Issue 7, Articles 17-19, 19 July 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.


Wednesday 19 July 2000

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. An overview of the findings and two case studies are presented
here. Three more case studies will follow later today, with the last two
appearing tomorrow. To arrange an interview with the authors, please contact
Erika Cuneo at +44 1865 311 022 or Felix Corley at +44 020 8290 4997.


BASHKORTOSTAN. 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.'

Church of Christ missionary David Binkley founded a congregation 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.

LECTURE BY US MINISTER. 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.


by Felix Corley and Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

Although their one-year multi-entry business visas had been valid until 19
December, seven American Protestants and their children - a total of 13 people
- complied with a request to leave the Russian Federation by 1 June or face
imprisonment, the leader of the group told Keston by telephone from the
United States on 14 June. �We were not thrown out, but we had to leave. As in
China, you�re never really thrown out, they just reduce your visa.�

On 1 July the group leader explained to Keston that for the past six years the
seven had been working in Ufa, the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan
(approximately 950 miles east of Moscow), with what he termed a �Christian
works relief organisation�. The Americans had been conducting various
programmes in the fields of agriculture, medicine and education, he said, while
also �sharing our personal faith in Jesus Christ� with the local population: �We
were probably the only ones that studied the Bashkir language.� The
organisation had completed over $250,000 of aid projects as well as placing
educational and medical professionals, the group leader told Keston, all of
which were initially endorsed and encouraged by the Bashkir authorities until
the FSB's involvement.

In September 1999, the group leader reported, �harassment� began after
president MURTUZA RAKHIMOV of Bashkortostan learnt that a Gospel of St
Luke in Bashkir had been discovered in his village: �The president believes that
if you are a Bashkir you must be a Muslim.� The group leader asserted that
many Protestants in Bashkortostan are experiencing �persecution� as a result of
their faith. �They are accused of being cult and sect members by the FSB.�

Because the Americans were refused local registration in Ufa, they contacted
the nearest US Consulate in Yekaterinburg in April, which issued a diplomatic
note both to Moscow and the Bashkir authorities the following month. In late
May the group leader was summoned to a three-hour interrogation at which
two OVIR officials and two FSB officers were present. At the meeting - to
which the group leader�s lawyer was denied admittance - the group leader was
required to answer numerous questions related to the Bashkir Bible translation
and questions related to personal religious activity. In addition, he was severely
reprimanded for writing to President Rakhimov about his concern over the state
of religious freedom in Bashkortostan. After the meeting, the group leader was
given a deadline of 1 June to leave the Russian Federation. Three reasons were
given for the enforced departure, the group leader told Keston: that the
Americans� visas were not valid for Bashkortostan, that the partner in Moscow
who had invited them did not want to work with them and that a protocol (a
record of an offence) had been drawn up against them.

Responding to these accusations, the group leader told Keston that when the
Americans had gone to the local office of the visa and registration department
(OVIR) in Ufa to register their presence (although a Russian visa entitles
visitors to go anywhere within the Federation), they were told that the visas
were valid in Bashkortostan. It is his belief that the protocol was drawn up by
the FSB, whose action, he claims, was also responsible for the Moscow
partner�s failure to support his invitation. �They went to Moscow and
intimidated the person who invited us - he told us that although he did not
believe what the FSB had said to him about us, he was no longer able to help
us.� In general, he viewed the FSB as �the driving force� behind events: �The
[Bashkortostan] president uses the local FSB as his police force to intimidate
and threaten the people into submission.�

According to the group leader, the accusation was also made that the
organisation for which the Americans worked had not been properly registered.
He maintained, however, that it had been registered as a social organisation in
Moscow in June 1996 and in Bashkortostan in August of the same year, and
that it had been subsequently reregistered on the federal level and attempts had
been made to do the same in Ufa, but were told that the organisation would not
be reregistered.

