KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 10 May 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
I. TURKMENISTAN: SECRET POLICE RAID BAPTIST
SERVICE AND BAN PASTOR FROM LEADING WORSHIP.
Baptist pastor Vasily Korobov has been banned by the KNB secret police
from leading worship and travelling after the KNB raided an open-air
Baptist service, Keston has learnt. He was also banned from holding
further services and told to go to the Russian Orthodox church. As all
Protestant activity has been banned, the Soviet-era practice of holding
open-air services to avoid detection has been revived.
II. RUSSIA: WHAT WILL PUTIN'S RELIGIOUS POLICY BE? A
source close to the Russian Academy of State Service (RASS), which
draws up government policy, has told Keston that a religion policy has
not been adopted. The head of the RASS religion department believes
that the policy should address the `negative impact of foreign religious
organisations and missions' cited in Russia's National Security Concept,
signed by President Putin. The department head believes that American
Protestant missionaries are part of a US plan `to wrest away from Russia
the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and after that all of the Far East'
I. TURKMENISTAN: SECRET POLICE RAID BAPTIST
SERVICE AND BAN PASTOR FROM LEADING WORSHIP.
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
Baptist pastor Vasily Korobov from the Turkmen capital Ashgabad was
told by an officer of the country's secret police, the KNB (former KGB),
on 7 May that he should not try to leave the city for at least six months,
Keston News Service has learnt. He was also banned from holding
further Baptist meetings. The KNB officer suggested to Korobov and two
fellow Baptists that they should go to the Russian Orthodox church (the
only legal Christian denomination in Turkmenistan) and `there would be
no problem'. The `suggestion' came after Pastor Korobov and his
colleagues were detained the previous day for leading a Sunday service in
the open air near the town of Mary, 350 kilometres (220 miles) east of
Ashgabad. Since all Baptist and other Protestant activity was banned,
Turkmenistan's Baptist churches have all been closed down, including
Korobov's own in Ashgabad (see KNS 19 March 2001). Some groups
have revived the Soviet-era practice of holding services in the open air in
a bid to avoid detection.
It is not yet known if the ban on Korobov leaving Ashgabad was issued
officially or `unofficially'. As he has not been subject to a sentence
imposed by a court, any restrictions on Korobov's movements violate
Turkmenistan's international commitments to freedom of movement.
Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
which Turkmenistan has signed, declares: `Everyone lawfully within the
territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of
movement and freedom to choose his residence.' The ban on any further
Baptist meetings violates Turkmenistan's international commitments to
freedom of religion and of association.
On the morning of Sunday 6 May, fearing that it would be too risky to
hold a service in Mary itself, the Baptists went 10 kilometres (6 miles)
out of town and began their service in the open air. Shortly after the
service started three KNB officers arrived. Asked what was going on, the
Baptists declared they were meeting to pray and read the Bible. The KNB
halted the service, and one officer asked who was from Ashgabad.
Korobov and his two colleagues from Ashgabad identified themselves.
The KNB were apparently mostly interested in the three, though they
wrote down personal details of all those present, including name, address,
telephone number, place of employment and passport number.
The three from Ashgabad were told they would be taken to the local
police station for questioning and `processing'. One KNB officer went in
Korobov's car and the other two went with Korobov's two colleagues.
The three were questioned for about an hour and a half at the police
station before being escorted to Mary's KNB headquarters. There
Korobov was questioned by a senior KNB officer, while the other two
were questioned by a more junior officer. The KNB officer told Korobov
they had been waiting for them for three days.
The three were questioned from noon until 7:30 in the evening. They
were then escorted to the edge of Mary and handed over to a waiting
police escort from Tedjen, a town about half way between Mary and
Ashgabad. They were not allowed to retrieve their belongings from the
home where they were staying, although the KNB did allow a friend to
fetch them while they waited. They then left under escort for Ashgabad.
At both police checkpoints before Tedjen the escorting officer advised
the checkpoint that the three Baptists and the car they were in were never
to be allowed through in future. This same instruction was given at the
Tedjen checkpoint. The escort left them there and they were allowed to
continue to Ashgabad on their own.
The Ashgabad KNB phoned Korobov's wife Lyudmila at home several
times asking whether he had arrived. Finally they asked her to tell him to
call the Ashgabad KNB as soon as he returned. The three Baptists arrived
in Ashgabad at 11 o'clock the following morning. Korobov phoned the
KNB and was instructed to come in at 2:00 pm. Korobov arrived as
instructed at the KNB office, where officers told him he knew he should
not conduct meetings. He was warned that if meetings did not stop he
would be in `really big trouble'.
