Issue 5, Article 7, 8 May 2000

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

Monday 8 May 2000

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

'This may be the answer we have been praying for, if Moscow overrules
Khabarovsk,' Baptist missionary DAN POLLARD wrote to Keston on 20
Currently in the United States after being refused entry into Russia on
three occasions in 1999. An apparent reinforcement of centralised authority
under Putin may result in the public prosecutor of the Russian Federation
overruling grounds given for Pollard's exclusion by Khabarovsk krai public
prosecutor. This, according to Pollard, would allow him to return to the
autonomous congregation he founded in the Pacific port of Vanino in 1992.

In a 23 July 1999 response to an enquiry into Pollard's situation made by
Vice Consul KIM RICHTER of the US Consulate in Vladivostok, public
prosecutor of Khabarovsk krai V. BOGOMOLOV details various points of
'persistent disregard by Mr Pollard of Russian law' which, he says, led to a
decision being made on a federal level not to allow Pollard to enter Russia.
According to Bogomolov, Pollard was unlawfully given land in violation of
the Land Code of the Russian Federation, did not pay land tax for a long
period, failed to submit a tax declaration on time and committed a series of
violations of customs procedures. Pollard has not been brought to justice
for these and 'other violations', claims Bogomolov, as he has been 'staying
out of Russia for a long period of time.'

Pollard vehemently refutes these allegations, the existence of which he did
not discover until late last year. In a December 1999 message to Keston, he
dismisses each of the charges against him in turn. In an April 1999
investigation during which she admitted that 'if she didn't find something
wrong, she could lose her job,' writes Pollard, the only irregularity that
the Vanino public prosecutor was able to unearth was the fact that he was
given land in violation of the Land Code - an irregularity for which, he
claims, the local administration, and not he, was responsible.

With regard to the allegations that he paid land tax of 15,066 roubles for
1992-97 only in 1998, Pollard counters that he paid this sum as soon as he
received final documentation on his property from Vanino city administration
in 1998. In addition, he claims, 'I paid extra tax on much more land than I
owned.' On 1 February Pollard explained to Keston that he had not submitted
his tax declaration by 1 April 1999 because he 'filed and paid taxes in the
US - and this is acceptable according to Russian law.' The local tax office
nevertheless demanded that he produce a statement of his income, said
Pollard, and although he was not able to obtain the relevant information by
1 April, he sent the tax office a copy after returning to America at the end
of that month.

While Vanino customs staff were clearing his container of humanitarian aid,
according to Bogomolov, Pollard violated the federal Customs Code, was
issued a notice for 'improper behaviour' and 'violated terms and procedure
of the obligatory state technical examination of his container.' According
to Pollard, he was indeed accused of causing a delay: 'We learned that we
were accused of taking too long to clear customs when we were fined along
with the 6,000 [US dollars] in customs fees.' Pollard described how it was
in fact customs staff who protracted the process: 'After weeks of delays and
many forms filled out, customs officials set a date to inspect its contents:
we would drive to the port entrance and wait for hours beyond the appointed
time. Sometimes they would tell us to come back another day.' In the event
of the actual inspection, he told Keston, church workers tried to ensure
that it was as brief as possible: 'When we were finally able to enter the
port and open our container, we quickly removed half of the contents to a
second container so everything could be inspected. Customs had told us it
would take two weeks to do this, but we did it in two hours.'

According to Pollard, it was the customs staff, and not he, who behaved
improperly: 'When they finally agreed to inspect our container, one customs
official joked that they might try to sneak something illegal into our
goods. We went to the head of customs to complain but nothing was done. We
also encountered customs officials who were so drunk that they made passes
at the women from our church while we were trying to get the paperwork
completed, but since we were trying to get their approval to clear the
container, we dared not file a protest.'

Concluding his refutations, Pollard is adamant that he has not been trying
to stay out of Russia: 'I am willing and have tried repeatedly to return to
Russia and exonerate myself.' Rather than staying out of Russia for a 'long
period', he says, he spent six months save for two weeks - just long enough
to obtain a new visa - in Russia prior to the accusations being filed. In
addition, he maintains, he has made applications for visas in Khabarovsk,
San Francisco and Moscow since the expiry of his last visa in April 1999,
'but they were all turned down.'

'To those who know the true history of Russia,' remarks Pollard, 'the
accusations made against me should come as no surprise. What surprises me is
that anyone would believe them. Why would I waste my life going to Russia to
break the law?' On 9 February he explained to Keston that there are so many
laws in Russia that no one could keep them all, 'so it is easy for the
authorities to follow someone and arrest them as soon as they catch them
breaking the law.' He likens his situation to that of a Red Army officer
turned prison camp inmate in Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago: 'Just give us
the person - and we'll create the case!'

Not only is he innocent of 'persistent disregard for the law,' according to
Pollard, but this 'came from the other side of the desk - our church should
have had the right to invite me until the end of 1999, but was refused that
right.' Refused reregistration for a fourth time in January 2000 - on this
occasion because 'the address on the paperwork could not be same as where we
meet'- Pollard maintains that as his church had legal status prior to the
introduction of the 1997 law on religion, it should not be deprived of the
right to invite him, as established by the Constitutional Court decision of
23 November 1999. Despite having joined a centralised union, he says, 'we
have tried to reregister our church but have repeatedly been delayed and
denied. We have been turned down several times, with each denial being
delayed the full three months, and until we demand that they be sent, or
someone goes and picks them up.' Now he says, the church is ready to become
an 'underground' congregation: 'independent Baptists are easy to eliminate
since they believe that each church is to be responsible to God, rather than
a hierarchy, and therefore have no controlling headquarters to blow the
whistle when they are mistreated.'

