Threats to Religious Freedom in the Ukrainian Crisis

Threats to religious freedom in the context of the Ukrainian crisis: religiously motivated terrorism against non-Orthodox denominations

Mykhailo Cherenkov, professor at Ukrainian Catholic University and Vice President of Mission Eurasia, served as Rector of Donetsk Christian University, a scholar in social theology and missiology.

Published by Christian Ethics Today, Volume 23, Number 2, Aggregate Issue 97 Spring 2015

Events in Ukraine display a unity of political and religious motives. Long before the annexation of the Crimea and the unproclaimed war in the Donbass region, there was a religious battlefront. Analysts, religious scholars, and Ukrainian theologians repeatedly drew attention to this (special note should be made of the works of Yurii Chernomorets and Archimandrite Cyril [Hovorun]), but unfortunately, none of the leading Ukrainian and Western politicians foresaw or took into account the growing role of agressive Moscow Orthodoxy in regional and global politics. As events in Ukaine have shown, Orthodox fundamentalism is no less aggressive than Islamic fundamentalism, and the “Russian spring” is no less bloody than its Arab counterpart. Because this species of Orthodoxy has government support and aspires to a role in politics, it can be called “political Orthodoxy.” Morever, recently “political Orthodoxy” has manifested itself in the form of “Orthodox terrorism” on Ukrainian territory occupied by pro-Russian separatists.

While groups of monitors working in Ukraine are collecting and presenting information on violations of religious freedom previously unseen in this region, the blatant need for a conceptual analysis of what is happening is becoming increasingly evident – why this is happening and what it means for the global community. There is no doubt that the persecution of individuals and groups based on religion that we are witnessing is part of a coherent policy aimed at creating a "Russian world," and therefore it represents a threat not only to regional security, but also to the entire global order in that it poses a challenge to the possibility of "globality," in particular the possibility of universal freedoms, human values, and existing international laws. 

The events in Ukraine have alarmed not only neighboring countries and the political figures associated with the conflict, but also the global Christian community. In the broader context of discussions, the talk is not so much about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia; it is also about the conflict between Eurasia and Europe, Russia and the West, the orthodox "Russian world" and "secularized Protestant-Catholic civilization," universal human rights and "orthodox" values, between freedom and "traditional order." 

The Ukrainian pro-European election and "revolution of dignity" on the Maidan (November 2014 - February 2014.) was followed by the aggressive response of the "Russian world" – the annexation of Crimea (March 2014), the occupation of the eastern part of Ukraine, and the creation of quasi-local "people's republics" (April 2014). All denominations except the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in the occupied territories were deemed illegal and experienced such atrocities as abduction, torture, murder, and the seizures of churches and their premises.

What is obvious is that for the international community, it is important to analyze and assess the impact of the events in Ukraine for cooperation in the region of Eurasia and the protection of religious freedom, and to take all possible measures to support and assist the victims of religious discrimination.

The facts speak for themselves: Greek Catholics and Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Churches have become de facto illegal entities in the annexed Crimea; in the Donbass region an “Orthodox army” is active; dozens of Protestant churches have been seized, there have been cases of kidnapping, torture, and killing of pastors; Moscow Patriarchate priests openly bless terrorists and refuse to pray over deceased Ukrainian soldiers; Patriarch Kirill predicts the downfall of Ukraine as a “Kingdom divided against itself.”

Russia’s “hybrid” war against Ukraine united and thereby stregnthened within itself a series of international, interethnic, and interconfessional conflicts. There was a coarse violation of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, the political unity of the Ukrainian nation, and confessional identity. And it is the religious aspect of the conflict that may prove to be the most significant, because it is Moscow Orthodoxy that has become the thing holding the “Russian world” together, and thereby the main actor in the bloody “Russian spring.”

The annexation of the Crimea was justified by the sacred significance of the ancient Khersones, while war against Ukraine was seen as a defense of Orthodoxy. As President Putin said in his speech to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, “For Russia the Crimea, ancient Korsun, Khersones, and Sevastopol, have immense civilizational and sacred meaning, like Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Jews and Muslims. For our country, for our nation, this event has a special meaning, because our people live in the Crimea, and the territory itself is strategically important, partly because the spiritual source of the formation of the multifaced but monolithic Russian nation is here, and the centralized Russian government. It was on this spiritual soil that our ancestors first and forever recognized their nationhood.” [1]

Essentially, what is under dispute is the old European principle, “Whose realm, his religion” (“Cuius regio, eius religio”). Instead they are advocating the principle, “Whose religion, his realm.” This is related to the aggressive expansion of the “Russian world” through Moscow Orthodoxy. The “Russian spring” began with references to the brotherhood of the three nations and unity of the Orthodox faith, but then continued with the annexation and war against yesterday’s brothers and those of the same faith, who had the gall to live separately and believe differently.

A well-known totalitarian phrase from the 19th century, “To be Russian is to be Orthodox,” is becoming the main motive for the consolidation of “Russians” and  the defense of the “Orthodox.” The “Declaration of Russian Identity” (passed November 11, 2014 at the end of the Global Russian National Assembly, dedicated to the topic of “Unity of History, Unity of the Nation, Unity of Russia”) proclaims, “In Russian tradition the most important criteria of nationality is the national language (even the word for language in Russia, yazyk, is an ancient synonym for the word “nationality”). Every Russian is required to know the Russian language. Claims that every Russian must acknowledge Orthodox Christianity as the basis of their national culture are both justified and fair. Rejection of this fact, and even worse, a search for a different religious basis for the national culture, testifies to a weakened Russian identity, to the point of its loss.” [2]

As events in Ukraine have shown, everywhere you have Russian-speaking “Orthodox,” “polite people” can appear with machine guns to “protect” them and to unite them into a single “Russian Orthodox world.”

“We can’t not notice that the conflict in Ukraine has a clear religious underpinning,” wrote Patriarch Kirill to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in a letter, which was published on the official site of the Department of External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate on August 14th. By August 15th the letter had disappeared from the site. [3]  “Uniates, and schismatics that have joined them, are trying to seize the upper hand over canonical Orthodoxy in Ukraine… I ask Your Holiness to do all you can to raise your voice in defense of the Orthodox Christians in Eastern Ukraine who, in a situation of increasing violence on the part of Greek Catholics and schismatics, live in daily fear for themselves and their dear ones, afraid that if their persecutors come to power, Orthodox believers will be forced to reject their faith or be severely discriminated against,” continued Patriarch Kirill’s letter. 