Explaining that the issue was not within her remit as she was responsible only
for compiling religious legislation in Bashkortostan, GUZAR SIDDIKOVA
told Keston on 16 June that she was not aware of the Americans� situation.
However, her initial comment on being given a brief description of what had
happened was: �Maybe the FSB asked them to leave.�

Speaking to Keston on 16 June, LUTSIA AKHMEDKUZHINA, press
secretary to Bashkortostan�s representative in Moscow IYEREK ABLAYEV,
also claimed to be unaware of the Americans� situation. �Although
Bashkortostan is a Muslim republic, we have various religions - Orthodox,
Jews,� she commented, �I don�t think we have a negative attitude towards

The American group leader told Keston that he believes everyone in the
republic should �have the chance to be Muslim, Orthodox or evangelical�, and
his concerns about freedom of religion in Bashkortostan are expressed in a
letter he sent to both President Rakhimov and the republic�s Council for
Religious Affairs soon after returning to the United States - to which, he
reported to Keston on 1 July, he had not received a reply. On 22 June chairman
of the Bashkortostan Council for Religious Affairs ANVAR MURATSHIN
maintained to Keston that he was unaware of the Americans� situation, and had
never heard of the group leader. At first Muratshin presumed that, on being told
that the group was American, it would be Mormon: �We have a very good,
registered organisation of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.�
When told that the group were Protestants who had been in Ufa on business
visas, he explained that this was probably why he had not heard of them: �It�s
difficult to orientate myself - we have so many Americans working here in the
university, agriculture and so on.�

When Keston then asked whether a foreign citizen could legally engage in
missionary activity while in Russia on a business visa, Muratshin explained
that he could not: �According to the law, if a foreign citizen has a specific
activity stated on a visa he has full rights to engage in that activity. If he is also
an ordinary believer he has the right to visit any religious organisation he likes
and perform religious rites and services. But he cannot engage in missionary
activity - that must be on the visa.� He then clarified that this stipulation was
identical in Bashkir and federal law, before commenting: �If a person is a
teacher, then let him teach, if a missionary, then let him get permission from
his mission centre or leadership and come here.�

When Keston asked Muratshin if this welcome extended to Protestants trying
to convert Muslims, he replied: �According to the constitution everyone has the
right to change their belief, you can be a Muslim today, a Baptist tomorrow and
an Adventist the day after that if you want, that is allowed, but proselytism - or
forcible conversion - is not.� Muratshin repeatedly stressed his belief in the
�equality of all religions before the law�, and when Keston asked if this view
was typical within the republic�s administration or whether there would be
others who termed Bashkortostan a Muslim republic, he remarked: �We
describe Bashkortostan as a republic of 100 nationalities of 20 most varied
religions. God is one, and no matter how you pray we still have to live in the
same world, and so we have to work together.�

Speaking to Keston on 7 July, head of Bashkortostan�s own Ministry of
Foreign Affairs ZINUR MARDANOV explained to Keston that the Americans
had been asked to leave the republic because they were conducting religious
activity whilst holding humanitarian aid visas, and these activities were
�incompatible�. �If the aim of the visit is religious this should be visible on the
visa - and a religious organisation should invite them.� He claimed that it was
irrelevant whether the Americans� organisation was registered in the Russian
Federation or not - �the aim must still be stated on the visa� - and stressed that
other religious organisations such as the Catholics and Mormons conducted
their activity in Bashkortostan in the proper manner. (END)

Wednesday 19 July 2000

by Geraldine Fagan and Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service

Despite being issued a religious work visa by the Russian Embassy in
Washington in March, American Church of Christ missionary DAVID
BINKLEY was subsequently asked to return it after being told that it had been
revoked, he told Keston on 8 May. He had been hoping to return to the
congregation he founded in 1994 in the Far Eastern port of Magadan (4500
miles east of Moscow).

