25 February 2004
Although some things are known about North Korea's control over all aspects of its citizens' lives and about its chemical and biological experiments on prisoners, less is known about the country's religious life. Although religious freedom does not exist, there is dispute about how genuine religious practice is at the handful of "show churches" in the capital Pyongyang. Dusty pews suggest that they are not well used. Buddhist temples are mere cultural relics. Parents are reportedly afraid to pass on their faith to their children, as sporadic refugee accounts suggest believers are still punished for practising their faith in secret. It is often as refugees in China that North Koreans first encounter religious life. Refugees repatriated from China have reported that they are interrogated about their contacts with mainly Protestant South Korean missionaries, while the North Koreans have reportedly set up a fake Protestant church in China to lure back defectors. Evidence suggests that any religious revival in North Korea is a recent phenomenon resulting from repatriates sharing their faith. This might prove a challenge to the regime.
17 February 2004
Some 12 years after the collapse of the Soviet regime, an Old Believer representative has told Forum 18 News Service that he believes ex-KGB officials were acting "out of inertia" when they voiced preference for one of two candidates on the eve of his Church's 9 February leadership election. Romil Khrustalev added, however, that the energetic Andrian (Chetvergov) was elected metropolitan even though the Russian secret service apparently favoured the other candidate. Both Khrustalev and a Moscow Patriarchate representative told Forum 18 that a report claiming that Metropolitan Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church had acted similarly to the ex-KGB was false. Accounting for only a few per cent of the Russian population at most, the Old Believers say that they have "no idea" why the state should take an interest in the identity of their leader.
11 February 2004
Pastors of one of the largest unregistered Baptist churches in Russia, in Tula, have told Forum 18 News Service that they believe their prayer house was the victim of a deliberate attack in January, when two powerful explosions ripped through the building's interior. However, Viktor Orlov and Aleksandr Lakhtikov told Forum 18 that they do not know who caused the explosions. The timing of the incident - just before a major conference at the church to be attended by Baptist leaders from all over Russia - is thought to be particularly suspicious. Also in Tula, two Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox churches have suffered arson attacks in recent months. One of the Orthodox parish priests referred Forum 18 to "that inexplicable explosion" at the Baptist prayer house, and described both it and the arson attacks as "links in the same chain."
27 January 2004
Authorities in Belarus have been briefly detaining Krishna devotees two or three times a week for distributing religious literature, as well as obstructing literature distribution in other ways, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Separately, the Society for Krishna Consciousness in Belarus has asked the UN Human Rights Committee to investigate the legality of the states' refusal to register the organisation under the previous religion law. Vasili Marchenko, the official in charge of religious affairs in Brest region, told Forum 18 that a local Hare Krishna community had not been denied re-registration under the new religion law, and that he had not received any such application. This is disputed by a devotee, who told Forum 18 that the community's re-registration documents had been returned without explanation. In October 1997, the Belarusian State Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs' Expert Council described the Minsk Society for Krishna Consciousness as a "destructive totalitarian sect infringing personality, health, citizens' rights and national security."
21 January 2004
State policies in Central Asia towards religious minorities present a varied picture. Orthodox Christians say they have almost no problems at all, which is in stark contrast to the situation of other religious minorities such as Protestant Christians, and to the situation of Islam, the most widespread religion in the region. Throughout the region both Islamic radicalism and proselytism by non-Islamic faiths are viewed very seriously indeed by governments, which frequently seek to control and/or severely repress both Islam and proselytism. This is partially due to fear of religious diversity, and partially due to fear of radical Islamic groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
12 January 2004
In the wake of a 1 December district court ruling in Tatarstan's capital Kazan that a decision denying Baptist church-planter Takhir Talipov a further residency permit should be upheld, Talipov's legal representative told Forum 18 News Service he sees little hope in having the verdict overturned. Fyodor Dzyuba said he had not even bothered to attend a hearing at the Tatarstan supreme court on 10 January. "I knew in advance we had very little chance." The supreme court is due to announce its decision by 20 January. A Kazan district court had accepted an assessment by the local FSB (former KGB) that the missionary work by Talipov, a Russian-born ethnic Tatar, was "extremist" and liable to threaten stability in the mainly Muslim republic.