The manipulation of “canonicity” is noteworthy. For the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine there are no other Orthodox churches, they are all impostors and schismatics. Additionally, the Patriarch hides the well-known fact that even for those who operate by the medieval term “canonical territory,” Ukraine is on disputed canonical territory and belongs more rightly to the Ecumenical Patriarchate than to the Moscow Patriarchate. This fact should be taken into consideration by those Orthodox sympathizers in the West who mean the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) when they refer to “Orthodoxy.” At the same time the ROC and the Global Orthodox Church cannot be compared, either in size or quality. 

The identification of Orthodox faith and the Moscow Patriarchate is becoming a mighty propaganda tool. As the “Orthodox militant,” Deputy Minister of Defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Igor Druz, remarked, “On the Ukrainian side there are no Orthodox at all, because not a single churched Orthodox individual would go to fight against New Russia, because they know that the unity of Holy Rus is pleasing to God. All saints who have spoken on this topic are unanimous in saying that Holy Rus must be united. Meanwhile Ukrainian fascists are the real separatists and they want to divide New Russia from Holy Rus and unite it to the decaying warmongering West. Therefore there are no church people on the Ukrainian side at all. Their battalions are made up mainly of uniates, schismatics, neo-pagans, and sectarians.” [4]

July 31, 2014 the Locum Tenens of the Kiev Cathedra (of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate - UOCMP), Metropolitan Onuphrius, addressed a personal letter to Ukrainian President Poroshenko, in which he was “forced to draw attention to the violation of the rights and freedoms of believers and interference in the work of the parish of the Donetsk diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Ukrainian military in Eastern Ukraine.” [5] He did not mention the problems of other confessions or abuses by the occupying forces and terrorists. Thereby the UOCMP confirmed its not only spiritual, but also political dependence on Moscow. In a conflict between an Orthodox supranational empire and a nation, between imperial ideology and civil society, the “Ukrainian” Orthodox Church has turned out to not be Ukrainian at all. It is obvious that this positition, taken up by the leading “Ukrainian” confession poses a threat to national security and creates a dangerous precedent for other countries in the region. 

In one sense it is no longer Russia as a country, but Russian Orthodoxy as a supranational movement that is becoming a geopolitical factor. It is by claiming defense of “true” traditional canonical Orthodoxy that they justify the actions of the “Orthodox army” in the Donbass region.

In his article, “Where Does the Threat to Orthodoxy in Ukraine Come From?” pubished on the separatist site, “Russian Spring,” the above-mentioned Igor Druz (who signed this time as Chairman of the National Assembly of Ukraine) states that “Kiev separatists… are in great need of an ‘ideological justification’ for their lordship over the Euromaidan slaves. They need not only the support of a party and movement, but of religious confessions. Western handlers have long been busy subjugating various confessions, and the US State Department recently created a special division to work with them. In practical terms this means the destruction of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine and the formation of an enormous religious political sect from the remaining confessions, which will become the ideological foundation of Poroshenko’s regime. These same processes are taking place throughout the world, where, under the leadership of the Western oligarchy, a single world religion is rapidly forming, which the Orthodox rightly consider the religion of the antichrist.” [6]

Through the efforts of “Russian Spring” ideologues, the confict between Russia and Ukraine, between Moscow Orthodoxy and Ukrainian “Uniates, schismatics, and sectarians”, is becoming global and is being represented as a conflict between the “Russian world” and the “decaying West,” “traditional values” and “Gay Europe,” saving spirituality and corrupting secularity. 

Moreover, as the main unifying force, the ROC tries to create an alliance with those Protestants, Jews, and Muslims who agree with the Orthodox view of Russian history and accept without a murmur their subservient position. As the director of external communications for one of the Protestant denominations in Russia told me (at the “Christian Values in Modern Russia” round table in Moscow on May 25, 2006), “We Protestants understand that all the seats at the government table are taken, but we don’t object to feeding on crumbs that fall from the table” (alluding to Matthew 15:26-27, “And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table’”).

It is clear that such allies to “true Orthodoxy” can only be temporary, and will soon become the next victims (which is already happening – while Protestant leaders are participating in government councils and receiving presidential awards, their churches are being mercilessly persecuted). 

Unfortunately it is not only the Russian Orthodox Church, but also Russian Protestants who view Ukraine as their “canonical territory” and have already begun dividing up Ukrainian churches on occupied territory. For instance the Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith passed a decision creating a separate eparchial division for the Crimea and Sevastopol. [7] The new structure will be headed by Bishop Konstantin Bendas, a faithful follower of the party line of his head bishop, Sergey Ryakhovsky, member of the Presidential Council and the Civic Chamber of the President of the Russian Federation.

Russian Baptists see the Crimea as their own. Since the spring they have been persistently inviting Crimean churches to move from the All-Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Christians – Baptists to the Russian Union (RUECB). And it is not just a territorial expansion behind this conflict, but a conflict of ideologies. In a resolution passed by the XXXIV Assembly of the RUECB (May 30, 2014), Russian Baptists condemned the regime change in Ukraine as rebellion: “We declare our loyalty to Biblical teaching, which does not allow forceful overturning of lawful government, nationalism, and the resolution of socio-political conflicts by any means other than through political talks. ‘Do not join with rebellious officials’ (Proverbs 24:21).” [8] 

The assembly’s delegates lost no time in separating themselves from their former “brother in the faith,” then interim president of Ukraine Alexander Turchinov, and sent a fawning epistle to President Putin, in which they assured him of their support and prayers: “May the Lord give you strength and courage to remain faithful in the battle against xenophobia and the preservation of interconfessional peace.” [9] To be fair, I should note that many pro-Russian leaders in Eastern Ukrainian churches went even further, demanding the excommunication of the “bloody pastor.” According to some pastors from the Donbass Region, when DPR separatists asked them, “Is Turchinov one of your guys?” they had no problem responding, “No, he’s not.”

It is worth noting that at that same XXXIV Assembly of the RUECB, along with the resolution on Ukraine and the flattering letter to Putin, the Assembly also passed a social charter for the RUECB, which contained the following in black and white: “No nation should dictate its will to another, based on notions of its religious, economic, political, or military superiority. Every nation should focus its efforts not on proving its false exclusivity, but on achieving basic spiritual and moral progress.” [10]

In order to avoid accusing the honorable advocates of the “Russian world” of a divided consciousness, we have to acknowledge the only remaining option: they truly believe in a “Holy Rus” and its “global mission.”

Most likely it is only the defense of “purity of faith” for the Orthodox and “achievement of basic spiritual and moral progress” for Protestants that can justify the horrors of the “Russian Spring” in Ukraine. Only defense of mythical “traditional values” can cover up the imperial ambitions of soul-saving Moscow Orthodoxy and its epic resistance to the decaying Catholic-Protestant West. Only a fanatical faith in itself and its own exclusivity could close its eyes at the commission by Orthodox crusaders of unmentionable crimes against humanity, against Ukraine and the world, against God and their neighbors.

