Entries in Russia (5)


RUSSIA: Jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief in public

Baptist pastor Pavel Pilipchuk completed a five-day prison term on 18 April, fellow Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 News Service from the Russian city of Orel on 1 May. He was punished by an Orel court for refusing to pay a fine he insists was unjustly imposed for allegedly organising an open-air meeting for worship without informing the city administration beforehand. He had been fined about two weeks' average wages in August 2014 – a fine later doubled for non-payment.

"Half the fine has now been removed from him, as if he had paid it," Baptists told Forum 18. "20,000 Roubles for five days' imprisonment! But the original 20,000 Roubles remains. He'll continue to appeal against this."
Exercising freedom of religion or belief in public spaces continues to attract hostile attention from law enforcement agencies, often leading to administrative prosecutions and five-figure fines. Legal amendments were introduced in October 2014 in an attempt to clarify where religious ceremonies may be freely held and to specify that not all events require prior notification of the authorities (see F18News 2 March 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2044).
Judging by court verdicts from early 2015, however, these changes have as yet had little apparent effect, Forum 18 has found. A total of 13 individuals – nine Jehovah's Witnesses and four Muslims – are known to have been fined since the beginning of 2015 for holding public religious events, Forum 18 notes. Unsuccessful attempts were made to punish three more – two Jehovah's Witnesses and one Protestant.

Hopes unfulfilled

It had also previously been hoped in Russia that the legal requirements for public events under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 20.2 would be leniently interpreted, after a December 2012 Constitutional Court ruling responding to two complaints from Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 15 August 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1865). But these hopes were not fulfilled as prosecutions and convictions continued (see eg. F18News 2 December 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1902).
Religious communities whose beliefs require them to share their beliefs in public, beyond the confines of a place of worship, are particularly vulnerable to prosecution under Administrative Code Article 20.2. The majority of cases which reach court target Jehovah's Witnesses, although, as Pilipchuk's case shows, Baptists and Evangelical Protestants have also been charged (see F18News 2 March 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2044).

Article 20.2

Administrative Code Article 20.2 is linked to the 2004 Demonstrations Law and punishes the "violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket". Its eight parts cover a variety of "offences", but only Parts 1, 2, and 5 are known by Forum 18 to have been used against people who exercise freedom of religion or belief (see eg. F18News 13 September 2012 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1742).
Between the beginning of 2015 and late April, Forum 18 knows of 10 such cases involving people who exercise freedom of religion or belief (see below).
In June 2012 penalties under Article 20.2 for violating the Demonstrations Law were massively increased (see Forum 18's general Russia religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1722). 
Article 20.2 Parts 1 and 5 cover general violations of the "established order" of public events and complement each other, the former focusing on organisers, the latter on other participants. Conviction under Parts 1 and 5 brings a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 Roubles or compulsory labour for up to forty hours. Officials of organisations may also receive a fine of 15,000 to 30,000 Roubles under Part 1, and organisations themselves may be fined 50,000 to 100,000 Roubles.
Part 2 specifically targets the holding of events without formally notifying the authorities in advance. For individuals, this carries a fine of 20,000 to 30,000 Roubles, compulsory labour of up to forty hours, or detention for up to ten days. Officials may be fined 20,000 to 40,000 Roubles, and organisations 70,000 to 100,000 Roubles.
These are substantial fines when compared with the current average wage in Russia (42,136 Roubles per month in December 2014, 30,929 Roubles per month in January 2015) and especially with the average pension (10,029 Roubles per month in 2014). Those prosecuted under Article 20.2 are often elderly Jehovah's Witnesses. Judges sometimes acknowledge this by reducing fines for pensioners.
Penalties incurred under Article 20.2 can present "serious financial difficulties" for pensioners and the poor, Jehovah's Witness spokesperson Ivan Belenko told Forum 18 on 29 April. He added that other Jehovah's Witnesses usually step in to help.

