P R E S S R E L E A S E 19 July 2000
ARE FOREIGN MISSIONARIES BEING DRIVEN OUT OF RUSSIA?
Keston Investigations finds expulsions rising
A significant number of foreign Christian missionaries have been expelled from
Russia, with an increased number over the past year, reveals a major investigation by
Keston News Service. Other missionaries are being obstructed in their work.
Cases documented by Keston range from the mass expulsion of seven American
adults and their eleven dependent children to the obstruction of a public lecture on
Several of the missionaries barred from Russia commented to Keston that they were
unable to obtain an explanation for their exclusion, while the procedure followed by
the authorities in reaching a decision to bar entry is unclear.
Tolerance towards foreign missionaries has been one of the touchstones of religious
freedom in Russia since the lifting of Soviet-era controls. 'Increasing restrictions on
foreign missionaries are often an indicator of increasing restrictions on religious
freedom in general,' comments director of Keston Institute Lawrence Uzzell.
'Much of the hostility towards foreign missionaries comes from local officials whose
job was to keep religion in check during the Soviet era,' adds Keston's Moscow
correspondent Geraldine Fagan. 'But behind these officials often stands the FSB, the
successor to the KGB, who appear to regard the foreign missionary presence in
Russia as a serious threat to state security.'
Russia's National Security Concept, signed by the then acting president Vladimir
Putin last January, highlighted what it termed the `negative influence of foreign
missionaries' in the country.
`Many missionaries just keep quiet when they are expelled,' Geraldine Fagan adds,
`fearing that other projects their missions are undertaking or the activity of the
congregations they have been working with will be threatened.'
Denied entry to Russia on three occasions last year, US Protestant missionary Dan
Pollard - who had founded and led a church in the Pacific coastal region of
Khabarovsk krai - told Keston that he has encountered anger from local religious
officials because `I have not left quietly like so many other missionaries.' Pollard
believes that Russia will force out all foreign missionaries within the next ten years.
Keston notes that not all missionaries are encountering problems - some continue to
engage in high-profile ministry in Russia without difficulty.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. Some of the cases Keston has documented:
* Seven US citizens with a `Christian works relief organisation' had their visas to
work in the Urals republic of Bashkortostan abruptlycurtailed and were forced to
leave Russia by 1 June. The Bashkir president was reportedly enraged to discover a
Bashkir-language Gospel of St Luke. The head of Bashkortostan's Ministry of Foreign
Affairs told Keston the Americans had been asked to leave because they were
conducting religious activity while holding humanitarian aid visas, and these
activities were `incompatible'. The group leader told Keston: `The [Bashkortostan]
president uses the local FSB as his police force to intimidate people.'
* A US Protestant missionary working in one of European Russia's `Red Belt'
(communist-controlled) regions was expelled in 1997 after being summoned to a
closed meeting with two FSB agents, who accused him of being in the region
fraudulently and demanded names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, types
of visa and names of inviting agencies for every missionary in his organisation, `so
that we can deport them from Russia'. When the missionary pointed out that this
could be construed as religious persecution, one FSB officer reportedly replied: `God
has nothing to do with this.'
* American Church of Christ missionary David Binkley founded acongregation in
1994 in the Far Eastern port of Magadan, but was accused of smuggling by local
officials last year. He was eventually cleared of all charges, but a new religious work
visa issued in March for him to return to Magadan was suddenly revoked by the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow in May. He was later told by the Russian
embassy in Washington that entrance to Russia is denied `permanently'. He has since
been barred entry to Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
* A western missionary conducting humanitarian aid work in a region in the Far East
of Russia, whose ministry is barred from the region, was himself barred from the area
earlier this year, although in April he was allowed a brief visit. The Russian security
organs are disturbed by western missionary activity in this remote part of Russia. In a
28 February letter to the chairman of Russia's State Committee on Affairs of the
North, two officials of the Russian Academy of State Service (which is attached to the
presidential administration) warn that the geopolitical plans of the United States are
aimed at `wresting away from Russia the Chukhotka Autonomous Okrug, and after
that all of the Far East.' A significant role in this design, they claim to believe, is
played by `the religious invasion of a huge number of American Protestant preachers
who have recently been stepping up their activity in the Far East.'
* In May access was barred by a city official to the Palace of Culture in Rostov-on-
Don, where a Protestant pastor from Texas, a frequent visitor to Russia, was due to
deliver the first in a series of lectures on Christian writer C.S. Lewis. The local church
organising the lectures had failed to put its name on the posters advertising the event.
(c) Keston Institute, 2000. Reproduction permitted if Keston credited.