Sooner or later the global community will have to acknowledge the fact of “political Orthodoxy” and the “Orthodox terrorism” connected to it, supported by Russia and destabilizing the entire Eurasia region. The sooner this happens, the better – for regional and global security, for defense of religious freedoms and civil rights, for the self-determination of individuals and nations. One of the first steps in this direction could be recognizing the “Orthodox” people’s republics which have formed in Eastern Ukraine (Donetsk and Lugansk) as terrorist organizations. This honest recognition would bring clarity to the situation, define the sides of the conflict, the aggressor and the victim, and also allow non-political and non-aggressive Orthodoxy to separate itself from political and aggressive simulacra.

As a conclusion I will offer a few key points about the religious dimensions of the Ukrainian crisis, its global significance and how the international community might position itself.

First, the "hybrid war" unleashed by Russia in Ukraine is not so much anti-Ukrainian as it is anti-Western, and it is quite blatantly religiously motivated, to the extent that it may well be called a "holy war" in which the "orthodox army" is fighting against "uniates, believers and sectarians." In the minds of the ideologues of of the "Russian Spring", the Russian intervention is like a "crusade" against the West, the reconquest, gathering, reunion of the lands comprising this "Russian world."

Secondly, everyone connected with the West by virtue of their origin ("foreigners") or by conscious choice ("traitors") are automatically added to the list of enemies of the "Russian world": Greek Catholics as traitors to the Orthodox faith, Uniates, "Banderists"; Orthodox members of the Kiev Patriarchate as schismatics, apostates, "nationalists"; Protestant sects as Westerners and American spies; and Crimean Tatars as pro-Ukrainians and non-Orthodox. There is flagrant religious discrimination against all denominations except the Moscow Patriarchate.  

Thirdly, interlocked with the state with exclusive access to its resources, and directing its ideological influence on state policies, Russian Orthodoxy is increasingly becoming "political orthodoxy." In this case, it is difficult to separate religion from politics. It is this complex relationship that explains the hybrid nature of the war in Ukraine. The state was provided with religious justification and sacred sanction by the ROC to conduct a merciless war. Consequently, economic logic and political expediency were subordinate to the religious motive – to return to the Moscow Patriarchate its "canonical territory" and build on it the Orthodox empire of the "Russian world."

Fourth, the gradual isolation from international contacts was implemented, along with the forced incorporation of religious associations in Crimea and the Donbass to align them with the structure of the Russian doctrine (the Pentecostals and Baptists have spoken up about this). Given the Orthodox-aggressive ideology of the occupying power, religious denominations have lost the ability to conduct services in their houses of worship. They can no longer carry out missionary work in the community, receive international assistance, or organize charitable activities. Often the conditions for the return of confiscated buildings or the renewal of lease agreements is re-registration and the concomitant procedure of "Orthodox expertise." Denominations are left not only without any rights and means to make a living, they are also isolated from the rest of Ukraine and international support.

Fifth, the spread of the orthodox ideology of the "Russian world" and the religious persecution of other faiths has already led to a significant change in the religious map of the region. Most religious organizations have ceased their activities, and their parishioners have been forced to move to other regions. The vast majority of refugees do not have access to adequate living conditions for their families, nor do they have any prospects of finding work given the economic crisis in the country. Entire communities have been scattered abroad, and those ministers who remain in the occupied territories are in constant danger. We can talk about decimated religious associations in three regions of Ukraine: Crimea, Lugansk and Donetsk; in the same vein, we must also speak of the many thousands of refugees and victims, and the dead and wounded. The believers in these denominations can be regarded as victims of religious cleansing.

Sixth, while the interfaith community of Ukraine coalesced around the anti-corruption "revolution of dignity," national unity and opposition to the aggression of the "Russian world," Russian denominations united in support of the anti-Western course charted by their president. The title of the book of former President Leonid Kuchma – Ukraine is not Russia, beautifully conveys the clear demarcation between the nations, and presents Ukraine to the world as a self-determined phenomenon – "not Russia." This does not fit into the usual conception of the Western world, which labels as "Russia" everything that previously fell within the borders of the USSR. But today it is abundantly clear: Ukraine, with its rich diversity of denominations, its East-West synthetic spiritual culture should be perceived as a separate entity and promising subject of relations. Moreover, Ukraine should be seen as the victim of foreign aggression, in which the justification given for aggression is the pro-Western orientation of society and the consensus of most denominations to support the European aspirations of the country. 

Seventh, the confrontation in Ukraine should be seen as a clash between universal human rights and freedoms and so-called "traditional values." Behind the deceptive rhetoric of "traditional values" are hiding not universal, nor even Christian values, but the traditional values of "political orthodoxy" centered on "orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality" – in other words, the values of the "Orthodox Empire." In contrast to this, by upholding the fundamental value of freedom in relation to the individual and the nation, the Ukrainian "revolution of dignity" upholds the possibility of religious freedom and religious diversity. In this clash of the emerging civil society and the monolithic "Orthodox Empire," Ukraine, like never before, is in urgent need of support from international legal institutions and the solidarity of the multi-faceted and free Christian world.

My eighth and final point, since the expansion of the orthodox "Russian world" carries with it a threat to the religious distinctiveness of Ukraine, international assistance is needed for the protection of this distinctiveness – professional monitoring, expert analyses, help from advocates of religious freedom, and the expansion of international relations and integration into the global space.

For the world community, there is only one way to counter the absorption of Ukraine by Russia, and that is to move closer to Ukraine, to connect with her through strong religious, cultural, political and economic ties; to open all the doors to the free movement of Ukrainian believers in need of international advocacy; to use all diplomatic means to ensure the recognition of the separatists' "people's republics" as terrorist organizations, their "policies" against religious organizations as discrimination, and their victims as victims of religiously motivated terrorism.


[1] “The Crimea Has Sacred Significant for Russia, According to Putin.” Accessed 29.01.2015:  http://ria.ru/politics/20141204/1036533683.html

[2] “Declaration of Russian Identity.” Accessed 15.01.2015:  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/508347.html

[3] Quoted from “The Publication and Deletion of the Patriarch’s Letter…” Accessed 15.01.2015: http://churchby.info/rus/964/

[4] “An Orthodox individual would never go to fight against New Russia.” An interview with Igor Druz, assistant to Igor Strelkov. Accessed 19.01.2015: http://narodsobor.com.ua/news/view/139/

[5] “The Locum Tenens of the Kiev Cathedra wrote to the President of Ukraine.” Accessed 19.01.2015: http://news.church.ua/2014/07/31/misceblyustitel-kijivskoji-mitropolichoji-kafedri-zvernuvsya-do-prezidenta-ukrajini-2/

[6] Druz, I. “Where Does the Threat to Orthodoxy in Ukraine Come From?”  Accessed 19.01.2015: http://rusvesna.su/news/1403468914

[7] “A Decision Has Been Made Creating an Eparchial Division of RUCEF for the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol.” Accessed 19.01.2015: http://www.cef.ru/news/roshve/?id=8704

[8] “Resolution of the XXXIV Assembly of the RUECB on the Situation in Neighboring Ukraine.” Accessed 19.01.2015: http://baptist.org.ru/news/main/view/rezolutsiya-34-sezda-po-ukraine

[9] “Letter to the President of the Russian Federation, V.V. Putin.” Accessed 19.01.2015: http://baptist.org.ru/news/main/view/obraschenie-k-prezidentu-rossii-34-sezd

[10] Social Charter of the RUECB. Moscow: RUECB, 2014, pg. 15.


