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(Voice of the Persecuted) Tonight we will lift up believers who are facing challenge after challenge with the occupation of Russia in Crimea. Among recent reports against Crimean churches, a small church which was built prior to the occupation was told it is operating illegally on the site and must be torn down in a month.
• Pray for God’s peace and reconciliation to overcome all hatred, conflict, and war.
• Pray for followers of Jesus to arise as messengers of His hope to the hopeless and the oppressed.
• Pray for repentance, forgiveness, and unity in the Church, across denominations and traditions.
Pray occupying authorities of Crimea will soften their hearts, allow churches to remain open and Christians allowed to worship in the churches they choose.
Dear Prayer Warriors, some time ago I read a heart-felt prayer from a sister, ‘Oh, the precious love of Jesus for these deeply and sadly LOST persecutors!! To be so rooted and grounded in Christ by prayer and His Word that one could be a vessel of His mercy and grace and forgiveness and love. I fail at much smaller tests. O LORD, please strengthen me. I ask in Jesus’ Name.’ As I was meditating on it, I pondered on the meaning and I seek The Holy Spirit to enlighten me.
My dear ones, we are the vessels of His mercy and grace also for the lost ones, those who persecute our brothers and sisters. We are vessels for forgiveness and love. Jesus’ love is so deep for them and He requires us to to love them too. We must pray this for ourselves, as our dear sister graciously prayed for herself. I in Jesus name, oh Lord please strengthen us!
We invite and welcome you to come as you are on the Persecuted Watch Conference Call tonight. As the Holy Spirit leads, come to receive God’s blessings in obedience of His will for us!
In Christ Love,
Nadia Dybvik and Merlaine Smokes, Prayer Call Moderators
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What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin has led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God. The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also serves as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted.
On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer. Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.
Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you. If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ.
Meet you on the call!
Forum 18 reports the Orthodox Church of Ukraine fears that the authorities in the western Crimean city of Yevpatoriya will demolish a small wooden chapel it built in 2013, before Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. The city court ruled on 6 November 2019 that the Church is using the site illegally and that it should demolish its chapel within one month.
The Church complains it learned about the court hearing only on that day. Its lawyer said the Church is appealing against the decision (see below).
Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Yefymenko visited the Yevpatoriya church during Sunday liturgy on 1 December, which was attended by “a large number of parishioners” squeezing into the small church. Many had come specially from other cities of Crimea, she told Forum 18. “Representatives of the Russian special services may come to such liturgies under the guise of parishioners, and record those who visit places of worship of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” she said.
Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea is not recognized by Ukraine or internationally.
UNHRC call to halt Cathedral eviction
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has called on the Russian government not to evict the Orthodox Church of Ukraine congregation from its rented accommodation in the Crimean capital Simferopol while the Committee considers an appeal by 62 parishioners. The premises serve as the Crimean Diocese’s Sts Volodymyr and Olga Cathedral.
On 18 November a Russian arbitration court rejected the Diocese’s latest appeal against a court order to annul the rental agreement and evict the Cathedral. On 28 November, the Diocese lodged a last-ditch appeal to Russia’s Supreme Court in Moscow.
The now Kiev-based lawyer for the Church, Sergei Zayets of the Regional Centre for Human Rights, told Forum 18 that the chapel was built on land belonging to the community of those living in the flats.
According to court documents seen by Forum 18, the wooden chapel is 5.5 metres (18 feet) by 5.5 metres and its height to the top of the gold-painted cross on the wooden onion dome is just over 10 metres (35 feet).
Obstructing, punishing worship
The Crimean Justice Ministry has rejected the registration application from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine’s Simferopol parish, most recently on 20 September. It claimed there were “violations” in the documents presented. A Justice Ministry official insisted to Forum 18 from Simferopol that “nothing in principle” obstructs the registration of communities of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Massive rent increase and evictions
The Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as it then was, has rented premises that earlier housed the Officers’ Club in central Simferopol since 1995. It is there that its Simferopol and Crimea Diocesan Sts Volodymyr and Olga Cathedral and offices are located. The Diocese has three floors of the building, with the sanctuary on the middle floor.
Almost all the Kiev Patriarchate’s dioceses and parishes – including in Crimea – joined the Orthodox Church of Ukraine when it was recognised as canonical by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in January 2019.
In 1996 ultimate ownership of the Simferopol building was transferred from a disbanded military base to the Crimean Property Fund. In 1997, under a Crimean Supreme Council decree, rent was set at the symbolic level of 1 Ukrainian Hryvnia (0.5 Norwegian Kroner, 0.05 Euros or 0.08 US Dollars) a month.