8 January 2004
The Orthodox Christmas season this month has been marred in Kosovo by a series of violent incidents, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. A church was broken into and several items and some money were stolen, and a bus was attacked by local Albanians at the Decani monastery after the Christmas service. The attack on the church follows an earlier attack in November 2003. Officials of the United Nations administration (UNMIK) have condemned the attacks, the latest in a series since 1999 for which no arrests have ever been made. Speaking to Forum 18 about the attack on the bus, Fr Sava Janjic of the Decani monastery described it as a "demonstration of utmost religious intolerance" on Christmas "a holiday of peace and forgiveness". "What a paradox, that the attack was made at a moment when the head of UNMIK, only a hundred metres away, was speaking with the local Decani assembly president and appealed to him to show tolerance and understanding towards Decani monastery."
5 January 2004
After six freezing nights on the street outside their stolen building, members of the Korean Kwan Lim Methodist church in northern Moscow were allowed temporary access by police on 29 December. "Nothing has changed legally," United Methodist Church superintendent for northern Moscow Pastor Valeri He told Forum 18 News Service, acknowledging that church members are now "at least able to await a court verdict in the warm". A local court is due to set a date soon after 7 January to hear the church's complaint that the Moscow justice department accepted the fraudulently-amended church charter which allowed a commercial firm to seize the Methodists' building. The justice department has claimed to Forum 18 that the changes to the charter were made in accordance with the law.
26 December 2003
Just before western Christmas, on 23 December, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that the new "owners" of a Methodist church in Moscow "violently and with the use of force" evicted Pastor Kim-Jun-Kyu, his family including two young children, and a range of other church officials, without even giving them time to dress before throwing them onto the cold street at 7 am. Church members immediately contacted the police, who have now sealed the building against both the new "owners" and church members. The church held a Christmas service on the street outside the church, and will be holding another street service this coming Sunday. Pastor Mikhail Kuznetsov, of the Moscow Interconfessional Pastors' Council, has told Forum 18 that "the violence was accompanied by nationalistic expressions and crude insults towards the Protestants," and has called for a special night of prayer for the church on 2 to 3 January 2004.
18 December 2003
After today's funeral of Beijing's last Orthodox priest, it is still unknown when the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church will have a church in the capital. Visiting Russian Orthodox priest Fr Dionisy Pozdnyayev told Forum 18 News Service that Orthodox believers "have no priest now, no church and nowhere to pray", although he said the authorities were positive about the idea of Chinese Orthodox studying for the priesthood in Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church has being trying to help the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church, which the Cultural Revolution decimated, without success asking to send priests to surviving Chinese parishes, Forum 18 has been told. Several parishes still survive in Inner Mongolia and in Xinjiang Province in north west China. The only surviving Chinese local clergy are in the southern city of Shanghai, where St Nicholas' church has been turned into a French restaurant. Elsewhere, Chinese Orthodox churches are also being used for other purposes, in at least one case as a night club.
16 December 2003
Moscow city's justice department has failed to explain to Forum 18 News Service why it allowed the founding document of a Methodist Church to be altered without the knowledge or consent of the church, thus facilitating the "sale" of the building to new "owners". Guards hired by these "owners" have seized the building, with the pastor and church officials remaining inside. Aleksandr Buksman, head of the local city registration department for religious organisations, has claimed to Forum 18 that the demands of Russia's religion law "were fully observed by the religious organisation". This claim is very strongly disputed by the church, which points out to Forum 18 that a "meeting" Buksman refers to was not authorised by the church, did not involve church members, and was not held on church premises. Buksman has failed to explain why his department did not check any of this with the church leadership.
15 December 2003
A Methodist church may lose its church building after the local Moscow city justice department allowed outsiders to change the building's ownership without the church's knowledge, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Guards loyal to the new "owners" have seized the building, though the pastor and church officials remain inside. The local Moscow justice department has declined to explain to Forum 18 why it allowed the "ownership change" to happen without the church's knowledge. However, Maksim Zubov, of the federal Justice Ministry has pointed out to Forum 18 that "no-one has the right to change the founding document of a religious organisation without its knowledge." Church officials suspect that the reason may be local city corruption, and Bishop Ruediger Minor, head of the United Methodist Church in Russia, has told Forum 18 that "the whole thing could only happen because of some (at least silent) support from administrative and other structures."