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.


UZBEKISTAN: Short-term jailings, fines and harassment

Three Protestants are known to have been jailed in different parts of Uzbekistan in March and April for between seven and 15 days to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief, local Protestants have told Forum 18 News Service. A Tashkent Region court also fined one of the prisoners of conscience - Council of Churches Baptist Doniyor Akhmedov - more than three years' official minimum wage after his release from 15 days in jail.

The two other prisoners of conscience known to have jailed for short periods in March and April for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief were: a Protestant in Bukhara who received seven days' imprisonment for "illegal" religious activity; and another Protestant elsewhere in Uzbekistan who received 10 days' imprisonment for "teaching religion illegally", fellow Protestants who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. They declined to reveal the identity of those short-term prisoners for fear they might suffer further state reprisals.

Raids, fines, literature censorship

Another Protestant from Namangan, Murodjon Rakhimov, was summoned on 17 April by the City Police and compelled to write a statement against his Church. He was released the same day but officers are thought to be preparing administrative charges against him for violating the Religion Law, local Protestants told Forum 18 (see below).

Raids and fines on members of various religious communities continue. Three courts across Uzbekistan between February and March punished nine members of three different families, who are members of various Protestant Churches. All were fined under Administrative Code Article 184-2 for "illegally storing" Christian literature and materials in their flats. All three families' homes were raided by police and various Christian books and DVD and CD disks were confiscated from them, members of those Churches told Forum 18 (see below).

Fines under Article 184-2 ("Illegal production, storage, or import into Uzbekistan, with the intent to distribute or actual distribution, of religious materials by physical persons") are between 20 and 100 times the minimum monthly wage for individuals not holding official positions. But courts have in some cases have given much smaller fines, applying other Administrative Code Articles for mitigating factors.

Uzbekistan, against its international human rights obligations, imposes strict censorship on all religious publications and all aspects of their distribution (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1862).

Detained for 15 days – but under what law?

On 16 March Akhmedov set off very early from his home in Almalyk in Tashkent Region by bicycle on the 175 km (110 mile) journey to Namangan Region's Pap District. Police stopped him in Ahangaran District, just north of Almalyk, after he gave a Christian leaflet to a passer-by, Baptists told Forum 18 on 20 April. Akhmedov's relatives found out about this only on 17 March. Only after several enquiries by relatives and Church members did Ahangaran Police claim to them on 19 March that Akhmedov was being held in custody for "illegal missionary activity".

Police Inspector Batyr (last name not known) of Ahangaran Police told church members that Akhmedov "illegally" gave a leaflet to a passer-by on the street. "When the Inspector was asked whether there was a court order for his arrest, Inspector Batyr claimed that Doniyor had not obeyed police orders, and that is why he was detained." The Baptists told Forum 18 that while in detention Akhmedov did "not sign any statements or reports, which police prepared and asked him to sign." 

Akhmedov was held at Ahangaran Police Station for 10 days. On 26 March, he was moved to a Detention Centre in Tashkent Region, where he was held for an additional five days, Baptists told Forum 18. Akhmedov was "slapped on the face and pushed around a few times the very first day" after his 16 March detention. However, police "left Doniyor in peace, and did not beat or verbally abuse him later," they added. He was fed normally three times a day at the Police Station, and slept on a hard couch.

However, conditions in the Detention Centre were worse, church members complained. "He was held in a small cell with more than 10 people, where they were squeezed in and there was barely space to sleep on the floor." Akhmedov was freed on 31 March.

Fined over three years' official minimum wage after release

On 1 April, the day after his release from custody, Ahangaran Police summoned Akhmedov and brought him before Ahangaran District Criminal Court. Judge Akmal Pirnazarov fined him 40 times the minimum monthly wage, under Administrative Code Article 184-2. "It is unjust that our brother was deprived of his liberty for 15 days and then given a huge fine, simply for giving out a leaflet on the street," Baptists complained to Forum 18.

Inspector Batyr (who refused to give his name) claimed to Forum 18 on 21 April that Akhmedov had been detained and fined for "illegal missionary activity". The same claim was made to relatives and fellow Church members. Told that Akhmedov was fined not for "missionary activity" but "illegal distribution" of religious literature, the Inspector paused before responding: "Anyway, he violated the law."

Inspector Batyr did not explain how police had discovered so quickly that Akhmedov had offered a religious leaflet to a passer-by.

Asked why Akhmedov had to be held in custody and why such harsh measures were taken against him, Inspector Batyr claimed: "It's all in accordance with the law." Asked what law and what exactly necessitated Akhmedov's arrest, the Inspector asked Forum 18 to come to Tashkent for more details of the case. He then put the phone down.

Laziz Kurbonov, Deputy Chief of Ahangaran Police, also refused to comment on 21 April on Akhmedov's detention. "You need to come to Ahangaran so we can discuss the case," he told Forum 18. When Forum 18 insisted and asked why Akhmedov was deprived of his liberty for 15 days as well as being given a huge fine for giving out a Christian leaflet on the street, he brushed it off. "I have hundreds of cases, I don't want to talk about this over the phone." He then put the phone down.

Judge Pirnazarov and other Court officials also refused to comment on the case to Forum 18 on 21 April. Judge Pirnazarov's Assistant (who did not give her name) took Forum 18's question why Akhmedov was given such a huge fine for giving out a leaflet on the street and why he was held in custody for 15 days. She asked Forum 18 to wait on the line, but a few minutes later she said that the "Judge cannot answer the question at the moment since he is hearing a case." She asked Forum 18 to call back half an hour later. Called back the same day, Judge Pirnazarov's number went unanswered. Other Court officials on 21 April (no names were given) also refused to comment on the case, referring Forum 18 to Judge Pirnazarov.

"Akhmedov is not intending to pay the fine since he does not consider that he violated the Law," Baptists told Forum 18. "He only exercised his fundamental human right." They added that he has already filed a complaint against the "illegal actions of the authorities and the fine".

