KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 27 April 2001

I. RUSSIA: PENTECOSTAL FREED, BUT AWAITS NEW TRIAL.
Aleksandr Volkov, a Pentecostal from the Volga republic of Chuvashia who
was sentenced last month to six months' imprisonment for refusing to
perform military service, had his conviction set aside on 17 April by the
republic�s Supreme Court. The court did not find him not guilty, however,
and simply referred the case back to the Novocheboksarsk city court to be
reexamined. Volkov's lawyer told Keston News Service that he is sure this
time the court will find his client not guilty.

II. LITHUANIA: LUTHERANS PROTEST VILNIUS PROPERTY
CONFISCATION. The leadership of Lithuania's Evangelical Lutheran
Church has expressed its concern and bewilderment about a court decision
earlier this month in the capital Vilnius to confiscate properties handed back
to the church in the early 1990s. Lutherans told Keston News Service that
the city council argues that the properties were returned `inappropriately'. A
spokeswoman for the city council was unable to explain the action, which
the Lutherans see as �a step against unprotected religious minorities�.

I. RUSSIA: PENTECOSTAL FREED, BUT AWAITS NEW TRIAL

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Aleksandr Volkov, a Pentecostal from the Volga republic of Chuvashia who
was sentenced last month to six months' imprisonment for refusing to
perform military service, has been released. On 17 April the Supreme Court
of the Republic of Chuvashia set aside his conviction. The court did not find
him not guilty, however, and simply referred the case back to the
Novocheboksarsk city court to be reexamined by a different panel of judges.
Volkov's lawyer Sergei Chugunov told Keston News Service that he is sure
this time the court will find his client not guilty.

On 12 March 20-year-old Volkov was convicted of evading conscription to
military service and detained in the court-room. The court considered that
his Christian convictions were `unproven' (see KNS 19 April 2001).
Chugunov, a lawyer of the Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and
Justice, told Keston on 27 April that the Supreme Court did not want to pass
a not-guilty verdict in order not to set a precedent for other conscientious
objectors.

Chugunov was unable to give even an approximate date for the new court
hearing, but commented that in any case Volkov was already free and so the
timescale was not now so important for him. (END)

II. LITHUANIA: LUTHERANS PROTEST VILNIUS PROPERTY
CONFISCATION

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The leadership of Lithuania's Evangelical Lutheran Church has expressed
concern and bewilderment about a court decision earlier this month in the
capital Vilnius to confiscate properties handed back to the church in the
early 1990s. `We do not understand this step the authorities have taken,'
Bishop Jonas Kalvanas told Keston News Service. According to the
Lutherans, the city council argues that the properties were returned
`inappropriately', although Ieva Dunajevaite, a spokeswoman for the city
council, was unable to explain to Keston why the government decided to
bring the court action to take back the properties. `I can't answer for the
government,' she told Keston on 27 April.

Irena Vaicekauskiene, deputy head of the department of justice and property
restitution of Vilnius city council, admitted that the buildings had originally
been returned under the law on restitution of places of worship and other
property to religious communities. However, she told Keston by fax on 27
April that at a hearing on 18 April the first court of the city had agreed to a
request from a government representative lodged back in 1996 that the
December 1992 restitution of three houses to the church should be annulled.
She added that on 30 April a lawyer for the church is due to come to the city
council to discuss the court ruling.

Keston was unable to reach Sigitas Bargaila, a Vilnius city lawyer who
represented the council in court, as he was not in his office on 27 April.

Arden Haug, an American Lutheran pastor in Vilnius, told Keston on 27
April that the church council was informed on 18 April that the city
authorities and central government would be making a decision over
previously returned properties. `The court decided that the city council had
acted inappropriately when it returned properties to the Lutheran Church,'
Haug told Keston. `It was, therefore, at this time, re-nationalising and thus
confiscating the property.' The Lutherans complain that the court ruling
violates the law that restitution that took place more than five years ago
cannot be challenged.

Vilnius' Lutherans managed to regain their 16th century church on Vokieciu
street in the old city at the end of the communist period, during which it had
been confiscated and turned into a workshop and a basketball hall. In the
early 1990s, in accordance with the country's restitution laws, it was also
able to regain five houses surrounding the church, all but one of which are
now being used for church charitable or youth work or are being restored for
use as an old people's home. One of the houses is still inhabited by five
families who were promised resettlement in alternative accommodation by
the city council at the time that house was returned, although the council has
failed to do so. It is not clear if all five houses have now been taken back or
just the three specified in Vaicekauskiene's fax.

Keston was unable to contact Mindaugas Sabutis, pastor of the Vilnius
parish, as he is currently out of the country. Darius Petkunas, a pastor from
the port city of Klaipeda and consistory member, complained to Keston on
27 April that the decision to confiscate the property had been taken
`secretly'. Bishop Kalvanas, speaking to Keston from Taurage the same day,
said he had only learnt about it a couple of days earlier. `The Vilnius parish
initially tried to sort out the problem themselves,' he reported. `However, we
are now preparing a letter of protest from our consistory to the government.'

Senior Lutherans blame the government that came to power last year. `All
the church council members and consistory regard this incomprehensible
move as a step against unprotected religious minorities,' Pastor Petkunas
declared. `We experienced this from the communists, but this is the first time
it has happened with our government since independence.' Some Lutherans
privately state that the government would never contemplate such a move
against the Catholic Church, the dominant religious community in the
country.

Bishop Kalvanas speculated that the value of the church property - which he
estimated at some 3 or 4 million litas (525,000 to 700,000 British pounds or
750,000 to 1,000,000 US dollars) - might have been the motivation for the
decision to seize them back. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.