Russia Authorities To “Demolish” Evangelical Churches and Mosques

High on the list is the Glorification Pentecostal Church in the Siberian city of Abakan which "must demolish" its church building and vacate the plot of land by April 7 after a court ruling, said religious rights group Forum 18.

The 1,000-strong congregation was among two religious organizations that made a successful appeal to the Constitutional Court against Russia's controversial 1997 Religion Law's so-called 15-year rule.

Authorities reportedly warned Glorification Church that it could "neither work with war vterans and young offenders nor host international conferences and a Bible school" because "it had not functioned for 15 years." In 1999, the Constitutional Court determined that this provision did not apply to the Glorification Church.

FIRE SAFETY

However local authorities have now threatened to close the church anyway because of "fire safety and technical concerns," Forum 18 said. In published remarks, assistant pastor and administrator Aleksandr Prus said that the Khakassia Arbitration Court is currently considering Glorification Church's appeal against the city's demolition order.

Problems reportedly began in October 2005 when fire safety, architectural, public procuracy and other officials began persistent check-ups of the church and its activities. Unable to comply quickly with fire safety demands the church was repeatedly given fines of between $380 and $760, several times average monthly salaries here, Prus said.

Abakan City Court reportedly also ordered the closure of the church's building for two periods of 30 and 40 days during 2006, forcing the congregation to meet outside for services. Officials have denied wrongdoing saying the church was "badly built" and "don't meet fire or sanitation norms," Forum 18 said. 

Glorification Church has denied the charges and also disputes the validity of several fire safety criticisms leveled at its adjacent private secondary school. "No other school in the city has such a high level of fire safety," Aleksandr Prus reportedly insisted. The regional Education Ministry ordered the withdrawal of the school's teaching license on in December 2006.

BAPTIST CHURCH

Elsewhere, 2,800 kilometers (1,740 miles) away in the Kirov Region, west of Mosocw, Grace Baptist Church has been encountering similar state intrusion, Christians said. "Fire officers wanted to close down our church building, but on January 29 a local court decided to fine us 10,000 Roubles ($380 US) for the moment and give us until June 1 to remove all fire safety violations," Pastor Aleksandr Timofeyev was quoted as saying by Forum 18.

The church has said it plans to appeal against what it views as "groundless" accusations. The congregation's two-storey, 400 seat, church building was finished in 1997 and alleged violations noted during an early January 2007 check-up all relate to rules introduced after the completion of the church.

Local religious authorities were not immediately available for comment. In Kaluga, some 200 kilometers [125 miles] south west of Moscow, city are also attempting to confiscate he land and building of a Pentecostal church, Forum 18 said. Pastor Albert Ratkin said that a in December 2006 the local mayor ordered his 'World of Life' congregation to give up its church building and land, "in connection with the adjacent construction of" a shopping mall. No compensation was allegedly offered.

The Moscow-based Slavic Centre for Law and Justice will defend Word of Life in a forthcoming appeal against the mayor's decree. Muslims have also been suffering, said Forum 18. In the west Siberian city of Tyumen, several former mosques have been demolished in recent years and at least two new ones look set to share the same fate, the group added

MORE FORTUNATE

However some Christians were more fortunate. The Krasnodar's Protestants, in the western Caucasus, were successful in a legal challenge to upheld the right of Evangelical Christian Missionary Union bishop Aleksei Yeropkin to hold worship meetings in a private house.

Last year a court ordered the demolition of the building on grounds that it is "a non-residential prayer house" requiring state planning permission, Forum 18 noted.
 
Church observers have linked the reported pressure on especially evangelical Christians to concerns among authorities about the spread of non-Orthodox groups in Russia, which mushroomed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. (With reports from Russia).

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