Raids, fines

Police have continued raiding homes of various Protestants hunting for and seizing religious books and materials, with courts fining them for the confiscated religious materials. On 10 February a Tashkent court fined Ilmira Ishanova and her two sons, Vagiz and Rustam Ziganshin, for "illegally" storing Christian literature and materials in their flat. They were each fined 10 times the minimum monthly wage or 1,184,000 Soms. Tashkent City Criminal court in an appeal case on 20 March upheld the fines on the three.

On 2 March another Tashkent court fined four members of one family, Ibrohimjon and Yulduz Yusupov, a married couple, as well as their daughters Inobad and Inoyat Yusupova. They were fined up to five times the minimum monthly wage or 592,000 Soms for "illegally" storing Christian religious literature and materials in their home.

On 23 March a court in Navoi Region fined Dmitri and Svetlana Butov, a married couple who are members of the local officially registered Baptist Church, for "illegally storing" Christian literature in their private home. They were each fined one month's minimum wage or 118,400 Soms.

Police harassment of another Protestant 

On the afternoon of 17 April, police in Namangan summoned Murodjon Rakhimov by phone to the local Mahalla Committee (local residential administration) for "urgent issues", local Protestants who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 on 20 April. Rakhimov is a member of a local unregistered Protestant Church.

Major Umidjon Jalilov and Lieutenant Madamin Siddikov from the Namangan Criminal Police were waiting for Rakhimov at the Mahalla Committee. "They demanded that Rakhimov write a statement explaining why he attends his Church, exactly what Christian books he is reading in the Church, and whether anyone forced him to become a Christian."

When Rakhimov refused to write a statement, police officers "twisted his left arm, and threatened that they will take him to the Police Station unless he cooperated," Protestants complained to Forum 18. Officers also threatened to open a criminal case against him and keep him in custody. Despite the threats and physical violence, Rakhimov refused to write a statement or sign the police reports.

The use of physical violence and torture, or threats of this, by the authorities is widespread in Uzbekistan. Most victims are, for extremely good reasons, unwilling to publicly discuss their experiences (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1862).

"Seeing that the threats didn't work, Major Jalilov prepared summonses for Rakhimov and his wife Gulchohra Abdurakhmanova to appear before the police, and handed over the summonses to them," Protestants told Forum 18. They said that they think that the police are preparing a case against Rakhimov under Administrative Code Article 240.

Article 240 punishes "violation of the Religion Law", including by holding unregistered religious meetings or sharing one's faith with others. Punishments are arrest for up to 15 days or a fine of up to 100 times the minimum monthly wage.

Major Jalilov adamantly denied to Forum 18 on 21 April that he or Lieutenant Siddikov abused Rakhimov. asked why police are targeting Rakhimov for attending a church or becoming Christian, he responded: "We're not concerned with whether he should be Muslim or Christian, but that he obeys the Law." Asked why police summoned Rakhimov and what specific charges are being prepared, Jalilov did not say. He refused to talk to Forum 18 further.


RUSSIA: Prosecutions for public evangelism and public meetings for worship

By Victoria Arnold, Forum 18 News Service

Communities who exercise freedom of religion or belief in public without Russian state permission may find their members facing five-figure Rouble fines if they do not inform the local authorities in advance, Forum 18 News Service notes. It is possible that changes to the Religion Law may have a positive effect on cases currently before the courts, such as that of a Sochi Protestant leader fined for holding prayers and a Bible study in a rented café. The FSB security service was behind that case, sending officials to attend the meeting. However, a new Criminal Code Article 212.1 may have a chilling effect on exercising freedom of religion or belief in public. The Sochi Bible study group has ceased to meet fearing prosecution under this Article, their lawyer told Forum 18. However, Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis thinks the authorities may seek to avoid prosecuting religious or belief communities under this article. "Political protesters will go first", he thought.

Communities who exercise freedom of religion or belief in public without state permission may find their members facing five-figure Rouble fines if they do not inform the local authorities in advance, Forum 18 News Service notes. This is despite a Russian Constitutional Court ruling removing the requirement to notify the authorities in many cases. Many activities in many places may draw the attention of law enforcement. In Sochi, for example, a Protestant community leader is challenging a fine imposed for holding prayers in a rented café. A Baptist preacher in Smolensk will soon appeal against his conviction for handing out religious literature in a public park. Another Baptist in Orel has been fined for organising outdoor hymn singing in a children's playground.

Failure to notify the authorities may result in charges under Part 2 of Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession, or picket") of the Code of Administrative Offences. This may result in fines of 20,000 to 30,000 Roubles (about 2,470 to 3,700 Norwegian Kroner, 290 to 430 Euros, or 320 to 480 US Dollars) for individuals, 20,000 to 40,000 Roubles (about 2,470 to 4,950 Norwegian Kroner, 290 to 575 Euros, or 320 to 640 US Dollars) for an organisation's officials, and 70,000 to 200,000 Roubles (about 8,670 to 24,700 Norwegian Kroner, 1,005 to 2,900 Euros, or 1,125 to 3,200 US Dollars) for organisations themselves.

Legal background

The public exercise of freedom of religion or belief is mainly governed by the 1997 Religion Law and the 2004 Demonstrations Law. The Demonstrations Law lists sites where religious and other events are never permitted, including on railways, in border zones, near gas pipelines and outside the President's residence. Article 16 of the Religion Law outlines those places where "services, rites, and other ceremonies" are allowed without restriction and without any requirement to inform the authorities.

In other cases, organisers may have to notify the authorities of the event. The authorities must then ensure that the event goes ahead peacefully. This does not constitute seeking permission – the authorities can only stop an event proceeding if:

a) the notification comes from a person without the right to provide it;

or b) the event is planned for a prohibited location.

Otherwise, the authorities may only point out organisational shortcomings to be eliminated and warn of the possibility of court proceedings in the case of any legal violations.

However, this has not stopped mainly Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses – who often do not have their own permanent buildings - from being fined or threatened with fines for organising or conducting meetings for worship which has not been specifically approved by the local authorities. Local police and prosecutor's offices have insisted that such permission is required, and bring cases under Administrative Code Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket"). The legality of these prosecutions under the Constitution and the Religion Law has been challenged, but prosecutions have still been successful (see F18News 28 October 2011 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1631).

Recent amendments

However, October 2014 changes to Article 16 of the Religion Law have further clarified the types of place in which worship activities are allowed without prior notification. They should make it impossible to bring charges under Article 20.2, Part 2, if a meeting for worship or ceremony is carried out in premises or on land rented by a religious association for this purpose, Inna Zagrebina of Moscow's Guild of Experts on Religion and Law commented to the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis on 24 November 2014.

It is possible that this amendment may have a positive effect on cases currently before the courts, such as that of a Sochi Protestant leader fined for holding prayers in a rented café (see below). However, the new Criminal Code Article 212.1 ("Repeated infringement of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession, or picket") may have a chilling effect (see below).

