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Tula, Russia
Evangelicals In Central Russia Under Attack
Pastors of the Association of Protestant Churches of Tula Province say that certain Christian congregations and their houses of worship are suffering from antisectarian articles by associates of the Evangelism Department of Tula diocese.

The Association of Protestant Churches of Tula Province has sent an appeal to the governor of Tula province, Viacheslav Dudka, with regard to antisectarian articles that continually appear in the local press and are distributed by the Evangelism Department of Tula diocese and with regard to the attacks on believers that come after them, the press service of the Slavic Legal Center reports. In particular, according to leaders of protestant churches, a new wave of such articles and attacks on evangelical congregations and believers themselves appeared after the statement by the governor of the province at one of the conferences in August 2007 regarding "intensification of the activity of religious formations of a protestant type whose administrative centers are located abroad," which has been reproduced by "sect scholars."

An associate of the Evangelism Department of the Tula diocese of RPTsMP, Aleksei Yarasov, specifically referred to potential "spies" (in keeping with an article which published the words of Governor Dudka about spies). Among the "most dangerous sects of Tula" Aleksei Yarasov named the Pentecostal churches "Word of Life," "Holy Trinity," "Tula Christian Center," "Bethany" and others. A representative of the diocese also added: "They call themselves Christians and protestants. This is untrue." ("Who is luring Tulans into sects?" Sloboda newspaper, 22-29 August 2007). At the end of the article there is a call: "Dear Readers! If you or your loved ones have suffered from the actions of sectarians, warn others about this."

After publication of the press release "Evangelical churches of Tula province are extremely troubled by the unhealthy situation in the regions and are worried about pogroms on the part of Orthodox," Aleksei Yarasov sent a letter to the Slavic Legal Center in which he called all the charges of the protestants lies. We recall that Aleksei Yarasov is the secretary of the Evangelism Department of the diocese and also he is director of the Tula division of the Irenaeus of Lyons Center for Religious Studies Research (headed by A.L. Dvorkin).

The Association of Protestant Churches of Tula Province, as noted in an interview with the press service of the Slavic Legal Center by Pastor Mikhail Andrievsky of the "Holy Trinity" Evangelical Christian church, was officially created specifically in order to defend churches in difficult situations. The association includes about 30 churches of Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Presbyterians of Tula province.

According to Pastor Andrievsky, in addition to articles in the Sloboda newspaper there have also been many different attacks on protestant churches, from articles in the Internet sect studies publications to antiprotestant leaflets which have been distributed in the province. Arson, broken windows and other attacks on evangelical houses of worship often have not been registered. As Andrievsky stressed, "We Christians are a patient people and we try to endure whatever happens. When believers call the police, agents of law enforcement say that we should investigate it ourselves since these are our own internal disputes."

In Mikhail Andrievsky's opinion, the task of "sect scholars" is to besmirch non-Orthodox Christian churches and Yarasov is a clear representative of the diocese, according to the pastor, "one of those 'D-students' who enter a diocese and become Orthodox 'warriors,' in order to give out information about 'sects.'" Andrievsky noted that in antisectarian articles incitement of inter-religious strife is visible to the naked eye; protestants are accused of deceiving people so that people supposedly wind up in psychiatric hospitals, and so forth. However, according to the pastor, "sect scholars" are clever and often do not say concretely which churches they have in mind when they talk about "the most horrible destructive and totalitarian sects, but they still mention us, too, in the articles." Representatives of protestant churches have appealed to both the diocese and the Tula Informational Consultative Center on Questions of Sectarianism but there has been no response other than to say that the protestants themselves are guilty of inciting strife.

According to Mikhail Andrievsky, the words of the governor about "spies," disseminated by the "sect scholars," are understood by many as a command, including in the first place the Evangelism Department of the Tula diocese itself. Evangelical believers have been called "spies," "prowestern," and "unpatriotic." This is reflected in the relations of the local authorities toward specific churches.

The protestant association wrote a letter to the Sloboda newspaper, Governor Viacheslav Dudka, and the head psychiatrist of the province requesting a clarificaion of the situation with "sectarians who are dangerous to health." As Pastor Alexander Karavaev of the "Loza" church of Evangelical Christians stated in an interview with the press service of the Slvic Legal Center, the churches have not received a single response. After the antisectarian articles by the Evangelism Department of the RPTsMP diocese, windows were broken in churches in Novomoskovsk, Uzlovaia, and the Tula Christian Center, where security cameras have been installed, but law enforcement agencies have taken no actions, Alexander Karavaev emphasized. Pastor Karavaev himself sent a letter to Russian President V.V. Putin and the directorate of the FSB for Tula province.

Source: Slavic Legal Center, 115035 Moscow/Russia