KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 10, Article 18, 13 October 2000
Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
RUSSIA: STANDOFF OVER `NOISY' PENTECOSTAL STREET
SERVICES (13 Oct). Pentecostals can no longer rent premises for services in
their town of 50,000; recently the pastor has been arrested and fined for holding
unauthorised outdoor meetings.
Friday 13 October 2000
RUSSIA: STANDOFF OVER `NOISY' PENTECOSTAL STREET
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
Conflict continues unabated between the administration of the town of
Sayanogorsk in the Khakassia Republic in Siberia and the `Proslavleniye'
(Glorification) church, a member of the regional association `The Church of
Truth'. The church conducts Sunday services on the town's central square, in
front of the cinema which the administration previously rented out to the
church, but which it has now taken back after accusing the church of failing to
pay its rent. The town administration will not give permission for services to be
conducted there, but has offered the church another piece of land on the
outskirts of town. The Pentecostals have refused it, and continue to gather on
the central square, which police officials consider constitutes an unauthorised
The Proslavleniye church - whose membership has fallen from 200 to about 80
since its difficulties began - is led by Pastor SERGEI VASHCHENKO,
nephew of the Pentecostal PYOTR VASHCHENKO of Chernogorsk,
Khakassia Republic, who sought refuge with his family in the US Embassy in
Moscow in 1978 and remained there for many years before being allowed to
OLGA AKILOVA, an assistant to the pastor, insisted to Keston News Service
on 13 October that there were no buildings in the town that they could rent
now. `Sayanogorsk is very small - it has a population of just 50,000. There are
only two or threee public buildings and we are barred from all of them. We are
barred also from renting rooms in schools.' Akilova vigorously denied official
accusations that the Sunday services caused noise and disturbance, although
she admitted that during services earlier in the year they had used loudspeakers.
Sergei Vashchenko told Keston by telephone from Sayanogorsk that the church
used to rent the Sayany cinema for its services for eight years until 1999. For
two years, the church carried out a service called `Feed the hungry', through
which it fed 100-120 people each day. It was also able to broadcast an hour-
long programme on the city television network once a week.
With the arrival of a new mayor, PYOTR OVCHINNIKOV, in spring 1999,
the rental agreement for the cinema was cancelled, the building where the
hungry were fed was withdrawn and no television air-time was allowed. All
winter they tried to find premises, but after one or two services the directors of
schools, nurseries and cinemas turned them away, saying that the town
administration had forbidden them to rent out the premises. Since 6 October
1999 the church has been holding its Sunday services on the square in front of
the Sayany cinema even in temperatures of minus 30 degrees.
After a service held last July to mark 2,000 years of Christianity, the town
administration forbade them to meet on the square, threatening that the police
would disperse the meeting and put the pastor under arrest for three days, but
offered a vacant plot on the outskirts of town for their meetings.
NINA IVANOVA, the deputy head of the Sayanogorsk administration on
social policy, told Keston by telephone on 3 October that in 1997-8 the church
did indeed rent the cinema, but claimed that as a result of their activities it was
now `in a dreadful condition'. `They did not pay their rent, they dismantled the
heating system, replacing it with electric heaters which they took with them
when they were turned out, and now the building is frozen.' According to
Ivanova, the outstanding rent totals 200,000 roubles. The administration
proposed repayment of the debt, even if only partial, and they offered two plots
of land on which a prayer house could be built, but the church built nothing.
Not long ago, the administration offered a third plot of land, but the
Pentecostals said that it was too far away, and that they had no money with
which to build on the land.
Speaking to Keston on 27 September, Pastor Vashchenko said that the church
formally refused the places offered on the outskirts of the town because people
would not want to go there. `They took away our lease, and we are not allowed
to meet on the square - we are getting in the way of the museum.' According to
Vashchenko, the former mayor, SERGEI BONDARENKO, allowed him to
rent the cinema free of charge in exchange for the church repairing the
building, and had promised to rent it out to him for 49 years.
Meanwhile, the conflict has entered a new phase. Pastor VASILI MAKSIMOV
told Keston that on 17 September police officers came to the service in front of
the cinema and ordered people to disperse. Pastor Vashchenko, his son
DMITRI, who was filming events on a camcorder, and another pastor VASILI
DOTSENKO were put into a police car and taken to the Ministry of Internal
Affairs building, where they were held for 30 hours.
However, Pastor Vashchenko, speaking to Keston on 28 September, denied
that the regular open-air service took place on 17 September. He said that
`people were simply standing there, we had come there by chance, I went to
talk with them, and suddenly my son was there with his camcorder, he set it up
and started filming. We were arrested for putting up resistance - we "did not
follow a police order to disperse".' He was accused under Article 165 of the
administrative code and fined, although no witnesses were allowed to give
evidence. `I was fined 1,200 roubles, and the other pastor was fined the same
amount.' Pastor Vashchenko told Keston on 3 October that on the subsequent
two Sundays he was again taken to the police station, this time alone, and was
again fined for holding an `unauthorised meeting'.
In an interview with Keston on 3 October, Ivanova said that open-air services
fell under a Presidential Decree of 1992 `On the procedure for conducting
meetings, marches and demonstrations', according to which they require the
written permission of the local administration. `We are asking them to give
notice of open-air services; they are not conducting them in the place allocated
to them.' She reported that local residents have flooded the administration with
complaints about the church's use of powerful equipment for the services. She
explained that there are tall buildings around the square and the sound echoes,
disturbing those who live there. `We have good relations with all the religions
in town, and we would very much like to resolve this conflict, if only the
Proslavleniye church would meet us halfway'. Ivanova promised to find the
church some sort of building to rent as soon as possible. (END)
Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.