Five of the Kiev Patriarchate’s churches in Crimea were forced to close within months of the March 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
The Sts Volodymyr and Olga Cathedral – which is next to the offices of the Property Fund – appears on a list of state-owned property in an attachment to a 15 March 2000 Crimean Supreme Council decree. A 16 May 2001 Supreme Council decree – seen by Forum 18 – governs the Church’s use of the building, whose size it gives as 1,475.7 square metres (15,900 square feet).
However, on 18 April 2014, the State Council (which replaced the Supreme Council) adopted a new decree – which remains on the Russian-backed Crimean government website – amending the 2001 decree. It confirmed the Diocese’s rental of the premises until 2050 but changed the basis on which rent is levied.
Archbishop Kliment (Kushch), head of the Diocese, told Forum 18 in June 2014 that the change would result in the Diocese having to pay about 160 Russian Roubles per square metre per month (236,112 Roubles, then equivalent to 42,990 Norwegian Kroner, 5,145 Euros, or 7,000 US Dollars a month). “We’re a non-commercial organisation – how can we pay commercial rates? We live on donations.”
No Russian registration, no rental
The Russian-controlled Crimean State Council amended the Crimean Law on the Particulars of Regulating Property and Land Issues in Crimea on 31 July 2018. This required that any rental contract for state-owned or municipally-owned property with an organisation that had state registration under Ukrainian law but which failed to gain registration under Russian law after the 2014 annexation be cancelled through the courts.
In his explanation presented to the Crimean State Council justifying the amendment, the head of Crimea’s Russian-backed government Sergei Aksyonov noted several Ukrainian-owned companies in such a position, but made no mention of the Orthodox congregation in Simferopol.
Courts order eviction
On 31 January 2019, the Crimean Property and Land Issues Ministry asked the Federal Tax Service and Justice Ministry in Crimea if the Diocese of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine had brought its documents into line with Russian law (i.e. if it had Russian registration). Finding that it had not, the Ministry wrote to the Diocese on 5 February cancelling the rental agreement and asking when Ministry inspectors could visit the premises to arrange the “return” of the building. To read full report click here
CRIMEA: “Anti-missionary” prosecutions double in 2018
Compared to the first year they were implemented, punishments in Russian-occupied Crimea for ill-defined “missionary activity” doubled in 2018. Of 23 prosecutions for sharing faith or holding worship at unapproved venues, 19 ended in punishment. Also, 17 cases were brought for communities not using their full legal name.
In Russian-occupied Crimea in 2018 there were 23 prosecutions brought against individuals for ill-defined “missionary activity”, of which 19 ended with punishment, Forum 18 has found. Many of those punished were prosecuted for sharing their faith on the street or for holding worship at unapproved venues. Cases against two more are due to be heard in mid-January 2019.
This represents a doubling of such cases in the Crimean peninsula since the first year such punishments for “missionary activity” were imposed. July 2016 to July 2017 saw 13 known cases of which 8 ended in punishment.
(Forum 18) Armed men – often from the State Security Ministry or police of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic – often raid religious communities, halt worship meetings and seize religious literature. Courts hand down fines of several weeks’ average wages to punish “illegal” worship meetings. A further ban on unapproved worship is imminent.
Authorities of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, an unrecognised entity in eastern Ukraine, have regularly halted worship meetings by a range of religious communities, seized religious literature and fined religious leaders.
The most recent raid came on a Pentecostal Church in Alchevsk on 6 August, with two court cases due on 8 August. Earlier raids included those on Baptist and Jehovah’s Witness communities in Krasnodon, Gorodyshche, Molodogvardeisk, Stakhanov, Nagolno-Tarasovka, Chervonopartizansk, Alchevsk and Luhansk. Many individuals were fined several weeks’ average wages for holding “illegal” worship meetings (see below).
Armed men have seized five Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls, while only two of the 18 pre-2014 Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate churches locally still function (see below).
Pro-Russian rebels seized parts of Ukraine’s Luhansk Region in March 2014 and the following month proclaimed what they called the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Heavy fighting ensued. The rebel administration, which currently controls about a third of Ukraine’s Luhansk Region, has declared a state of martial law.
Pro-Russian rebels similarly seized parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk Region in April 2014 and proclaimed what they called the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Heavy fighting ensued. The rebel administration currently controls nearly half of Ukraine’s Donetsk Region. The rebel-held area adjoins the rebel-held area of Luhansk Region.
The rebel Luhansk authorities insist that religious communities that have not undergone local registration are illegal. They point to a May 2015 Decree by Igor Plotnitsky, the then Head of the unrecognised entity, banning mass events while the area was under martial law, and the February 2018 local Religion Law approved by the LPR People’s Council on 2 February.