Baptist pastor imprisoned

On 13 April, Judge Inna Maltseva at Magistrates' Court No. 2 in the Northern District of Orel sentenced Baptist pastor Pilipchuk to five days' administrative arrest. Earlier that day, he had again refused to pay the fine imposed by the city's Soviet District Court eight months before, maintaining his innocence of the original "offence". After sentencing, Pilipchuk was immediately taken into custody at a police detention centre.
Judge Maltseva had already doubled Pilipchuk's fine to 40,000 Roubles on 22 December 2014 for reasons of non-payment.
A spokeswoman for Magistrates' Court No. 2 told Forum 18 on 29 April that Pilipchuk had still not paid the fine.
Soviet District Court had fined Pilipchuk 20,000 Roubles on 11 August 2014 for allegedly organising an open-air worship service without notifying the authorities. Orel Regional Court rejected his appeal on 29 September 2014 (see F18News 2 March 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2044).
Pilipchuk was charged as responsible for a group of Orel Baptists who marked Palm Sunday (23 March) 2014 by gathering outdoors to sing hymns and hand out Christian literature: "The evangelism went well, people listened attentively, nobody interfered, and the police were not present".
Baptists claim that Pilipchuk was not present at the event and was not responsible for it. In court, however, witness statements from members of the congregation were disregarded as they were judged to be "interested parties".
According to the court verdict, seen by Forum 18, the outdoor meeting for worship presented "the possibility of danger to public order, morality and health, both to the participants of the religious event themselves, and to third parties, which requires public authorities to take measures to ensure public order and the security and peace of citizens". The verdict also indicated that police officers testified that members of the public had called and expressed their "negative reaction" to the event and their intention to prevent it, "including by active intervention".
The verdict was reached despite a 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg in a similar case. The ECtHR unanimously ruled that the Russian authorities are obliged to uphold religious communities' right to hold such public meetings, even if there is opposition from some. The case was brought by Protestant Pastor Petr Barankevich of the Christ's Grace Evangelical Church after his Church was banned from meeting for worship in a public park (see F18News 1 August 2007 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1001).
The telephone at the Orel regional Prosecutor's Office chancellery (responsible for the documentation of cases) went unanswered whenever Forum 18 called on 28 and 29 April.


Thomas Tae Kang: U.S. Citizen imprisoned in Russia

Tomorrow, on April 2 a hearing will be held on the case of Pastor Kang. He and his lawyer decided to plead guilty in order to soften the punishment for the crime.

In the circumstances, Mr. Kang sees no possibility to defend the truth, tired of the 7-month stay in jail and wants only one thing – to meet with his family as soon as possible.

We believe that the case was fabricated by the local authorities, that the pastor gave a “bribe” under pressure from the police officer and had been abetted by his assistant. The positive outcome of the case for authorities of the City of Tula certainly inspires them, and not only them, to do so in the future with the missionaries belonging to unwanted religious minorities. 

The following is the statement by the Russian Guild of Experts on Religion and Law:

Increasingly in Russia, prosecutorial agencies take action against the faithful, against Christian missionaries, and these actions are not, formally, prosecution initiated on the basis of their religious beliefs. Essentially, representatives of various faiths are provoked, and said provocations result in criminal, or other action.

In this regard, the Guild of Experts on Religion and Law calls on the Investigative Committee of Russia, the Prosecutor General's Office, the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, and the general public to take note of the case of the Protestant pastor Thomas Kang, a U.S. citizen, who, as a result of obvious provocation, is under investigation for bribery.

Actions such as this, which are clearly targeted at believers who are persona non grata, as well as at active preachers who are unable to defend themselves, will inflict damage on Russia's international reputation as a Christian country. What transpired with Pastor Kang is a case of blatant persecution on the basis of religion, aided by criminal provocation. There is no doubt that the actions against Pastor Kang were taken with the aim of stamping out the Christian community which he created, and developing a means of expelling him from Russia.