Article 16 has been expanded to state:

"In other cases, public worship services and other religious rites and ceremonies (including prayer and religious assemblies) carried out in public places, in conditions which require the adoption of measures to ensure public order and the security of the participants of religious rites and ceremonies, as well as those of other citizens, are carried out in the manner prescribed for rallies, marches and demonstrations".

This incorporates a 2012 Constitutional Court judgement, which states that prior notification is not required when safety measures are not necessary - the main ostensible purpose of the authorities being notified. The ruling followed prosecution – not for safety reasons - of two Jehovah's Witnesses in Belgorod Region for meeting for worship without state approval (see F18News 3 January 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1787).

Poorly defined

But the situation remains poorly defined. The Religion Law's Article 16 still refers only to "worship services and other religious rites and ceremonies", and not to other activities such as the distribution of literature. For instance, as Zagrebina of the Guild of Experts on Religion and Law points out, "evangelisation carried out in the courtyards of house, parks, and open squares does not fall under Article 16", and so believers themselves will have to determine whether the conditions of their "event" will require public health or security measures when deciding whether to notify the authorities.

Public space where it is not clear whether the public exercise of freedom of religion or belief is freely permitted and the prohibited remain unspecified. Forum 18 notes – based on Article 20.2 cases brought in 2014 - that these include rented cafés, cinemas, houses of culture, the street, a playground and a public square. In one case a prosecution was brought for a meeting in a private home.

So it is still unclear how far the amendments will enable the public exercise of freedom of religion or belief. Aleksandr Verkhovsky, Director of the SOVA Centre, commented that "it's still an issue" for groups such as the Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses "while some things will move more smoothly now". However, "law enforcement still has a wide choice for interpretation" of the law, he noted to Forum 18 on 25 February.

This lack of clear definition feeds into a further problem – that of misapplication of the law by law enforcement officials who interpret the requirement for prior notification as a requirement for permission from the authorities. In two of the cases outlined below, law enforcement officials demanded to see "permission" for the events to be held, despite permission not being a legal requirement.

Related cases have reached the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In 2007 the Court unanimously ruled that it was not lawful for Russia to ban a church from meeting for worship in a public park, and that the authorities should uphold their right to meet in public (see F18News 1 August 2007 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1001).

New criminal offence

Although no related criminal charges have yet been brought in cases of religious events, Russian believers fear that it is now a possibility. A new Article 212.1 ("Repeated infringement of the established procedure for organising or conducting a gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession, or picket") was added to the Criminal Code on 21 July 2014. This makes repeated violations of any part of Administrative Code Article 20.2 a criminal offence. Those convicted face:

a fine of 600,000 to 1 million Roubles (about 74,260 to 123,785 Norwegian Kroner, 8,620 to 14,380 Euros, or 9,650 to 16,000 US Dollars) or the equivalent of two to three years' salary;

or compulsory work for up to 480 hours;

or correctional labour for one to two years;

or forced/hard labour for up to five years;

or up to five years' imprisonment.

"Repeated violations" are defined as more than two in a period of 180 days. Three people have so far been prosecuted under this article for political protests.

The Protestant prayer group whose leader was fined for holding a Bible study session in a Sochi café (see below) fears prosecution under the new Criminal Code Article 212.1 if they continue to meet. They have therefore stopped meeting, their lawyer Aleksandr Popkov told Forum 18 on 14 February.

Article 212.1 could be used against the exercise of freedom of religion or belief, Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre agreed. But he thinks the authorities will seek to avoid this. "Political protesters will go first", he thought.

Forum 18 asked the office of the Ombudsperson for Human Rights on 26 February whether it thought the exercise of freedom of religion or belief would be prosecuted under Article 212.1, and if it thought this would have a negative effect on freedom of religion or belief. No reply to these questions had been received by the end of 2 March, but a reply was promised after 4 March.

23 known cases in 2014

Twenty three cases are known to have been brought against religious communities or individuals under Article 20.2, Part 2 in 2014. Five were related to the same incident in Barnaul. All related to incidents which occurred before the amendments to the Religion Law came into force on 22 October 2014.

Eleven cases ended in acquittals, frequently as the result of the judge applying the Constitutional Court ruling of December 2012. Several cases ended in convictions in very similar circumstances, suggesting that the Constitutional Court ruling is being inconsistently applied across the country.

The 23 cases primarily involved Jehovah's Witnesses (12 cases), but also unregistered Baptists (2 cases), Evangelical Protestants (1 case), and Buddhists (1 case). The affiliation of the rest is unknown, although the language of the verdicts suggests they were Protestants.

The FSB, police and prosecutors go to a Sochi Bible study

On 28 September 2014 a regular Bible study session in a Sochi café was being run by Aleksei Kolyasnikov for his unregistered "Society of Christians", to pray and read the scriptures on Sunday afternoons. That day, however, they were joined by newcomers who later revealed themselves to be FSB security service officers. Prosecutor's office officials and officers from the local police "Anti-Extremism" Department were also present.

A letter of 26 August 2014 shows that the FSB security service initiated the case (see below).

"After the law enforcement officers entered the café, they asked to attend the meeting", Pastor Kolyasnikov told Forum 18 on 18 February 2015. "We allowed them. After the meeting, they introduced themselves and began to take testimony from the people there. Some of them tried to discourage members from going to our meetings. The officials also took a statement from me there and then. They did not say anything about an administrative charge. Later, one of the officers called and invited me to the Prosecutor's Office, and there he explained to me my 'administrative offence'."

Kolyasnikov told the sovsekretno.ru news website on 15 December that "The prosecutor kept asking: 'Did you receive permission or not?' I said: 'Perhaps notification should have been sent?' No, permission. I went specially to the administration to ask – they said notification was not necessary".

"I cannot name any violations in this case"

Tatyana Katanidi of the Sochi mayor's office confirmed to the Caucasian Knot news website that "the café is indoors and notification is not required. I cannot name any violations in this case in the way of notifying the administration".

Kolyasnikov was fined 30,000 Roubles (now about 3,700 Norwegian Kroner, 430 Euros, or 480 US Dollars) by Judge Nikolai Volkov at Magistrates' Court No. 99 on 10 October 2014. On appeal to Khostinsky District Court on 2 December, this decision was overturned by Judge Grigory Leoshik, who ruled that magistrates did not have the authority to deal with such matters and sent the case for re-examination. The same Judge Leoshik reinstated the fine (the largest possible for an individual) on 12 December.

"The consequences are quite serious"

On 28 January 2015, Krasnodar Regional Court upheld the earlier fine. Lawyers Aleksandr Popkov and Vladimir Ryakhovsky tried to have the ruling overturned. "Nobody listened to us there. As usual," Popkov complained to Forum 18 on 14 February.