Punishments for worship meetings
Courts generally punish religious leaders under Administrative Code Article 20.2. The LPR Administrative Code, which draws heavily on Russia’s Administrative Code, was adopted in July 2016.
Administrative Code Article 20.2 punishes “Violation of the established procedure for organising or conducting gatherings, meetings, demonstrations, processions or pickets”.
Part 1 punishes “Violation by organisers of public events of the established procedure for organising or conducting gatherings, meetings, demonstrations, processions or pickets” with for individuals fines of 3,000 to 5,000 Russian Roubles or community work of up to 30 hours.
Part 2 punishes holding public meetings without informing the authorities, with for individuals fines of 5,000 to 10,000 Russian Roubles, community work of up to 50 hours, or up to 10 days’ imprisonment.
A fine of 5,000 Russian Roubles (the LPR uses the Russian Rouble) is equivalent to 2,125 Ukrainian Hryvnia, 650 Norwegian Kroner, 70 Euros or 80 US Dollars. It represents more than three weeks’ local average wages for those in formal work.
Further crackdown to follow re-registration deadline expiry?
The 5 February Religion Law, which was published on 7 February and came into force ten days later, imposes compulsory registration on all religious communities. Communities must have at least 30 adult local resident members to apply for registration.
The Law also imposes state registration of all religious literature, which – once approved – can be distributed only by religious communities among their own members and must have the religious community’s full name on it.
Religious communities in rebel-held territory fear that measures against them could be stepped up from 18 August, when the six-month deadline for re-registering under the new Religion Law expires. Article 33, Part 1 of the Law declares that communities which fail to re-register by then “are deemed to have ceased their activity in the territory of the Luhansk People’s Republic”.
Any community seeking registration has to be approved by an “Expert Commission of State Religious Studies Expert Analysis”, initially created as a Council in September 2017. Only two religious communities – both of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) – had gained registration by 18 June.
A further 230 religious communities had lodged applications, Andrei Litsoev, head of the Religious Organisations and Spirituality Department of the Culture, Youth and Sport Ministry, told a briefing in Luhansk that day. Of these, 173 received initial approval by the end of June.
Asked about the raids and enforced closures of religious communities by its officers, the State Security Ministry in Luhansk referred all questions to its spokesperson, Yevgeniya Lyubenko. However, the duty officer told Forum 18 on 6 and 7 August that she was away from work. On 7 August her assistant Albina (last name unknown) declined to come to the phone.
The duty officer admitted to Forum 18 that he found the raids on meetings for worship “offensive”, but declined to comment further.
Andrei Litsoev, head of the Religious Organisations and Spirituality Department of the Culture, Youth and Sport Ministry in Luhansk, was similarly unavailable. A colleague told Forum 18 on 3 August that he was in a meeting. On 6 August a colleague – who did not give her name – told Forum 18 he was on holiday. She was unable to say when he would return.
The Department official refused to discuss why officials raid religious communities, halt worship meetings and fine religious leaders. She also refused to discuss why her boss Litsoev attends court hearings when religious leaders are fined.
Asked what will happen to religious communities that do not gain registration after the 18 August deadline or do not wish to gain registration, the official responded: “This hasn’t come into force yet. You will find out once it has.” She then put the phone down.
Litsoev had earlier refused to discuss the banning of religious communities. “I won’t discuss who is banned,” he told Forum 18 on 12 June. “No organisations are banned.” He then added that he would not comment on anything else and put the phone down.
Alchevsk: Detentions follow Pentecostal Church raid
On 6 August, men armed with automatic weapons – apparently from the LPR State Security Ministry – raided a Grace Church of God Pentecostal church in Alchevsk and halted the worship meeting, Pastor Petr Dudnik told Forum 18 on 7 August from Slavyansk. They forced all those present to lie face down on the floor and seized the church computer.
Officers detained several church leaders, including the pastor, Viktor Koval. They were freed later in the day. Pastor Koval and another church member are expected to face court on 8 August, Pastor Dudnik added.
Asked on 7 August why officers raided the church, the duty officer at the State Security Ministry in Alchevsk told Forum 18: “This is the first I’ve heard of it. I have no information.”
Ukrainian Baptist Union “banned”
On 26 July, the LPR State Security Ministry announced on its website that it had banned the “destructive activity of the extremist religious organisation the All-Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Christian/Baptist Churches”. The Ministry claimed that the Baptist Union “with its headquarters in Kiev” had refused to submit to compulsory state registration locally.
The Ministry complained that local leaders under the Baptist Union had “organised and conducted mass events” in violation of the local May 2015 Decree on mass events and Articles 17 and 18 of the local Religion Law.