According to a Russian Embassy official with whom he spoke on 4 May,
Binkley reported, the visa had been revoked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
in Moscow: �They had no details, and said I would have to contact Moscow to
get any answers.� Binkley duly returned the visa to the Russian Embassy by
post. Before flying to the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan on 5 June, to
which he was also denied entry (see KNS 22 June 2000), Binkley again
telephoned the Russian Embassy in Washington �just in the hope that we might
be able to travel to Magadan from Almaty.� According to Binkley, he was told
to call back in 20 minutes - �they needed to have a meeting before giving me an
answer.� When he did so, he wrote, he was told that �entrance to Russia is
denied to me - permanently.�

Binkley had been charged with smuggling when he failed to declare 7,785 US
dollars on last leaving Magadan on 27 May 1999. However, the Magadan
public prosecutor failed to convict him when the case against him reached court
in November. On 10 June Binkley explained to Keston that his lawyer in
Magadan VIKTORIA TAISAYEVA had discovered that the Magadan public
prosecutor had appealed Binkley�s acquittal and believed this to be the reason
why the visa was revoked. Speaking to Keston in Magadan on 1 July, however,
Taisayeva emphasised that Binkley had been acquitted - �He is clear before the
law� - and claimed that there could not possibly be any formal reason for
denying him a visa. She added that a Magadan city court was due to consider
customs officers� violations of Binkley�s rights in August.

On 3 July the public prosecutor in Magadan who oversees violations
committed within the transport system (which includes airports), YURI
RYABAVOL, acknowledged to Keston that Binkley ought to be allowed to
take part in the August trial in person - if there were indeed to be such a trial.
He claimed to be unaware of Binkley�s exclusion from the Russian Federation.

When Keston asked the head of the Department of Consular Service attached to
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs DMITRY ZAKHAROV on 23 June if his
department had denied David Binkley entry to Russia, he appeared unfamiliar
with the name and replied: �No, it wasn�t our department, we didn�t refuse him.
It could only have been the FSB.� (END)

Wednesday 19 July 2000

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

On 26 May entry to the Palace of Culture in Rostov-on-Don (some 780 miles
south of Moscow) where PRENTICE MEADOR, a minister from Prestoncrest
Church of Christ (Dallas, Texas), was due to deliver the first in a series of
lectures on Christian writer C.S. LEWIS, was denied by city official in charge
of relations with religious organisations VLADIMIR POPOV, Meador told
Keston on 15 June.

According to Meador, Popov sent police officers to ensure that the lectures
would not be held in the Palace of Culture, and these thus had to be quickly
rescheduled in the church building where the Rostov Church of Christ regularly
meets. Popov�s reason for the obstruction, Meador relayed to Keston, was that
an advertisement for the lectures in a local television guide had not stated that
the local Church of Christ was the host.

In his 15 June message to Keston, Meador explained that he had travelled to
Rostov-on-Don on business visas to give public lectures at the Palace of
Culture on nine occasions over the past decade. Although the television guide
advertisement had indeed not stated that Rostov Church of Christ was the host
of the lectures, he said, �that information has been public for nine years�. He
stressed to Keston that the inhabitants of Rostov had �warmly received� the
lectures in the past, and had been particularly interested in the Russian
children�s Bibles which had been part of the free Bible distribution at each
lecture. In general, he said, the Rostov Church of Christ enjoyed �a very
positive relationship� with both the authorities and the public.

On 5 July Popov told Keston that although the advertisement for the lectures
had announced that the lecturer had been invited �from abroad�, it had not
stated the host organisation. �If an organisation places an advertisement in the
media, by law they have to state which organisation is staging the event - you
cannot have anonymous announcements.� As the Church of Christ had not
done this, he said, he had referred them to the local public prosecutor, who
subsequently �issued a statement saying they should cease violating the law�.
Popov added that even if the lectures were to be held on private premises, the
name of the organiser should nevertheless be stipulated in advertisements for
them. When Keston asked whether it was not the case that Rostov Church of
Christ had frequently staged such lectures in the past and that it was well-
known that they were the organisers, Popov replied that they had previously
held prayer meetings �but not lectures�.

On 16 June a representative of another Protestant denomination in Rostov-on-
Don commented to Keston that Popov was �a real headache� who �causes
problems for all the churches.� (END)

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