreign missionaries. The case was adjourned because deputy
head of the justice department Nina Kolupayeva insisted that additional
witnesses be called, including members of an expert committee examining the
case and members of the procuracy who had passed the videotape on to the
justice department, as well as psychiatrists who could give their expert
commentary on the video as it was played to the court (see KNS 31 October
2000).

By the time the court reconvened on 16 November, Kolupayeva had abandoned
any attempt to accuse the church's pastors of `causing harm to the health of
citizens by the use of hypnosis' and concentrated instead on seeking to prove
that by `hypnotising' citizens, they were harming their morality.

A procuracy official was due to attend to explain how the videotape of the
service had come into existence. However, it soon became clear that Nikolai
Khotyayev was an official not of the regional procuracy, which had passed the
tape to the justice department, but of the Kostroma town procuracy and could
not therefore impart any new information. The videotape was therefore
removed from the body of evidence at the request of the church's lawyer,
Vladimir Ryakhovsky. The court also decided not to call the expert witnesses,
who had based their conclusions on this videotape.

Kolupayeva then requested a postponement, proposing that church members be
interviewed in the presence of psychiatrists. This was contested by Ryakhovsky
and Khotyayev and was eventually rejected by the court. All the church
members present rejected the suggestion that either their pastors or any foreign
missionary had ever used hypnosis on them. They explained that Pentecostal
teaching forbids the use of hypnosis.

Ryakhovsky argued again that the position of the plaintiff had no justification
in law and demanded that the court throw out the suit. He demanded an
investigation into the actions of the justice department and the regional
procuracy, claiming the former had illegally placed the church under
investigation by the expert committee, and that the latter had passed on the
illegally-filmed videotape to the department of justice. Khotyayev also called
on the court to throw out the case.

After the hearing, Kolupayeva told Keston News Service that her office was
happy with the judgment of the lower court and would not appeal against the
verdict. However, Pastor Danilov told Keston that church members are
preparing an appeal to the general procuracy to investigate the legality of the
actions of the Kostroma regional procuracy. Ryakhovsky argues that both the
regional procuracy and the Kostroma state television company, which
broadcast extracts from the videotape, filmed without the permission of the
pastor and church members, contravened articles 23 and 24 of the Russian
Constitution. Article 137 of the Criminal Code, covering the invasion of
privacy, might also be invoked.

The hearing in the case against the Grace Church led by Pastor Andrei Mudry
(see KNS 31 October 2000), which took place the following day, ended in
victory for the church. The chief psychiatrist of Kostroma region, who had
been requested to provide an expert opinion as to whether the church used
hypnosis and harmed health, explained that it was not possible to reach a
conclusion on the videotaped material alone. A similar statement was
submitted to the court by the philosophy department of the Teachers'
University of Kostroma, which had been asked to establish whether
membership of the Grace Church affected ones morals. Members of the Grace
Church are also seeking redress through the general procuracy. (END)


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