“The religious association preached the idea of the forcible seizure of the republic by the Ukrainian armed forces,” the Ministry alleged, “and maintained close ties with representatives of Ukrainian nationalist armed formations.” It then went on to claim that locally the Baptists subjected church members to “psychotropic substances”.
The Ministry added that the Baptist Union had invited local medical personnel to “mass religious events” where private medical activity was conducted without authorisation from the relevant Ministry.
“During an inspection of the organisation’s activity, printed publications and audio-video materials were found which were directed at inciting enmity and hatred on the basis of ethnicity, origin, adherence to a social group, as well as the justification of military crimes conducted by Kiev security people in relation to civilians in Donbas.” The Ministry said that unnamed experts had determined that this literature was “extremist”.
Article 12 of the Religion Law says that only a court can decide to liquidate or ban a religious community. Forum 18 has been unable to find any court decision banning the Baptist Union locally.
Pastor Igor Bandura, first deputy head of Ukraine’s Baptist Union, told Forum 18 that he has seen no document confirming the ban. “We’ve seen no court document or other legal order,” he told Forum 18 on 2 August. “Our churches mostly still function, though officials have forcibly closed some, including the one in Molodogvardeisk.”
Officials closed the Baptist church in Molodogvardeisk in June and fined its leader in August (see below).
The Ministry website showed what it claimed was a 7 March letter from the regional Baptist leader Gennady Shulzhenko (who is based in the Ukrainian government-controlled part of Luhansk Region) describing the local Religion Law adopted the previous month as “unacceptable for believers” as it “violates and restricts the rights of Christ’s churches”.
The alleged Shulzhenko letter also declared that “Our land will be liberated!”, adding: “Together we will resolve the armed conflict and cleanse the seized territories of Ukraine!”
Pastor Bandura insisted the letter was forged. “I am 100 per cent certain this letter is fake – even more than that,” he told Forum 18. “Pastor Shulzhenko never wrote this letter. I asked him. The only place where it was seen is when intruders closed our church in Molodogvardeisk, nowhere else.”
The State Security Ministry added in its website statement: “Further measures are underway to unmask, halt and block the illegal activity of religious organisations on the territory of the LPR, including in connection with the distribution of religious printed publications of an extremist nature.”
Krasnodon: Baptists raided
On 10 June, police raided the Council of Churches Baptist congregation in the town of Krasnodon [official Ukrainian name Sorokyne], just a few kilometres from the eastern border with Russia. The church had gathered for its regular Sunday morning worship meeting when police arrived.
Officers told church members that under Article 9 of the local Religion Law, religious communities are banned from meeting unless they have the compulsory state registration. Officers ordered that church members disperse immediately, local Baptists told Forum 18.
Officers questioned Pastor Vladimir Rytikov and several other church members and warned them that until the church gets registration it is banned from meeting. “If they still continue to meet, they will be taken to court, fined and the house where they hold services will be sealed,” Baptists quoted the police as telling them.
“We will continue to meet just as we have been meeting up till now,” church members told the police. “Christ’s commandments, recorded in the Bible, are for us higher than human laws. And we cannot fulfil laws which contradict Holy Scripture because we serve God, Who is the highest power over all living creatures.”
Council of Churches Baptists have a policy of not seeking state permission to meet for worship and exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief in any parts of the former Soviet Union where they are active. They point out that the local Religion Law specifies in Article 3, Part 1 that people have the right to form religious associations, “but this is not obligatory”.
Krasnodon: Baptist Pastor fined
On 18 June, officers drew up a record of an offence against Pastor Rytikov under Article 20.2, Part 2 of the July 2016 local Administrative Code, local Baptists told Forum 18 on 13 July.
On 11 July, Judge Yuliya Kudrevatykh of Krasnodon Town and District Court found Pastor Rytikov guilty of an offence under Administrative Code Article 20.2, Part 2 because he “conducted public events without submitting notification under the established procedure for conducting public events”. She fined him 8,000 Russian Roubles.
The court decision notes that Pastor Rytikov did not admit any guilt, and explained “that he gathered with other believers to pray, and that he lodged no application anywhere, as he thinks that under the LPR Constitution he has the right to [hold] meetings freely without any kind of document”.
As the Baptists point out, the Constitution of the self-proclaimed entity notes in Article 24: “Citizens of Luhansk People’s Republic have the right to meet peacefully, without weapons, to hold gatherings, meetings and demonstrations, processions and pickets in accordance with the law.” Article 48, Part 2 declares: “The rights and freedoms of the individual and citizen can be restricted by law only as far as it is necessary with the aim of defending the constitutional order, morals, health, the rights and legal interests of other people and securing the defence of the country and security of the state.”
