03/15/2010, 00.00
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As Russian Lutherans come under suspicion for “terrorism”, police shows ignorance about religion

Armed with machine guns and dogs, 11 police agents in Kaluga storm the St George Evangelical Lutheran Church during an ordination service looking for possible terrorists. Russia’s law enforcement agencies are fighting the religious extremism of Evangelical Lutherans and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and showing their utter ignorance of religion and human rights.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) – By targeting Evangelical Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian police continues to undermine religious freedom in the name of security and the fight against extremist activities.

In Kaluga on 28 February, armed police with dogs burst into the recently consecrated Church of St George Evangelical Lutheran during worship service, a Russian Lutheran website (www.luther.ru) reported, citing eyewitness’s accounts. Eleven law enforcement agents entered during the ordination of Pastor Dmitry Martyshenko byArchbishop Joseph Baron. Once inside, they locked the doors to prevent worshippers still outside from coming in. According to the commander of the police unit, “there were indications that terrorists were gathering here, and distributing terrorist literature.”

The clergymen present at the ceremony tried to explain that the Bible and books of the Augsburg Confession had nothing to do with "terrorist literature" but failed to persuade their uninvited visitors.

Rev Martyshenko has already filed a complaint to the plenipotentiary for human rights with a copy sent  the Kaluga administration.

For experts, police violence shows the dangers of police unpreparedness in religious matters. Prof Anatoly Pchelintsey from the Slavic Legal Centre noted that the Russian Interior Ministry has set up a special unit to fight extremism, but its staff has no idea what religious organisations do; they know even less about the position of the European Court for Human Rights. In his view, police, not Evangelical Lutherans are the threat to public security.

Evangelical Christians are known for their aggressive proselytising, even in war zones. But in Russia, the Orthodox Church has fought all proselytising in what it views as its own backyard.

Last November, the Justice Ministry proposed to amend the federal law on “freedom of conscience and religious organisations”. If adopted, it would ban Evangelicals from praying together without authorisation or admit members who had a run-in with the law.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are also facing the wrath of the authorities. In their case, the fight against extremist is turning into outright persecution. The latest episode involved the arrest in Moscow last Friday of Yuri Gusev, guilty of having literature deemed extremist in his car.

Described as a sect “unfriendly to other Churches”, Jehovah’s Witnesses are being systematically hounded in several Russian republics.

The authorities are probably put off by the religious group’s rejection of compulsory military service, their refusal to bear arms or accept blood transfusions, as well as the members’ total devotion to their community.

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