By Stefan J. Bos
Eastern Europe Correspondent,
ASSIST News Service
BUDAPEST/MOSCOW (ANS) — There were fresh reports about persecution of Christians throughout the former Soviet Union Monday January 20, including the arrests of Pentecostal leaders and the banning of the world famous Jesus film in several regions.
Keston News Service (KNS), which monitors violations of religious liberties, said the authorities of the Russian city of Novomoskovsk in the Tula region, prohibited the screening of the Jesus film – a dramatization of Luke's Gospel – in municipal buildings.
A local Presbyterian pastor, Roman Uglev, was quoted by KNS as saying that the city administration revoked the permission earlier obtained by a coalition of five of Novomoskovsk's Protestant churches to show the film early this month.
Uglev said the decision was made after pressure from a local Orthodox priest. The portrayal of Christ in the film goes against Orthodox teaching, another priest reportedly told KNS. Similar reports came from the Kirov where the screening of Jesus film has been restricted.
Meanwhile in Moscow, the Salvation Army's continued its legal battle to maintain its operations there, after Russian authorities accused it of paramilitary activities. KNS said that the serious predicament of the well known Christian relief organization appeared to be due at least in part to its refusal to use the services of a particular law firm.
Corruption has been rampant in Russia, and KNS said that when other religious organizations used the services of the firm their troubles were over, at least for a while. However that law company was out of reach of two leaders of an unregistered Pentecostal church who were arrested in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.
KNS quoted Protestant sources in the Azerbaijani capital Baku as saying that the two – Yusuf Farkhadov and Kasym Kasymov – were detained in Sumgait, a town close to Baku, when police and National Security Ministry officers raided a
prayer meeting last Friday January 18 in a private flat.
"All they were doing was praying," one church member told KNS, which monitors religious persecution. The Azerbaijani authorities seem intent on closing down many Protestant churches, with the majority likely to lose their registration, KNS said.
The Living Stones church has unsuccessfully tried to register with the authorities to gain legal status. "We gave in the application and it lay around for a year and a half," a church leader was quoted as saying. "Then last autumn it was returned. They said there were errors in the application."
Human rights workers say Christians are also facing persecution in other former Soviet republics, at a time when the world seems focused on the war against terrorism and religious persecution is not on top of the political agenda.