“Our peaceful Christian services were never directed at subverting the constitutional order,” local Baptists note, “and did not threaten the security of the state. Rather, the love of God to all people was preached there.”
Gorodyshche: Church-led medical outreach forcibly halted
On the afternoon of 9 June, armed men – two of them wearing masks – broke into the youth centre of the Baptist Union church in the village of Gorodyshche near Perevalsk. They arrived soon after a medical session had begun, provided by four volunteer doctors (therapist, neuropathologist, ophthalmologist and urologist/ultrasound doctor) and two students as part of a church-led project to help local people.
The armed men – who refused to identify themselves or show any document – halted the medical session and forced the patients to leave, telling them that such medical treatment was an administrative offence. They then forced the doctors to write statements.
The armed men then seized the medical equipment, including an ocular diagnostic kit, cardiograph and ultrasound, but gave no confiscation record.
Molodogvardeisk: Worship raided, halted, leader fined
On 3 June, five armed men in civilian clothes and balaclavas raided the Sunday morning meeting for worship of the Baptist Union Church in Molodogvardeisk, Baptists told Forum 18. About 35 church members were meeting when the men – who said they were from the local State Security Ministry – arrived.
The intruders stopped the meeting, demanded explanations and asked to see documents permitting the worship. They searched the premises, seizing literature and the church laptop. They ordered all those present to give their address and phone numbers and then let most of them leave.
The church’s leader, Sergei Zharkov, and four church members were held and ordered to write statements. The men then sealed the premises and went to the house used by the church for alcohol and drug addicts’ rehabilitation. There they also conducted a search and seized literature, medicines and a computer hard drive. They then sealed the entire building. Four residents were put on the street.
The following day, police summoned and brutally interrogated Zharkov about the community’s activities, putting a bandage on his eyes and taking him to unknown areas. Officers then searched his home, at the end of which they seized a hard drive from his computer, literature and his phone, along with the SIM card.
The district police officer informed Zharkov that a case was opened under Administrative Code Article 20.2, Part 2 for “holding illegal religious gatherings”. Items the police seized have not been returned and the rooms remain sealed.
On 1 August, Judge Yuliya Kudrevatykh of Krasnodon Town and District Court fined Zharkov 8,000 Russian Roubles, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.
The duty officer at the State Security Ministry department in Krasnodon refused to say if the men who raided the Baptist Church in Molodogvardeisk had been its officers. “I can’t say, because this is a telephone conversation,” the officer – who would not give his name – told Forum 18 on 3 August. “Send your questions in writing.” He then put the phone down.
Asked the same day why police had summoned and brutally interrogated church leader Zharkov, the duty police officer in Molodogvardeisk – who would not give his name – told Forum 18: “The pastor knows why.” He then put the phone down.
Stakhanov: Who were vandals in military uniform?
On the evening of 27 March, men in military uniforms arrived in two cars at the church of the Council of Churches Baptists in Stakhanov [official Ukrainian name Kadiyevka]. The men broke in to the unoccupied building.
“According to eyewitnesses, the lights were turned on everywhere and the destruction of the prayer house began,” Baptists complained to Forum 18. About 11pm, two lorries arrived. The men in military clothing began removing “literally everything” from the building, including the pulpit, the communion chalice, the amplification system, musical instruments, radiators and all the kitchen equipment. They took this away in the lorries.
The intruders also vandalised the building, breaking down internal doors and damaging windows, electrical fittings and lino.
The following day, on discovering the damage, church members went to the police and the head of the town administration, Sergei Zhevlakov. They were promised answers within two weeks.
Asked about the vandalism of the church, Zhevlakov told Forum 18 on 3 August that “this is not within our competence”. He then put the phone down.
An officer of the State Security Ministry in Stakhanov, who refused to give his name, told Forum 18 on 3 August that the investigation was being conducted by the police, not by the State Security Ministry. Asked why a raid by men in military uniform was not an issue for his agency, he replied: “Who said they were in military uniform? The Baptists weren’t there.”
Asked if the Baptists are allowed to meet for worship in the vandalised house, the officer responded: “They’re not banned as long as they have registration.”
The duty police officer in Stakhanov told Forum 18 on 7 August that town police chief Colonel Sergei Cherkayev was on leave. He referred questions to his deputy Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Kutsov. However, his phone went unanswered.
Nagolno-Tarasovka: Worship banned, pastor fined
On 22 October 2017, police banned the Baptist Union church in the village of Nagolno-Tarasovka near Rovenki from continuing to meet for worship. The church had met since 2010 in a home. Officers claimed that conduct of worship represented “unauthorised public gatherings and public events among the population”.
