Monday 7 February 2000

by Roman Lunkin, Keston News Service

The Justice Administration´┐Żs move to close down the Kirov Christian Church
was rejected by the Oktyabrsky district court in Kirov on 1 February (see KNS
26 January 2000). However, the case may not be finished if the Justice
Administration decides to appeal the decision to the regional court.

The Kirov Christian Centre, which belongs to the `Global Strategy' Association
(a member of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians/Pentecostals,
headed by SERGEI RYAKHOVSKY), is led by Pastor ALEKSANDR

On 3 February, SERGEI VAZHENIN, the church administrator and son of the
pastor, told Keston that the believers had won their case and that now they had
only to wait to see whether the Justice Administration would appeal to the
regional court within the following 10 days, that is by 11 February. Vazhenin
also noted that both the church and its lawyers intended to hold an inquiry into
the fact that special agents were used to put pressure on members of the church
and witnesses, and also into the fact that illegal recordings were made of
services at the Christian Centre, which the Justice Administration tried to use
against the church.

The Moscow-based lawyer and activist VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY, who
defended the church in court, confirmed to Keston on 3 February that even the
public prosecutor and the psychiatrist who appeared in court as an expert
witness rejected all accusations against the church of mass hypnosis during
church services. Moreover, Ryakhovsky added, the public prosecutor submitted
to the Justice Administration his personal decision that the law had been
infringed in the case of the use of tapes, where a church service was recorded
on a hidden camera. Ryakhovsky believes that the Justice Administration will
not decide to appeal against the court's decision of 1 February because it will
not want to be `tainted' once again.

The only person who did not make his position clear in this case was the
specialist on religious organisations in the Kirov regional administration,
ALEKSANDR BALYBERDIN. In an interview with Keston on 21 January, he
had said that the Justice Administration was fully within its rights to announce
the possibility that the church might be closed. Balyberdin also denied that he
called charismatics `sectarians'. The director of the Institute of Religion and
Law, ANATOLI PCHELINTSEV, who had been present in court on 1
February, told Keston on 3 February that Balyberdin cited books by Orthodox
monks and argued that the Pentecostals´┐Ż Christianity was flawed from the
Orthodox point of view. Sergei Vazhenin reported that at first Balyberdin
accused the church indirectly and contrasted Orthodoxy with the Pentecostal
movement. But when Balyberdin sensed that the proceedings would find in
favour of the church, he did not take up any stance, distancing himself with

An official from the Justice Administration, ALEKSANDR VORONOV, the
specialist on the registration of religious organisations, was present in court and
openly made accusations against the Christian Centre. In an interview with
Keston on 3 February, he said that he did not want to make general comments
about the complex situation or about the court's decision per se. Asked whether
the Justice Administration would appeal by 11 February, Voronov replied that
he would not give Keston a response to questions of this kind. He declared that
he himself did not yet know how the issue would be resolved in the Justice
Administration - for or against the church. (END)

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