RUSSIA: Pressure on Tatarstan Protestants
The head of the FSB security service in Aznakayevo, a town in mainly Muslim-populated Tatarstan, has strongly denied to Forum 18 News Service that his officers have tried to expel Rafis Nabiullin, the pastor of a small Evangelical church, from the town. "We have made no threats to drive Nabiullin out," the FSB officer told Forum 18. Pastor Nabiullin told Forum 18 that an FSB officer had visited his flat, and "told me he had come 'unofficially', but that the FSB authorities in the town didn't want us there and intended to drive us out." Nabiullin commented that "it seems to have been a private initiative." Other Protestants have told Forum 18 that such pressure is widespread in Tatarstan, Nabiullin telling Forum 18 that "the authorities are Muslim and don't want Christianity, though they can tolerate Orthodoxy. They want to stop our activity."
"If you are making such accusations you should prove them," Valeyev told Forum 18 from Aznakayevo on 18 November. "Otherwise it would be slander." He said he and his officers "never threaten or have threatened" anyone. "We have made no threats to drive Nabiullin out of the town – we do not have the right to say who lives here."
Nabiullin said the visiting FSB officer was not of senior rank and told him he had come at the instigation of Valeyev's deputy. He refused to show Nabiullin his FSB identity card. "It is possible Valeyev does not know he came as it seems to have been a private initiative." When Nabiullin was pressured in summer 2003 the threats came directly from Valeyev. He said such threats to Protestants happen everywhere in Tatarstan, "but if you stand your ground they don't go further than threats".
Valeyev admitted he had warned Nabiullin last summer, but claimed this was because the pastor had obtained a flat "by deception" and had been inviting children to services without the permission of their parents or of the teachers at the local children's home. He claimed parents and teachers had complained to the FSB, but declined to say why this issue was the FSB's responsibility. He strenuously denied that the FSB has any interest in religious activity "provided that religious groups are registered and act openly" (Russia's religion law does not require religious communities to register).
According to Nabiullin, he received a visit last summer from Valeyev and was subsequently invited to the FSB offices, where the issue of children's attendance was raised. But he said Valeyev also threatened him, calling the church a "sect", demanding a list of church members and others who attend, and promising he would do everything to expel him from the town. Valeyev also invited Nabiullin's then landlord, banned him from renting to Nabiullin and fined him.
Nabiullin insisted that the children – who were between 10 and 14 years of age – had come to church last year of their own accord. "The director of the children's home and the teachers had banned them from coming but they came anyway," he told Forum 18. "They are prevented from coming now." He said no children who had parents had attended without their permission.
After that, Nabiullin reported, he had not had any direct contact with the FSB until the most recent visit, though the police had occasionally questioned him about his personal registration. "That is just an excuse for some petty harassment," he told Forum 18.
He reported that two days after the October FSB visit, his landlord abruptly cancelled the family's rental agreement, although he had paid four months' rent in advance and had lived there only 19 days. Nabiullin believes that the timing of the FSB visit and the cancellation of the rental agreement was "a mere coincidence".
Eduard Khamidulin, president of the Association of Evangelical Free Churches of Tatarstan – to which the Aznakayevo church belongs – also expressed some concern about the FSB visit. "It is certain that last year the FSB were trying to get Nabiullin out of the town," he told Forum 18 on 16 November. "This time I'm not sure how far it will go." He added that he did not regard such pressure as typical of Tatarstan as a whole.
But other Protestants believe such pressure – especially on ethnic Tatar churches - is widespread. "The pressure from the government on Evangelicals in 'democratic' Tatarstan has been increasing over the last years," one who preferred not to be identified told Forum 18 in early November. "Several foreign missionaries have been expelled from Tatarstan and national Christian leaders have been interrogated by the security service."
Nabiullin cites pressure on pastors in other towns in Tatarstan, including the capital Kazan, in Bugulma and elsewhere. "The FSB checks up – that's their job," he told Forum 18. "But they try to intimidate believers, especially Protestants. Muslims and Russian Orthodox have no such problems. I know several pastors in our association who have faced pressure, but the difficulties are generally resolved."
And he added: "The authorities are Muslim and don't want Christianity, though they can tolerate Orthodoxy. They want to stop our activity." He said Protestant churches often cannot rent public buildings or show evangelistic films. "We can't rent a hall in Aznakayevo – we've tried many times, even this year," he reported. "The directors of the local club and the cinema told us to go to the town administration, saying if we got approval from them we could rent. But we just face permanent refusal." He said he believed more people would attend meetings in a public building than do so in a private flat.
Nabiullin moved to Aznakayevo four years ago and started a small Christian fellowship in his flat. He said the church, which now has registration as a religious community with the Justice Ministry, has about a dozen regular worshippers at its Sunday services in a private flat. Because of the difficulty of changing their official place of residence, he and his wife are registered in other towns in Tatarstan.
In October last year, Takhir Talipov, an ethnic Tatar Baptist church-planter who had been living locally for more than a decade was denied a residency permit in Tatarstan due to his evangelical activity. A Kazan court upheld the decision in December making use of an assessment drawn up by the FSB that Talipov's activity was "extremist" and liable to threaten stability (see F18News 12 January 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=226). (END)
For background information see Forum 18's Russia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=116
A printer-friendly map of Russia is available at
9 November 2004
The head of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Karachai-Cherkessia and Stavropol Region has claimed to Forum 18 News Service that the Stavropol regional authorities' are supporting the creation of a local muftiate separate from the Spritual Directorate. This is said to be due to the latter's insistence on the return of Stavropol city's historical mosque, which currently houses a museum. Apparent confirmation of the authorities' displeasure is their failure to invite the Spiritual Directorate to a major regional conference, addressed by Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov and other key officials, which was also attended by representatives of the muftiates of both Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Stavropol regional religious affairs official Vasili Shnyukov declined to respond to Forum 18's questions by telephone.
9 November 2004
Only eight out of 47 Muslim communities in the southern Stavropol region have obtained state registration so far. The head of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Karachai-Cherkessia and Stavropol Region, Mufti Ismail Berdiyev, told Forum 18 News Service that "the authorities don't want to register them because they think that if they don't, a problem will disappear." But he argued that "if you register communities then you can monitor them, but the authorities haven't grasped this yet." Mufti Berdiyev's assistant, Abubekir Kurdzhiyev, suggested to Forum 18 that the 39 unregistered Muslim communities in the region could not obtain registration because some of their members had fought with Chechen separatists: "When their corpses returned, the mosques came under suspicion." But he estimated that no one from about 60 per cent of these communities had fought in Chechnya, and rejected the idea that a whole mosque could be held responsible for one person's decision.
2 November 2004
Mufti Ismail Berdiyev, who belongs to the presidential Council for Co-operation with Religious Organisations, has told Forum 18 News Service that he supports "the general idea of attacking Wahhabism and terrorism," but cannot fully endorse every anti-terrorist measure. "Some state officials don't know the first thing about religion and go too far," he remarked, "we don't accept their mistakes." In the area he comes from, the authorities compile lists of suspected "Wahhabis". "I'm opposed to that," he told Forum 18, "if people are conducting terrorist activity then they should be prosecuted." Local imams state that there is an Islamic militant problem, but imam Magomed Erkenov told Forum 18 that the problem's scale did not warrant negative treatment of the entire Muslim community. Commenting on those fighting in Chechnya, he told Forum 18 that "They may have said that they were fighting against Russia, but if paid they would have fought against Muslims, or their own relatives. There is nothing holy about that war."