When Korobov asked how the KNB knew they were going to Mary, the
KNB officer eventually replied that the information came from one of
Keston did not telephone Pastor Korobov to confirm the report for fear of
making his position even worse. (END)
II. RUSSIA: WHAT WILL PUTIN'S RELIGIOUS POLICY BE?
by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service
A draft religious policy will be ready for consideration by the Putin
administration `by the end of the academic year' - mid-June 2001 - an
employee of the religion faculty of the Russian Academy of State Service
(RASS), an official body responsible for drawing up government policy,
told Keston News Service on 15 March. In mid-April, however, a source
close to RASS revealed to Keston that although the policy was complete
and had already been received by the presidential administration, it had
not been adopted and would `not even be considered in the near future'.
RASS religion faculty employee Veronika Kravchuk told Keston on 15
March that her department's policy was not for release prior to its
adoption and publication. However, she confirmed that its main concept
was that `Russia is a secular state', reflecting the constitution and
international agreements. She believed Russia should hold to the
principle of secularity, `despite attempts by clerics (`klerikaly') - the
Church, I mean - to create a pro-Orthodox state'.
The head of the faculty, Nikolai Trofimchuk, was among religious
studies specialists recently appointed to the presidential Council for
Cooperation with Religious Organisations - a move apparently intended
to balance secular and religious interests when the Council discusses the
new religious policy later this year.
Unlike Kravchuk, Trofimchuk favours state support for the Russian
Orthodox Church (ROC) as a counterweight to the `negative impact of
foreign religious organisations and missions' cited in Russia's National
Security Concept, which Putin signed soon after becoming acting
president in January 2000. Echoing the concern of fellow RASS
employees that the activity of American Protestant missionaries in
Russia's Far East is part of a US plan `to wrest away from Russia the
Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and after that all of the Far East' (see KNS
19 July 2000), Trofimchuk's recent book `Expansion' argues that
domestic policy on freedom of conscience `should take into account the
geopolitical aspects of missions', since these advance the `geopolitical
plans of the states which carry the cost of supporting both missions and
missionaries'. Trofimchuk suggests politicians should recognise that it is
`entirely realistic' to form a corresponding `pro-Russian lobby' -
particularly in the former Soviet bloc - orientated towards the ROC. `The
state should seek forms or methods which would more resolutely defend
the ROC's interests.'
When journalist Aleksandr Tyakhta of the religious newspaper NG-
Religii expressed astonishment that Trofimchuk had openly told Church
and government representatives at a 17 November 2000 meeting to
discuss church-state relations that the state should support ROC
missionary efforts, Trofimchuk responded with a half-page article,
published in the same paper in March. Lifted almost entirely from
`Expansion', the article repeated arguments that the state should support
the missionary activity of the ROC, `whose traditions are an integral
component of the culture of Russians (`rossiyan').'
Trofimchuk's article aroused strong and unusual criticism in the NG-
Religii Internet forum. On 28 March one reader suggested he `must be
afraid of something: perhaps those who entrusted him with writing the
concept of church-state relations?', since he replied to Tyakhta's brief
comments at such length. On 30 March another reader, Sergei Khudiyev,
complained that Trofimchuk `is not concerned that foreign missionaries
distort the truth about God or lead people astray from the path to
salvation, but with how their activity is not in the interests of our state'.
Khudiyev argued that `we must hold to the divinely revealed truth
INDEPENDENTLY of whether or not the state approves it'.
If the RASS draft policy has indeed not been adopted for being either too
crudely pro-Moscow Patriarchate or, conversely, secular - and Anatoli
Krasikov, chairman of the Russian branch of the International Religious
Liberty Association, commented to Keston on 27 March that Putin
wanted `to have his cake and eat it' when it came to having either a
secular or Orthodox state - what form could an alternative concept
regulating church-state relations take?
For Kravchuk the optimum model `wouldn't be like in the USA', but
would be closer to the co-operational system of Germany. Interviewed by
Keston in January, Mikhail Odintsov, head of the department for
religious and national issues within the apparatus of Russia's
plenipotentiary for human rights, proposed an arrangement whereby the
constitution would work on the level of the citizen, a law on religion on
the local level `for societies of people united by a religious principle',
while regional administrative institutions of different confessions would
need a special relationship with the state. `Here we can talk about a
system of concordats,' he suggested. (END)