Protestant Churches in Russia Call for Freedom of Belief amid Persecution

The Protestant Churches in Russia - a predominately Orthodox country - have voiced their concerns over the freedom of belief in the midst of the growing persecution. Not only have the protestant churches faced a crackdown during the course of religious activities or pastors were being arrested, but also the mass media has allegedly launched a campaign to promote Orthodox ideology and have tried to demote other Christian groups.

The Assist News Service (ANS) reported about the Rev Igor Nikki Nikitin, President and Chairman of Senior Bishops Council, Association of Christian Churches in Russia ("Union of Christians"), who commented that the last two months has been the hardest time for the Protestant Churches in Russia over the last ten years.

"A huge mass media campaign was organised to promote the Orthodox ideology and bring indignity and discredit to all other confessions. There were many articles about the leaders of the country, including President Putin, showing their devotion to the Orthodoxy, publishing the pictures with their confessors, and exaggerating the term 'traditional and non-traditional religions in Russia'," he said.

He complained that the mass media has widened the division between Christians of different confession in this way, bringing out the classification into 'first class', 'second class' and now even a third class appears, namely, 'sects'.

Rev Nikitin also lamented the pressure of Orthodox priests on the Government at all levels and their request to the government to stop the social projects of the Protestant churches.

A conference called "Neo-Pentecostal Sects in Russia: threat of the religious extremism" was held earlier in May by the Russian Orthodox Church and local Administration.

Rev Nikitin said, "Just after that the media all over the country published articles with headlines such as 'Watch out! Sects!' 'We need defense from the sectarians,' 'Sectarians get active!' 'Orthodox and Lutheran Churches declared about harm of the Neo-Pentecostals,' etc."

Rev Nikitin also cited the case of Pastor Alexander Purshaga, Bishop of the Assembly of God Church 'Emmanuel' in Moscow, who was arrested and held in the prison for five days. There were also burnings of Baptist Churches in Chelyabinsk and Izhevsk.

Pastor Hugo Van Nikkerk from South Africa, the overseer of the Association of Christian Churches in Russia (ACCR) in Central and South region, was denied a religious visa. He commented, "The denials of our visa applications are probably not an attack on us personally, but rather on the evangelical church in Russia."

According to Rev Nikitin, the license of the only FM Christian radio station that was working in Magadan since 1996 called Radio 'New Life' was cancelled.
He explained to the ANS that the status of religious freedom and the problems of discrimination against non-Orthodox organisations were noticed in the PACE Resolution 455, where it is recommended to the Russian Authorities to guarantee exclusion of any juridical, administrative or fiscal discrimination against so called non-traditional beliefs.

Rev Nikitin concluded, "It is very important now for all people of good will to do all things possible to keep the freedom of beliefs in Russia and not allow the destroying of the Protestant Churches in Russia."