21 February 2000 (Newsroom) -- Authorities in central Russia are trying to shut down 13 religious communities in accord with the country's new law on religion, the Keston News Service reports.
Attempts have been made to close individual churches, but this is the broadest application of the law by local justice authorities since the expiration of a December 31 deadline by which all religious groups in Russia were required to reregister, Keston says.
The Voronezh regional department of justice initiated suits in local courts, demanding liquidation of the groups, which include Baptist, Pentecostal, and Lutheran churches, and a Jewish community. The first hearing, against a Pentecostal church in Ertil, is scheduled for Tuesday.
Last Friday Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted to extend the reregistration deadline, but Keston says that the impact of that vote on the Vorenzh lawsuits remains to be seen.
Keston, noting that no Russian Orthodox communities in Vorenzh have be sued, says that "it seems clear that minority religious communities -- mostly Protestant Christian -- are being targeted by the justice department." In an interview with Keston, the head of the section that registers religious organizations in the region, Vyacheslav Kryuchkov, would not reveal how many communities of the Moscow Patriarchate in Vorenzh had not reregistered.
Kryuchov said that other regions in Russia have not taken such action in compliance with the law because they have some 200 organizations to handle while Vorenzh has only 13.
Minority religious leaders in Russia have complained that the controversial new law on religion is used to preserve the Orthodox Church's preeminent place in society by restricting or eliminating groups that evangelize aggressively and attract converts from among its members.
A local evangelical Protestant activist who wished to remain anonymous, told Keston, however, that he doubted whether the Vorenzh justice department would succeed in court. "If it were discovered that even one entity of the Voronezh Orthodox diocese had not undergone re-registration, but was not being liquidated as the Protestants were, then all thirteen cases would burst like soap bubbles," he said.
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