Police prepared administrative cases against the church’s pastor, Vasily Logvinenko. Judge Svetlana Dermenzhi of Rovenky City Court fined him 5,000 Russian Roubles. In a separate case in 2018, Judge Yelena Sen of the same court also fined Pastor Logvinenko 5,000 Russian Roubles, Baptists told Forum 18.
Chervonopartizansk: Jehovah’s Witness fined for home meeting
On 14 October 2017, Jehovah’s Witness Vladimir Safarov was meeting with up to 30 others behind closed doors in a flat in the town of Chervonopartizansk [official Ukrainian name Voznesenivka] belonging to an 84-year-old. They were meeting for “friendly association, prayer and Bible reading”, Safarov insisted.
Police and State Security Ministry officers raided the flat during the meeting, recording all those present on video and seizing “personal items with no procedural documents”.
Officers then took four of those present, including Safarov, to the police station, according to the subsequent court decision seen by Forum 18. Officers pressured the four to sign statements prepared by the police, even though they disagreed with what the police had written. Safarov later told the court that being “severely intimidated by the aggressive actions” of the police and State Security Ministry officers, he reluctantly signed the statement, even though he did not agree with it.
A case was brought against Safarov under local Administrative Code Article 20.2, Part 1 (“Violation by organisers of public events of the established procedure for organising or conducting gatherings, meetings, demonstrations, processions or pickets”).
On 27 November 2017 at the District and Regional Court in Sverdlovsk [official Ukrainian name Dovzhansk], Judge Lyudmila Skaliush found Safarov guilty, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. She fined him 5,000 Russian Roubles.
Safarov did not acknowledge any guilt, arguing that the meeting was private and was a meeting of friends not linked to any organisation.
Present in court as a “specialist” was Andrei Litsoev, head of the Religious Organisations and Spirituality Department of the Culture, Youth and Sport Ministry in Luhansk. He insisted that all meetings require permission, regardless of what organisation is holding them, and police and security agencies need to be informed. He set out registration requirements, adding that “conducting any events of a religious nature on private land is impermissible”.
Also present in court as a “specialist” was Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate) priest Fr Aleksi Slyusarenko, who was then a theology lecturer at Luhansk National University. He insisted that Safarov should be found guilty of holding a religious meeting without state permission. He reminded the court that Russia had banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist”, as had the two breakaway regions of Georgia: Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Fr Slyusarenko added that Russian anti-“sect” activist Aleksandr Dvorkin had described the group as a “pseudo-religious cult which hides its commercial interests behind religious phraseology”.
Forum 18 was unable to reach Fr Slyusarenko at Holy Annunciation Church in Luhansk on 6 and 7 August.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sverdlovsk had already faced pressure. On 19 April 2017, two State Security Ministry officers threatened local Jehovah’s Witnesses with “negative consequences” if they refused to cooperate with them. The lead detective of the town police, R. Zemlianukhin, refused to conduct an investigation because the religious community does not have local registration, Jehovah’s Witnesses lamented.
Luhansk, Alchevsk: State Security Ministry raids, seizures, planted literature?
On 4 August 2017, “anti-terror units”, together with soldiers and police, interrupted the religious services of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Luhansk and the town of Alchevsk, claiming that there had been a bomb threat. After evacuating the worshippers from the buildings, the officers checked the documents of everyone in attendance.
In Alchevsk, officers video recorded their inspection of the building, purportedly in search of a bomb. “The search turned up a small quantity of the Witnesses’ religious literature and then ‘found’ anti-LPR propaganda pamphlets that the officers had smuggled in and planted,” Jehovah’s Witnesses noted.
In Alchevsk, two elders were interrogated all day. They explained that throughout the conflict, the congregation has been holding their worship services without disturbance in their Kingdom Hall, which is located near the commandant’s office.
In the same day as the raid, Alchevsk Town Court fined one elder, Andriy Mezhynsky, 5,000 Russian Roubles under Administrative Code Article 20.2, Part 1 for organising a mass meeting and 3,000 Russian Roubles for allegedly violating fire regulations in the Kingdom Hall.
On 28 August 2017, the State Security Ministry claimed on its website that during the inspections of Jehovah’s Witness premises in Luhansk and Alchevsk, “agitational materials containing Nazi symbols and attributes were found, as well as leaflets urging collaboration with Ukrainian special services”. The statement was read out by Deputy Security Minister Aleksandr Basov.
An accompanying video shows masked officers in camouflage uniform or in police clothing, some of them carrying weapons in their hands, arriving at the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in Alchevsk as perhaps a hundred worshippers leave the building and wait in the sun outside. They then search the building.