We hope that, both within Russia and abroad, the public will respond vigorously to such blatant violations of the rights of believers to religious freedom and freedom to practice their beliefs, which are more and more frequently being threatened under various pretexts on the territory of Russia.


American Pastor Detained in Russia

A Protestant pastor and U.S. citizen has been held for months at detention center in Russia. Thomas Tae Kang, a Presbyterian Church pastor, Korean by birth, U.S. citizen, former military chaplain, and now military pensioner, has been held for more than four months in custody on an attempted bribery charge: the bribe, a $30 USD donation he provided in conjunction to a fine he lawfully paid.  But a cursory look into the facts surrounding his case show that he was targeted because he provided a place for various Christian ministries to worship.
T. Kang arrived in Russia more than ten years ago, and he has remained here with his family. He had literally fallen in love with Russia, its culture and the Russian people. After obtaining his residence permit, he bought an apartment in Moscow and began to build a house in Zaoksky District, Tula Region, a process that took more than nine years to complete. Upon completion, the house was large and beautiful. T. Kang called it his "House of Joy", and decided he would minister to parents and children from low-income families and the children of soldiers by allowing them to vacation for free at the House of Joy. T. Kang felt this ministry is how he could best serve the Russian people. Even before its official opening, T. Kang placed the humanitarian vacation house at the disposal of Christians in Tula Region for celebrations and prayer services.

The official opening of the House of Joy was scheduled for September 29, 2012. Clergy from all over Russia, as well as from South Korea and the United States, were invited to the opening. A former Defense Minister of South Korea, and now pastor of one of the largest Presbyterian churches in Seoul, was among the invitees who arrived. A total of around 120 guests came.
But on September 28, 2012, the eve of the grand opening of the House of Joy, the Office of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) of the Zaoksky District summoned T. Kang by telephone. Officials of FMS informed T. Kang that one of the three builders of the house, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, had a work permit that had expired several days before and had since been arrested.

Like a law-abiding citizen, T. Kang rushed to the FMS Office where the details of the Russian immigration laws were described to him in the darkest terms, and he was threatened with criminal charges entailing a sentence of two months to two years, a sentence which did not, however, correspond with Russian law. An FMS employee sent T. Kang to the chief of police in the building next door after giving T. Kang a copy of the administrative offense report, which listed a fine of two thousand rubles and bank account information for the payment of the fine. In answer to T. Kang’s question, "Why do I have to go there?" the employee told the presbyter that it was "necessary" and that "they are waiting for you."

A police officer on duty accompanied T. Kang and his assistant Ekaterina F. to the office of the Deputy Chief Captain S., where the conversation revolved first around the Uzbek and then turned to the possibility that T. Kang was himself criminally liable. Assuming by this allegation the officer was trying to extort a bribe, T. Kang told Ekaterina "Let's go" and left the office. In the corridor he gave Ekaterina two thousand rubles and asked her to pay the fine, because he honestly believed that the fine must be paid on the spot, and then he went out to his car.
Captain S. would not, however, take the money from Ekaterina, stating that T. Kang was ignoring him and did not want to talk to him, and he demanded that T. Kang be brought back to the office. Ekaterina came down from the second floor to the street and called T. Kang back to the office. However, he did not want to return, stating that he had nothing more to do there and he was in a rush because there were groceries in the car that could spoil and he had to prepare to meet his guests. Ekaterina reiterated that the officer was insistent that he return. Taking the money back from Ekaterina, T. Kang entered the office where this conversation "about nothing" went into the second round. To put it plainly, he was stonewalled for a total of more than thirty minutes.

Growing tired of meaningless conversation and the hints of criminal liability, the foreigner gave the policeman two thousand rubles (roughly $66USD) to satisfy the fine and another thousand rubles (roughly $33USD) as "an open giving of thanks" (these were his literal words) for the economic needs of the police, in essence a donation to the police. Captain S. glanced at the money and shouted "bribe!" Immediately, the police officers who were standing at the ready behind door ran in and detained the T. Kang.  On September 29, 2011, the morning after the initial detention, T. Kang was transferred to Detention center No. 1 of Tula, where to this day, more than five months later, he is being held until his investigation is concluded.

