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28 July 2003

RUSSIA: Allegations against Komi Patriarchate diocese ignored, but breakaway Orthodox allegations investigated

Local state officials in Komi are said to be assisting the local Moscow Patriarchate diocese in its dispute with the local Russian Orthodox Church Abroad community, according to the abbot of the Votcha-based breakaway monastic community, Fr Stefan (Babayev). Forum 18 News Service has confirmed that neither the monastery nor its associated parish have received state registration. Claims have also been made that, in contrast to local state authorities investigation of allegations against both the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and Baptist (See F18News 22 July 2003) communities, allegations of criminal practices within a local Moscow Patriarchate monastery have not been investigated.

24 July 2003

RUSSIA: State interrogations of Komi breakaway Orthodox

State interrogations of members of the breakaway Orthodox community at Komi and those associated with them are claimed to have continued, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, including attempts to intimidate teenage school children, as well as municipal employees, who attend services at the monastery. This has taken place even after an apparently conclusive court ruling in the monastery's favour.

24 July 2003

RUSSIA: Komi breakaway Orthodox fight to retain Church building

An Orthodox monastery and parishioners have been harassed by local state authorities since they broke from the local Moscow Patriarchate diocese of Syktyvkar and Vorkuta to join the US-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Forum 18 News Service has seen a video of the local Moscow Patriarchate bishop trying with a police escort to go to the monstery, and of the bishop accusing the breakaway clergy of theft and of being "American fascists". Both the patriarchal diocese and local state authorities then launched failed law suits against the monastery, aimed at seizing a wooden church built after the breakaway took place.

23 July 2003

RUSSIA: Last of 31 court cases for Komi Baptists?

For the past six years the local administration of Komi in north-east European Russia has banned completion of both Russia's largest Baptist Church and a nearby centre for the physically disabled. Forum 18 News Service has discovered that the Baptist's problems started after a visit by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksi II. The latest obstacle placed by authorities in the way of completion of the church is a sales tax demand for three million roubles (approximately 100,000 US dollars, 730,000 Norwegian Kroner or 88,000 Euros) - even though the church has never been sold. Although local authorities are also preventing completion of the centre for the physically disabled, which the Baptists have now decided to give to the local authority, the local religious affairs adviser had high praise for the Baptists' charitable work.

9 July 2003

OSCE COMMITMENTS: OSCE MEETING ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION - A REGIONAL SURVEY

Before the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief on 17-18 July 2003, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org/ surveys some of the more serious abuses of religious freedom that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration.

4 July 2003

RUSSIA: Is Kostroma missionary black spot?

At the same time as five US citizens working with the evangelical Kostroma Christian Church were denied Russian visas last summer, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that another US citizen working in the city with the Christian humanitarian aid organisation Children's HopeChest was denied a visa. And US preacher Bill Norton, who used to visit Kostroma's Family of God church twice a year, has been barred from entry three times since last summer, making Kostroma – with seven visa denials - the location in Russia associated with the greatest number of known foreign church worker expulsions. Pastor Andrei Danilov told Forum 18 that the Russian Foreign Ministry had barred Norton "in connection with a threat to national security".

4 July 2003

RUSSIA: State opposition to Kostroma Pentecostals continues

In the latest incident of what Pastor Andrei Danilov regards as continuing state pressure, the regional justice department in Kostroma near Moscow ordered a "check-up" on the Family of God Pentecostal church in June. The church was given just days – three of which were public holidays – to provide documentation on church funds, church activity, congregation membership records and minutes of meetings. "Other churches haven't been asked," Danilov pointed out to Forum 18 News Service. But local religious affairs official Marina Smirnova defended such action against the church, which included a failed court case on accusations of conducting hypnosis. "This concerns the lives of OUR people... hopefully we caused Danilov to think twice, I call that a result."

27 May 2003

RUSSIA: Orthodox becoming first among equals

Without any change in the law or Constitution to provide for them, the steady increase in concordat-style agreements between the Russian Orthodox Church and various organs of state at federal and local level has given the Orthodox Church increased power, Forum 18 News Service reports after a wide-ranging survey. These agreements give the Church special access to institutions such as prisons, the police, the FSB, the army, schools and hospitals, and emphasise Orthodoxy as the legitimate ideology of Russian state tradition. It is open to question whether they violate Russia's international human rights commitments, but in practice these mini-concordats can render illegitimate the social activity of other religious organisations in the state sphere, thus leading to discrimination on religious grounds.

20 May 2003

RUSSIA: Supreme Court upholds Bible college closure

Today (20 May) Russia's Supreme Court ruled that the Vladivostok-based charismatic "Faith in Action" Bible College should be closed down for conducting religious education without a state licence. Afterwards, the defence lawyer told Forum 18 News Service that the college's parent church, the Church of the Living God, could now be pressurised by the regional authorities for conducting unlicensed professional education activity.

21 April 2003

RUSSIA: Court closes down Bible College

On 21 March Primorsky Krai regional court in Russia's Far East ruled to close down the charismatic Faith in Action Bible College in Vladivostok. Speaking to Forum 18 News Service, the public prosecutor's representative in the case, Nina Saiko, defended the court-ordered closure, arguing that the college was conducting "educational activity" without a licence in violation of the education law. The college's lawyer Aleksei Kolupayev insisted to Forum 18 that it was not conducting educational activity "but simple study for religious believers, a right guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Russian Constitution." Others claim that the FSB (former KGB) has been harassing the college and looking for excuses to close it down.

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