He continued: "The consequences are quite serious. The pastor and his flock are afraid that persecution will continue. If they repeatedly commit such an 'offence', then Kolyasnikov could face criminal charges and up to five years' imprisonment" under Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code. He also pointed out that the case sets a "dangerous" precedent" for Protestants elsewhere in Russia, as so many of them pray in rented premises.

Pastor Kolyasnikov told Forum 18 that his group is no longer meeting as before, but that they have joined a registered community in Sochi which has its own building for worship.

FSB behind case

A letter of 26 August 2014, seen by Forum 18, shows that the FSB security service initiated the case against Kolyasnikov. General Aleksandr Rodionov, head of the Sochi FSB, wrote to Mark Bolshedvorsky, regional First Deputy Prosecutor/Sochi City Prosecutor, expressing concern over the "evangelism" being carried out among Bel Canto's customers, "the principal focus of which is to bring people to the Christian faith". A spokeswoman refused to explain why the case was instigated when Forum 18 telephoned the city Prosecutor's Office on 26 February, saying that all information requests must be submitted by fax or post.

FSB General Rodionov linked Kolyasnikov to regime change in Ukraine, "based on the ideology of pro-Western Protestant religious movements with financial support from NATO and EU countries, which present the threat of formation in Russia of so-called 'anti-Russian (antirossiyskiy) hotbeds' of social and ideological tension". Pastor Kolyasnikov adamantly denies this allegation.

General Rodionov alleged that Ukrainian evangelical leader Vladimir Muntyan visited Kolyasnikov in May 2014 to discuss a business partnership in construction. Muntyan organises large public services in Ukraine and is active in the media. According to Rodionov, Muntyan could carry out "indoctrination of adepts and new arrivals based on the principles of destructive activity inherent in non-traditional occult structures such as satanism".

Pastor Kolyasnikov denied to Forum 18 on 25 February that he is in any way acquainted with Muntyan: "I've never had any personal connections or business relationship with him".

General Rodionov asked the prosecutor for an inspection of the café as he alleged Kolyasnikov was contravening the Religion Law by preaching there during operating hours without agreement, "violating the interests of visitors, who become unwilling participants". Pastor Kolyasnikov notes that the café was closed for the meeting, with a notice posted on the door and a group member on guard outside, and nobody else was present. He allowed the plain-clothes officers to enter because "our group does nothing unlawful and is open to all".

Appeals being prepared to Constitutional Court and ECtHR

Pastor Kolyasnikov remains positive: "We think these are temporary difficulties we're experiencing. We hope it will all soon change for the better". He told Forum 18 on 25 February that appeals are being prepared both to the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and that they "hope for a just resolution". The Pastor's lawyer Popkov notes that proceedings at the ECtHR could take four to six years.

First telephone calls, then prosecution

At Orel's Soviet District Court on 11 August 2014, Baptist presbyter Pavel Pilipchuk was found guilty by Judge Tatyana Mikheyeva of organising an open-air worship service without notification, and fined 20,000 Roubles (now about 2,470 Norwegian Kroner, 290 Euros, or 320 US Dollars). His appeal to Orel Regional Court was rejected on 29 September. Because he did not pay the fine, it was doubled to 40,000 Roubles by Judge Inna Maltseva at Magistrates' Court No. 2, Northern District, on 22 December. A Baptist spokeswoman told Forum 18 from Orel on 24 February 2015 that Pilipchuk has still not paid.

Pilipchuk was charged as responsible for a group of Baptists who marked Palm Sunday (23 March) 2014 by gathering outdoors to sing hymns and hand out literature to passers-by, an event which passed off without incident. "The evangelism went well, people listened attentively, nobody interfered, and the police were not present", a Baptist statement of 31 December 2014 noted.

In June 2014, the community received several telephone calls from people apparently "seeking God and wishing to attend services", but principally interested in who led the congregation.

Pilipchuk was later charged with organising the event while failing to inform the authorities. Baptists state he was not present and not responsible. In court, however, congregation members were deemed "interested parties" and their testimony disregarded.

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 original district court verdict, seen by Forum 18, states.

"The possibility of danger"?

According to the appeal court verdict, seen by Forum 18, the outdoor service 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".

Appeal judge Lyubov Safronova continued: "The demonstration of religious beliefs is capable of inducing negative emotions in people who follow another religion or none, and of creating obstacles to the normal operation of transport and public or non-governmental organizations". She ruled that the location of the event (in a playground between residential buildings, near a school and a kindergarten) and the alleged disapproval of citizens meant public safety measures were necessary.

Pilipchuk argued in his appeal that the conviction contravened the Constitutional Court's ruling of 5 December 2012 (see F18News 3 January 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1787). Judge Safronova dismissed this, claiming that the location of the outdoor service and the possibility of public objection meant that notification should have taken place.

A spokeswoman for Orel Regional Prosecutor's Office directed Forum 18 to the Prosecutor's Office Chancellery, who did not answer their telephone whenever Forum 18 called on 19 and 20 February.

Fine overturned

However, another Baptist leader has had his fine of 20,000 Roubles (now about 2,470 Norwegian Kroner, 290 Euros, or 320 US Dollars) overturned at Smolensk Regional Court. Viktor Pechkurov was convicted on 22 January of distributing literature in the street without notification, an activity interpreted by Judge Konstantin Kiselyov of Smolensk's Lenin District Court as "picketing".

But Pechkurov was acquitted by Judge Olga Ivanova on 24 February. No written verdict has yet been released.

The Baptist community of Smolensk regularly distributes literature as part of a "mobile Christian library service" in the city's Blonye Garden every Saturday, according to a 28 January Baptist statement. On 25 October 2014, Pechkurov and three other church members – Valentina Brezgunova, Irina Matveyeva, and Valentina Lysenko – set up their table of books, "in such a way as not to interfere with traffic or pedestrians".

The Baptists were asked to show their "permission" by police who had received a call telling them to check on the "sectarians" in the park. On being unable to provide it, all four were detained and interrogated for three hours.

According to the Lenin District Court verdict, seen by Forum 18, Judge Kiselyov deemed Pechkurov's actions to constitute a "picket". Pickets by only one person do not require prior notification but Pechkurov's actions involved a group, for which Judge Kiselyov claimed notice must be given no later than three days before the event. The Judge dismissed Pechkurov's argument in court that the handing out of religious literature could not be interpreted as a "public event".

A spokeswoman for Lenin District Prosecutor's Office, which handled the case, told Forum 18 on 19 February that all requests for information must be submitted in writing. Forum 18 sent an email at noon on 19 February asking why the Baptists' activities were considered dangerous or problematic. No reply has been received. 