In pictures which do not specify if they were from the Luhansk or Alchevsk searches, an Alsatian dog brought in by one of the armed men sniffs at a bag apparently left by a worshipper. Two officers inspect items from a safe as well as in cupboards.
In one room a masked officer takes a box from a cupboard and takes out pro-Ukrainian fliers with telephone numbers of the Ukrainian State Security Service in small, sealed envelopes which he opens out for the cameras. An officer opens several items of Jehovah’s Witness literature and takes out leaflets allegedly from pro-Ukrainian paramilitary groups.
Jehovah’s Witnesses insisted to Forum 18 that the literature allegedly found was not theirs and must have been planted. They pointed out that they are politically neutral and are pacifist.
Male police search undressed women
On 23 September 2017, police detained two female Jehovah’s Witnesses as they shared their beliefs with others. Five male police officers forced the women to undress to their underwear and searched them. During the five-hour interrogation, officers forced the women to stand for the duration and threatened them with lengthy imprisonment. The interrogation continued for another hour at the State Security Ministry. Officers also searched the home of one of the women.
Five seized Jehovah’s Witness properties
The Kingdom Halls in Luhansk and Alchevsk are among five Jehovah’s Witnesses the authorities have seized locally. Officials also seized their Kingdom Halls in Brianka, Perevalsk and Krasny Luch, Jehovah’s Witnesses complained to Forum 18.
On 30 April 2017, the Kingdom Hall in Sverdlovsk was robbed and desecrated. “In particular, the intruder relieved himself on the stage of the main hall,” Jehovah’s Witnesses complained. “The material damage is estimated at about 2,000 Euros.”
On 30 May 2018, a fire destroyed the confiscated Luhansk Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, local media reported. It remains unclear how the fire started or who was using the building at the time.
Ukrainian Orthodox Kiev Patriarchate fears for future
After initially closing all its eight churches in the city of Luhansk and 10 more in rebel-held areas in 2014, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate was allowed to reopen its Holy Trinity Cathedral in Luhansk for Christmas on 7 January 2015. In 2014, church members had successfully resisted an attempt by armed men to seize it to use as a barracks.
A second church in the city reopened soon after, “but services don’t take place there regularly because of constant threats from drunken fighters to throw grenades at the church”, Bishop Afanasi (Yavorsky) of Luhansk and Starobilsk told Forum 18 on 7 August. The other churches remain closed.
Bishop Afanasi fears that the new registration requirements may make it impossible for his churches to continue to function. “Officials have warned that from 14 August activity by the Kiev Patriarchate will be halted,” he told Forum 18.
Officials in the Justice Ministry, State Security Ministry and police refused to answer Forum 18’s questions.
(Forum 18) reports that after ten years’ service as a parish priest Fr Robert Maciejewski was forced to return to his native Poland because Belarus’ senior state religious affairs official refused the Catholic bishop’s request to extend state permission for him to continue religious work.
Another foreign Catholic priest has been forced to leave Belarus after the authorities refused to extend permission for him to continue to serve in the country. Polish citizen Fr Robert Maciejewski – who served as parish priest in Mstislav in Mogilev [Mahilyow] Region for almost ten years – had to leave Belarus on 25 April.
Fr Maciejewski left Belarus because the authorities had not extended his permit to carry out religious activities, the spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Fr Yuri Sanko, confirmed to Forum 18 from the capital Minsk on 23 May. Fr Sanko did not explain the reasons for the denial.
Fr Maciejewski’s enforced departure from Belarus came two weeks after the diocesan head, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, had called for the state to end the requirement that foreign citizens need permission to conduct any religious activity (see below).
Another Polish Catholic priest who left Belarus at the end of May after 28 years’ service had seen his application for Belarusian citizenship rejected five years ago.
Meanwhile, organisers of a bike ride in mid-May to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the publication of the first translation of books of the Bible into Belarusian were told both the ride and meetings they had planned in several towns along the route were banned.
And court bailiffs visited New Life Full Gospel Church in Minsk in late April in a renewed attempt to force it to vacate the building it bought and has used for worship for 14 years. Church leaders hope that negotiations with the authorities will resolve the dispute. Read full article.
(World Watch Monitor) Activists and representatives of the Croatian Baptist Church are urging the state not to deport Christian asylum-seekers to Iran, saying they could face serious consequences because of their faith, reports Balkan Insight.