Anatoly Pchelintsev, lawyer,
Co-Chairmain of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice


Russia: Legislation Criminalizing Blasphemy Frozen Until Spring

President Vladimir Putin has decided to postpone the adoption of legislation criminalizing blasphemy and acts that offend religious believers until spring, a news report said Wednesday.

In the meantime, authorities hope to engage the public in a serious discussion on the contentious legislation, which would impose maximum penalties of three years' imprisonment, a 300,000 ruble ($10,000) fine or 200 hours' community work for publicly offending believers' feelings, a Kremlin source told Vedomosti.

At a meeting of Putin's human rights council earlier this month, prominent activists criticized the blasphemy bill for its vague wording, which they said could result in miscarriages of justice. "'Feeling' is vague term, not a legal one," liberal politician Irina Khakamada told Putin at the meeting.

Her words were echoed by the Supreme Court, which said in a written assessment of the legislation that its implementation would be difficult unless phrases like "worship" and "religious traditions and ceremonies" were clarified, according to Vedomosti.

Those in favor of the bill argue that raising penalties for blasphemy is necessary to stamp out growing conflict in the sphere of religion

Read more:http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/legislation-criminalizing-blasphemy-frozen-until-spring/472111.html#ixzz2DZr6G3V7
The Moscow Times


Russia: Raids on a Protestant Rehab Center (Video)

On November 9, 2012, the campaign to destroy the rehabilitation center New Life in Petersburg, Russia, passed to an active phase.

New Life was created in 1995 and is now the biggest and most effective rehabilitation center for drug- and alcohol-addicted people in Russia. There are 360 people going through rehabilitation at any given time. Research by the Russian Department of Health showed a success rate of 59.2 %. The center has received numerous certificates of honor, letters of thanks, and awards.

All of these achievements have been built on private donations and other funds raised by the center itself—they receive no funding from the Russian government.

Despite its success and positive impact on the community, for several years the Russian authorities have been attacking “New Life.”

The professed cause of these attacks is “violation of economic activity and human rights.” However, the true cause is the fact that New Life is located on a piece of real estate which has suddenly risen in value, a zone next to the Ust-Luga seaport coveted by some business organizations. “We know exactly who ordered the attacks and which corrupt officials have carried them out. The raids are acts of intimidation and attempts to find a way to discredit the center, then use it for the criminal prosecution of the center’s management,” says New Life founder Sergey Matevosyan.

Representatives of the prosecutor’s office of Leningradskaya Oblast repeatedly emphasized New Life’s connection with the Protestant church, calling it a sect and accusing the staff of “suppression of will of rehabilitants,” entirely without proof.

In the last few weeks, the center has been raided by the local police, the regional prosecutor's office, the regional FSB, the fire department, and the labor and sanitary inspectors. Even trained dogs were brought to find “hidden drugs” which, of course, didn’t exist. Nevertheless, Mr. Matevosyan expects to receive huge penalties. As he explains, “They weren’t able to intimidate us, they didn’t find anything, but now there will be penalties of ten of thousands of dollars for items like a fire extinguisher located in the wrong corner of a room.”

To be a Protestant in modern Russia is to be outside the law. You can be plundered and fined, your building can be destroyed (as was recently the case with Holy Trinity Church in Moscow), and authorities can fabricate a criminal case against you. All of this is done with impunity because only three major religions are protected—Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and the Sunni sect of Islam. All others are left without the protection of the state, as the current case demonstrates.

more information in Russian

The video consist of introduction of a New Life Center, the footages from the Center during attack, and the statements from the persecutors office

Raids on New Life Center from Wade on Vimeo.