When Keston enquired about Pollard's situation at the US Consulate in
Vladivostok, public affairs officer SUSAN KRAUSE responded on 11
that 'we haven't had any new information or reports of problems.' Speaking
to Keston on 1 February, human rights officer at the US Embassy in Moscow
MARI DIETERICH said that the embassy had been 'stonewalled - either I get
answer or that they're not doing anything [about Pollard's case].'

In a 25 April interview with Keston, Pollard's lawyer YEKATERINA
was by contrast optimistic that the allegations against him would be
dropped. When Pollard was last refused entry to Russia, she explained, the
Pentecostal Union headed by SERGEI RYAKHOVSKY - which had issued
him an
invitation - made a formal complaint to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This was referred to the FSB in Moscow: 'Officials there stated that the
decision on the inexpediency of the invitation had in fact not been made on
a federal level at all, but by the public prosecutor of Khabarovsk krai - it
thus became clear that Bogomolov had exceeded his commission.' When
sent information to this effect to the general public prosecutor - who, she
said, had 'no idea' that the decision to exclude Pollard from Russia had
been made - she received a 'ready response' and an official letter of
inquiry was addressed to Khabarovsk on 6 April.

The situation regarding the reregistration of Pollard's church in Vanino,
however, remains difficult. Unable to reregister as a member of Ryakhovsky's
Pentecostal union, Smyslova told Keston, due to its status as a purely
Baptist church, the Vanino church had turned to the Russian Far East's local
branch of the Baptist Union headed by PYOTR KONOVALCHIK as 'the only
realistic option' for reregistration. The decision to join the Baptist Union
had not been an easy one, said Smyslova, as Pollard belongs to the so-called
'regular Baptists' in the US, whose mission organisation Baptist
Mid-Missions 'does not accept any compromises. It is very difficult for them
to accept membership of the Russian Baptist Union, which acknowledges the
Baptist World Alliance, as they do not trust such structures.' Pollard in
fact joined the Russian Baptist Union against the wishes of Baptist
Mid-Missions, Smyslova told Keston, having negotiated certain changes in the
parish's charter: 'He didn't allow his church to accept the Baptist Union's
charter - Russian Baptists teach that you can lose salvation, for example,
whereas the regular Baptists teach that once you have it, you have it
forever.' Yet despite other churches having a similar charter, said
Smyslova, Pollard's church has twice been refused reregistration since
joining the Russian Baptist Union.

According to Smyslova, doubts held about doctrinal differences by president
of the Russian Far East's branch of the Baptist Union GENNADI ABRAMOV
dispelled when he and other pastors visited the Vanino church: 'They saw
that it was very healthy and let it join regardless.' The church was now
reconciled with the idea of being in a union, she maintained: 'At first they
wanted absolute autonomy and to join the union only in order to obtain
certain rights, but now they like the relationship.' This view was confirmed
by musician in Pollard's church YELENA TOLSTOPYATOVA when Keston
spoke to
her on 29 April: 'Things have become easier for us because Gennadi Abramov
is helping us,' she remarked. 'When he visited us he said we were doing
everything right in our church and had such a good pastor in Dan Pollard.'
The church joined the Baptist Union about six months ago, she said; she was
optimistic that this fact would mean that the church would soon be

Tolstopyatova told Keston that the Vanino church had been refused
registration 'between four and six times - it is difficult to say as it has
happened so often.' On the last two occasions, she said, the reason given
was that the legal address submitted for the church was that of a private
house: 'The church was formulated as the private house of Dan Pollard
because it would have been much more difficult for him to build it as a
church,' she explained. Tolstopyatova thought that the last occasion when
documents were submitted (November/December 1999) and rejected (January
2000) would certainly have been after the church had joined the Baptist
Union. In her view, it was clear that the main reason for the continual
rejections was Dan Pollard himself. When Keston asked if this was because he
was an American, she replied, 'Probably - but more likely because this
particular American is not liked within Khabarovsk krai administration,' -
in her view, 'because he did such a lot for our church.'

Speaking to Keston on 5 May, SVETLANA PANCHENKO of Khabarovsk
department of justice maintained that Pollard's church had been refused
reregistration on only one occasion - in late 1999 or early 2000, she
thought - because the legal address of the church was formulated as a
private house in violation of Article 288 of the Civic Code of the Russian
Federation. She said that the church could still be reregistered if the
problem concerning legal address was resolved, and repeatedly stressed to
Keston that the church still had until the end of 2000 to do so. When Keston
asked why this objection had not been raised earlier, Panchenko explained
that confirmation of legal address had only become necessary with the
introduction of compulsory reregistration under the 1997 law on religion.

Despite his long absence from Russia, the approximately 70 parishioners in
Vanino church are solidly behind Pollard, according to Yelena Tolstopyatova:
'We really want him to come back but they won't give him a visa,' she told
Keston, 'we are praying that he might finally be able to return.' (END)