Issue 9, Article 18, 25 September 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
SUMMARY: Two Protestant churches await court decisions as to whether they
are to be liquidated or reregistered. Secretly taped videos were permitted as
evidence in court and the accusation of the churches using hypnosis has been
referred to a panel of experts. If court delays continue, their liquidation may be
decided by the expiration of the reregistration deadline - 31 December 2000.

Monday 25 September 2000

by Mikhail Edelstein, Keston News Service

The long-running case brought by the Kostroma regional justice administration
to liquidate the Pentecostal church Blagodat (Grace) resumed in court on 14
September. The church - together with another regional Pentecostal
association, the Kostroma Christian Centre (KCC) - was refused re-registration
in May following the decision by a commission of experts that the pastors of
both churches exerted a hypnotic influence on their congregations during
services (see KNS 9 June 2000). After listening to both sides present their case,
and their witnesses, Judge IGOR ZHUKOV decided to call for an expert
analysis, which would either confirm the grounds for the accusation or overturn
it. The date for a resumption of the case now depends on when the expert
commission completes its work, but is unlikely to be for at least a month.

At the end of the nine-hour hearing, ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV, the director
of the Moscow-based Institute of Religion and Truth who appeared as a witness
for the defence, told Keston that the court decision was unfounded and that its
sole aim was to drag out the legal process. He warned that the expert analysis
might drag on for several months, and then the court would not consider the
case before the end of the year. This is significant because the period for re-
registration of religious organisations runs out on 31 December. If Blagodat
fails to be re-registered before then according to the law it must be liquidated.

The initial court hearing took place on 8 September, but the judge decided to
call additional witnesses and the hearing turned out to be very brief. When the
court resumed its consideration of the case on 14 September the plaintiff was
represented by the deputy head of the justice administration, NINA
KOLUPAYEVA. The church was represented by the president of the Moscow-
based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY, who
had earlier been involved in similar cases in Magadan and Kirov.

The defence argued that the accusation was legally inconsistent as the regional
justice administration had no right to appoint a expert commission on religion
to consider the case of Blagodat. The Kostroma church forms part of the Union
of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals), and the resolution by the Russian
government `On the
procedure for conducting an expert analysis of religion by the state' of 3 June
1998 does not allow an expert analysis to be carried out on religious
organisations that form part of centralised associations. Ryakhovsky also
stressed that the expert conclusion has no legal force, as it was undertaken on
the basis of video footage of services filmed anonymously without the
permission of the pastor or the congregation. Finally, Ryakhovsky explained
that even it one takes the experts' conclusions into account, they still do not
justify closure of the church. According to point 7, Section 2, Article 14 of
Russia's 1997 religion law, a religious organisation may be closed down for
reasons of `the infliction, as defined by law, of a loss of morality, and a loss of
citizens' health, including through the use of hypnosis'. When the Kostroma
experts alleged that the church's pastors used hypnosis, they did not prove any
harm to health among the congregation.

In addition, Ryakhovsky pointed to what he argued were the not entirely legal
actions of the justice administration, which had used video materials provided
by obscure sources and which had exceeded the one-month period permitted to
the legal authorities to decide whether to re-register a religious organisation.

The plaintiff did not agree with the defence arguments. Kolupayeva, who held
to the accusation of using hypnosis, also declared that during an investigation
into Blagodat carried out by the justice administration in autumn 1999,
numerous incidents of law-breaking were discovered. During her address, she
frequently compared the Pentecostal service with a show, for which she was in
the end rebuked by the judge.

Kolupayeva acknowledged that she had not known about the video recording
of a service. The regional public prosecutor had handed over the video tape to
the justice administration, but its representatives had declined to take part in the
case, citing the fact that they had only received their court summons the
evening before the hearing. The public prosecutor received the tape from the
Kostroma state television and radio company after a person, who preferred to
remain anonymous, brought it to the television station. Ryakhovsky suggested
that the film had been made by the Federal Security Service, the FSB, but this
claim was not proved during the hearing. The video recording was shown to the
court despite protests from the defence, but in the end the judge agreed to
exclude it from the case materials. The pastor of Blagodat, ANDREI MUDRY,
said that judging from the angle of the camera, the recording had been made
from the balcony of the hall the Pentecostals rent. The accusation of hypnosis
was based on the part of the service where there is prayer `with laying on of
hands'. Pchelintsev explained to the court that the actions of the pastor
recorded on the tape were customary practice at Pentecostal services.

Witnesses for the defence from the Blagodat congregation denied that the
pastor was exerting a hypnotic influence on them. Nevertheless, the judge
found their explanations unconvincing, and decided to question several
witnesses again at the next legal hearing in the presence of a professional
psychiatrist. Zhukov's decision to appoint an expert commission came at the
request of the plaintiff and in spite of protests from the defence. The experts -
doctors from the district psychiatric hospital and lecturers at the philosophy
faculty at Kostroma state university - have been told to decide whether Pastor
Mudry used hypnosis during services and if so, whether he harmed the health
and morality of the congregation.

Meanwhile, the suit brought by the Kostroma justice administration to close the
KCC is due to begin on 25 October. Speaking to Keston at the end of the
Blagodat hearing, Kolupayeva confirmed that the justice administration was
prepared to defend in court its view that the KCC should be closed down. The
KCC pastor, ANDREI DANILOV, told Keston on 14 September that he still
faces pressure from the local FSB. For example, in August the Kostroma FSB
administration sent the internal affairs administration (UVD) information about
a picnic organised by the pastor and parishioners of KCC in one a park on the
outskirts of Kostroma. FSB documents accused the picnickers of causing
public disorder. Once Danilov explained what had happened, UVD officers
concluded that there were no grounds for any further investigation. The
Kostroma public prosecutor's office is also currently handling an investigation
into KCC documents which were handed over by the FSB (see KNS 11 August
2000). (END)

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