RUSSIA: City justice dept claims church stealing was conducted legally
Moscow city's justice department has failed to explain to Forum 18 News Service why it allowed the founding document of a Methodist Church to be altered without the knowledge or consent of the church, thus facilitating the "sale" of the building to new "owners". Guards hired by these "owners" have seized the building, with the pastor and church officials remaining inside. Aleksandr Buksman, head of the local city registration department for religious organisations, has claimed to Forum 18 that the demands of Russia's religion law "were fully observed by the religious organisation". This claim is very strongly disputed by the church, which points out to Forum 18 that a "meeting" Buksman refers to was not authorised by the church, did not involve church members, and was not held on church premises. Buksman has failed to explain why his department did not check any of this with the church leadership.
In a written response on 16 December to Forum 18's enquiries about the transfer, the head of the registration department for religious organisations, Aleksandr Buksman, claimed that in presenting the amended documents, the demands of the country's religion law "were fully observed by the religious organisation", a claim denied by the Methodist church. He said his department therefore registered the amended founding document with its new leadership on 23 May 2002.
Buksman claimed that the amendments to the founding document and the approval of a new leadership "had been taken, as is apparent from the documents presented, at a general meeting of the religious organisation on 24 April 2002". The Methodists claim no such valid church meeting took place and that those who registered the amended founding document had done so after a meeting not authorised by the church, not involving church members and not hold on church premises. Buksman failed to explain why his department did not check up the validity of the amendments with the church leadership.
Buksman told Forum 18 that the investigation department of the internal affairs department for Moscow's Northern Administrative Region launched a criminal case on 30 October last year into accusations of "large-scale swindling" over the church building. He said his department had presented documents related to the amendment to the church's founding document to the investigation, which were added to the case documents. He said his department had no information about the further course of the investigation. Church members say the criminal case has now been closed.
"The meeting had nothing to do with the church, no church members took part," Svetlana Kim, church administrator told Forum 18 on 16 December. Kim told Forum 18 there has been no change to the blockade of the church. "The guards are still there." She said the church is doing all it can to resolve the issue peacefully through negotiation.
Maksim Zubov, an official of the federal Justice Ministry told Forum 18 on 15 December that his department would investigate the issue with the Moscow city justice department, and noted that "no-one has the right to change the founding document of a religious organisation without its knowledge."
For more background information see Forum 18's latest religious freedom
A printer-friendly map of Russia is available at
15 December 2003
A Methodist church may lose its church building after the local Moscow city justice department allowed outsiders to change the building's ownership without the church's knowledge, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Guards loyal to the new "owners" have seized the building, though the pastor and church officials remain inside. The local Moscow justice department has declined to explain to Forum 18 why it allowed the "ownership change" to happen without the church's knowledge. However, Maksim Zubov, of the federal Justice Ministry has pointed out to Forum 18 that "no-one has the right to change the founding document of a religious organisation without its knowledge." Church officials suspect that the reason may be local city corruption, and Bishop Ruediger Minor, head of the United Methodist Church in Russia, has told Forum 18 that "the whole thing could only happen because of some (at least silent) support from administrative and other structures."
15 December 2003
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Mongolia, Forum 18 News Service notes the, in regional terms, unusually high degree of religious freedom. Possibly key to this is the fact that Mongolia has only one paid official dealing solely with religious issues, instead of an extensive state bureaucracy. However, Protestants told Forum 18 of incidents in which unregistered churches were threatened or fined , as well as a widespread tendency by state authorities to demand random "fines" or "donations", but this appears to be the action of individual local council members. There is rising social concern about the activity of Christians in the country, particularly due to a belief that they advocate suicide. However, Forum 18 found that there appears to be in general less fear of new religious influences in Mongolia than is found in surrounding countries.
8 December 2003
Forum 18 News Service has found a remarkable degree of agreement amongst state officials, cultural figures, Christians and Buddhists in Mongolia with the sentiments of a Mongolian member of parliament, who told Forum 18 that "Chinghis Khan invited Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Daoists here back in the thirteenth century. Mongolians are very tolerant in the religious sphere – I've never come across anything like it anywhere else." This embraces freedom to witness and state registration of churches, which are difficult issues in surrounding countries. A Russian Buddhist source commented to Forum 18 that the Buddhist reaction to someone becoming a Christian would be "It is their karma – let them." However, some Protestants (see subsequent F18News article), have raised very serious concerns.