Christians on both sides kill each other


By Sofia Kochmar
Catholic News Agency

.- Conflict in eastern Ukraine which began in April 2014 has pitted the country's government against separatists widely believed to be backed by Russia, and some are attributing the chaos to a failed evangelization in the country.

Fr. Wojciech Surówka, a Dominican priest who directs the St. Thomas Aquinas Institute of Religious Sciences in Kyiv, urged that “a dialogue of reconciliation between Ukrainians and Russians should begin from the Church. If we do not start it, politicians will never do it. It would be nice if the formula of 'forgive and ask forgiveness' were delivered simultaneously by the Ukrainian and Russian bishops.”

“This war is the failure of our evangelization. If Christians on both sides kill each other, then we did not teach them well who Christ is. They absolutely do not understand the essence of Christianity. It's our fault. In the conflict in Rwanda last century, the bishops recognized it – I expect this step from the confessions in Ukraine,” Fr. Surówka told CNA.

According to the estimates of the United Nations, the conflict has led to more than 1 million displaced persons in Ukraine, and nearly 6,000 dead.

Some of the victims are civilians, uninvolved in military conflict, killed when pro-Russian militants fired on residential areas in Mariupol and Kramatorsk, hitting a bus stop, and a hospital. It is difficult to check the number of prisoners on both sides. On Sunday, during a memorial service for the victims of the Maidan protests, explosives fell in Kharkov, in central Ukraine, far from the conflict zone, killing two and wounding 10.

The fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists – widely believed to be supported by Russian troops and arms – and the Ukrainian government last April. The month before, Russia had annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
In areas controlled by the separatists, such as Donetsk and Luhansk, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church allied with the Russian Orthodox Church is favored, to the exclusion of other Christian groups.

Mykhailo Cherenkov grew up in Donetsk, and was born into a family of Baptists: his father is Russian, and his mother Ukrainian. After his education at a local university, he served as rector of Donetsk Christian University, a Protestant institution. Now his university is a pro-Russian military base, home to around 400 militants.

Mykhailo lives in Kyiv now.

"In December I went to Donetsk. I couldn’t get into my university. There is too much military security. The place has become hostile,” he said.

In the territories controlled by separatists, the only “legitimate” Christian body is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Other Churches and ecclesial communities do not have the possibility of holding services.

"Protestant pastors should either go underground or leave Donbas. Churches and schools, all infrastructure are confiscated. They can continue to pray - but not participate in public life,” the former rector of Donetsk Christian University explained to CNA.

Roman Catholic priests of Polish citizenship were forced to leave Donbas; the Polish government evacuated them, along with its other civilians there. Now parishioners in Luhansk watch their priest say Mass via Skype: he is in Poland, and they are in the conflict zone. In Donetsk one Roman Catholic priest has remained, as he has local residency. The rest of the priests are serving in the territories controlled by Ukrainian authorities. In Donetsk, a Grad rocket system damaged the chapel of the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Vladimir the Great of Paris told CNA that “since July, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishop has been forced out of his seat. He is still in his diocese, in an unoccupied area, but his residence, chancery, and all documents are under the control of terrorists. Most of the clergy have been forced out of the occupied territories. A number of Roman and Greek Catholic priests were abducted. Those that remain are under constant, direct and indirect threat.”

Last summer, the Greek Catholic priest Fr. Tikhon Kulbacka was held for 10 days by the “Russian Orthodox Army” – a radical militant group active in Donbas, and which uses “Orthodox ideology.”

Cherenkov – the Baptist from Donetsk – commented that “the Russian Orthodox Army can be as  dangerous as the Islamic State, because they are using tools of terror in the name of Orthodoxy!”

But in the central office of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), they denied any relation to this group.
"If a person takes up weapons and goes to kill in the name of Jesus Christ, it is schizophrenia, but not Christianity. These groups have nothing to do with the Orthodox Church,” Fr. Mykola Danylevych, assistant director of the UOC's external relations office, told CNA.

“They use these pseudo-Orthodox slogans to create an ideology for their quasi-states. But in reality they just use the Church, not having anything in common with it.”

Bishop Gudziak, who is head of external relations for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said that “in the short term, the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate has acted as an apologist for the Russian annexation of Crimea and Putin’s invasion in Eastern Ukraine does not go well for ecumenism.”

“What is more serious for Moscow Patriarchate,” he continued, “is the fact that its leadership, which has not only failed to speak out critically against government policy, has acted as apologist and ideologue for the rise of aggressive Russian nationalism. This leadership has been losing credibility in Russia itself. The Russian Orthodox Church is heavily subsidized by the Russian government. The price of these subsidies is silence before their president’s warmongering and aggressive ideology. Today the population of Russia is being hypnotized into a trance of aggression. Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t speak out against propaganda, and often acts as an agent of it.”

In addition to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), there are two other Orthodox Churches which have claimed autocephaly, but are not recognized by other Orthodox Churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Fr. Danylevych, of the UOC (Moscow Patriarchate), said: "If we will try to proclaim autocephaly today, it will lead us to new division. Unfortunately, the conflict in the Donbas has only increased among men those dividing lines that already existed. We, as a Church, feel very much these identities of Ukraine: Ukrainian and Russian, eastern and western. We try to keep a balance between these two. Ideologies separate us, but in Christ we are united.”

“Therefore, if a person recognizes his God and Savior Jesus Christ, and the Orthodox Church as the Church - this is our man. We need to learn to live in a Church, despite the personal ideological differences,” Fr. Danylevych said, describing his Church.

Cherenkov stated that “the Church should keep unity, without sacrificing morality: those who came with weapons onto the territory of their brother, became enemies. It is useless to forgive someone who has not passed through repentance. Our unity is not broken when we do not communicate, but when we lie to each other. The issue of Christian unity is not to pretend that between us nothing happened, but to look for reasons why it happened, and honestly recognize them. To recognize aggression - it's not politics; it is elementary Christian ethics, because in this way we get up in defense against inhumane acts, fratricidal war, and the seizure of foreign territories, which undermine peace in the world.”

Fr. Surówka, who studied ecumenical theology at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, reflected that “without prejudice to the dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate, the Vatican could more frankly say what Church thinks about it. The Catholic Church has to say: 'Yes, we would like to conduct ecumenical dialogue with you; but that you support terrorists is unacceptable for us.' It could move us back in ecumenical cooperation, but it would become an expression of our humanity.”

During the Ukrainian bishop's ad limina visit to Rome last week, Pope Francis reminded them of their duties to justice and truth amid their country's crisis.

Cherenkov commented that in the crisis, “church diplomacy should give its authoritative word.  The World Council of Churches is the only place where the heads of Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Churches can meet. Patriarch Kirill could influence the politics of Putin.”