Iran is known to be a country where living as a Christian is difficult, especially for those who have converted from Islam. It is ranked eighth on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Late last year, Iranian and European human-rights and religious-rights organisations urged the international community to hold the Iranian government to account over its treatment of Christian converts. In their letter, they detailed what they described as “a pattern” of treatment by the Iranian authorities that included arrests, interrogations, detention, raids on churches and harassment by security agents. They also mentioned the ongoing trial of four converts – including Youcef Nadarkhani, a church leader previously sentenced to death for apostasy.
Croatia is one of the nations that saw thousands of refugees and migrants cross its borders in 2015/2016 and remains a transit country, according to Amnesty International. Most refugees and migrants have set their eyes on going further West. And it is in the migrant camps of Europe, like the so-called former “Jungle” camp near Calais, where the Christian presence hidden in Iran is becoming visible.
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Who has held the oceans in His hands? Who has numbered every grain of sand? Kings and nations tremble at His voice. All creation rises to rejoice
Behold our God seated on His throne
Come let us adore Him
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him!
Who has given counsel to the Lord? Who can question any of His Words? Who can teach the One who knows all things? Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds?
Who has felt the nails upon His hands bearing all the guilt of sinful man?
God eternal humbled to the grave. Jesus, Savior risen now to reign! (Behold Our God, original lyrics)
STOP, be still. Turn off the all that distracts you. Shhh, be silent and listen. Can you hear that? The ONE who loves you is calling your name…Go to HIM!
Today around noon a monk of the Dečani Monastery, while taking a walk along around the monastery territory, noticed graffiti on the garden house, approximately 300 meters east of the Monastery. The monks immediately alerted the MNBG West KFOR Commander Col. Minelli and the local Kosovo police. It was learned that the graffiti was written on five more locations on the monastery’s land. The most common graffiti displays the abbreviations for the Albanian National Army “UCK,” other abbreviations of Islamist armies “ISIS,” “AKSH,” a threat that “The Caliphate is coming,” and some undecipherable lines that look like an attempt to write in Arabic. While Col. Minelli, the chief of police, and abbot of the monastery Fr. Sava were inspecting the graffiti, a group of young Kosovo Albanians who were passing on the road overlooking the monastery land began shouting UCK in chorus. This was witnessed by both Col. Minelli and the KP commander. Later the police informed the monks that three young Albanian men were detained by the police for provocative behavior.
The graffiti was most probably written during the previous night (11/12 October). The perpetrators of this provocation most probably entered the monastery property on the eastern side where there is no wall. Six years ago, the Monastery had to stop construction of the wall on the eastern side because they were openly threatened in the press by the local UCK war veteran organization, claiming that the Monastery had no right to do so. This part of the Monastery property remains the most critical point and it is very hard to secure without at least some barbed wire or fence, before the wall is constructed.
Today’s incident comes several days after the incident at Peć Patriarchate gate where a Wahhabi man (identified as Alegorik Muhamed Beqiri born in 1992 from Skenderaj/Srbica, with residence in Peć/Peja) attacked and injured a local Kosovo policeman shouting “Allah u-Akbar”. On that occasion the Church learned that this man and his companions had allegedly threatened the Catholic nuns in Peć a few days before, telling them that they would be slaughtered.
Dečani monks informed KFOR two months ago that they sighted four vehicles filled with bearded men dressed Wahhabi style passing by the monastery on their way to the Dečani gorge. They returned to the town of Dečani soon afterwards. Today’s incident also comes six months after unknown individuals left UCK graffiti on one of the Monastery gates (April 24, 2014). The perpetrators of this vandalism have not yet been brought to justice. Although the graffiti this time was written further away from the Monastery compound, the Dečani monks nevertheless remain very concerned, because this incident shows that there is a possibility of unauthorized access to the area in which the brothers work in the gardens and take care of the cattle every day.
In the recent weeks, KFOR has increased security around the Monastery with random patrols as an additional element of protection to the existing checkpoints. KFOR has also mediated in a few projects that should improve the relations with the local community. This latest incident comes as a step backward for all.
PRESS RELEASE BY THE DIOCESE
The Diocese of Raška-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija has strongly condemned the Islamist and Albanian nationalist graffiti that were written by unknown individuals on the property of Visoki Dečani Monastery. This is one more in the series of many provocations directed against Visoki Dečani Monastery and the Christian Orthodox sites in Kosovo.
Bishop Teodosije has made an appeal today to the international representatives as well as the local Kosovo institutions, warning that any extremism of nationalist and religious character presents a serious threat not only for the Serbian people and the Church in Kosovo, but also for all citizens in this region. Our Church, said Bishop Teodosije, expects the international community and the Kosovo institutions to protect peace and order as well as Christian sites in Kosovo from provocations and potential acts of terror.
The Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo has been exposed for years to acts of violence and provocations which must stop once and for all, emphasized Bishop Teodosije.
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