OSLO, Norway (BP)–Authorities have moved to crush a Baptist street library in the city of Bendery in the unrecognized republic of Transdniester in eastern Moldova, Forum 18 News Service reported April 29.
The Baptists belong to congregations of the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejects registration on principle in all the former Soviet republics where it operates. Its congregations in Transdniester have long faced obstructions to their work from the authorities, which remain close to the local diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church.
An April 24 statement from Baptists in the eastern European city reached Forum 18 News Service’s offices in Oslo, Norway, reporting that four days earlier police had confiscated all of the street library’s books for a second time. “The local authorities in the city of Bendery are obstructing the work of the mobile Christian library and have drawn up police records against the Christian library workers with the aim of judicial persecution,” according to the Baptists’ statement.
Police chief Valeri Smyk told Forum 18 on April 29 that the activity is illegal in Transdniester, stating also that the Baptists didn’t have a license for operating a street library.
However, different agencies are passing responsibility to each other for the incidents, Forum 18 stated. Smyk declined to say why street libraries are illegal and referred all enquiries to the Bendery branch of the Transdniester State Security Ministry (MGB, the local successor to the KGB). “They are in charge of this matter.” He refused to say whether the Baptists will face prosecution.
Reached by telephone on April 29, the duty officer at the Bendery MGB, who declined to give his last name, insisted that the city’s police had been responsible for the action against the Baptists. “They detained them — it’s their responsibility,” he told Forum 18. He declined to say whether the Baptist street library is illegal. He said the head of the city MGB — whom he refused to name — was not available.
The first police action against the street library came on March 30, when police lieutenant N. Stolyarchuk seized the 50 books on the stall and detained the three Baptists there, Vyacheslav Bachu, Vladimir Boligar and Dmitry Masterov. The Baptists reported that Stolyarchuk and a colleague questioned them “a lot about the internal life of the church.” The three men’s identity card details were recorded and they were then taken to the city police station, where they were interrogated by police lieutenant D. Tashoglo. “Again questions were asked about the internal life of the church,” the Baptists recounted. The three Baptists refused to sign the police record of the incident.
When they demanded to know why they had been detained, they were transferred to the local branch of the MGB. An officer in civilian clothes, who did not give his name, told the three: “You are free to go, but I am keeping the literature.” The MGB officers refused the Baptists’ repeated demands to explain why the books had been confiscated.
Baptist sources in the Transdniester capital of Tiraspol, who asked not to be named, told Forum 18 on April 29 that the confiscated books still have not been returned. However, the sources reported that 44 books confiscated under similar circumstances from a Baptist street library in the village of Krasnoe on Jan. 18 have now been returned.
Several Baptists have had fines imposed on them this year. Aleksandr Kulysh, of the church in Krasnoe, was fined twice for using a building on his land as a church. The authorities stated that because the congregation does not have registration, the church was built illegally. Kulysh should have paid the fines by April 1 but has refused, Baptists in Tiraspol told Forum 18, and he expects to be brought to court again for his refusal to pay. The Baptists have complained about the case to the Transdniestran Constitutional Court in Tiraspol.
The Baptists have repeatedly demanded that the Transdniestran authorities delete articles from the 1995 religion law that make registration of religious organizations compulsory and require religious leaders to undergo “accreditation” with the authorities. “The law does not leave space in the legal sphere for unregistered communities,” they stated. They have also called for the abolition of Article 200 of the Administrative Code, which specifies fines for those who lead unregistered religious communities, conduct unregistered religious rituals or who lead special religious activities for young people or musical activities not related directly to religious worship.
Forum 18 is an Internet news service focusing on persecuted Christians and other religious groups in the former Soviet Union and its satellite states. Its website is www.forum18.org.
Corley is editor of Forum 18 News Service.