Date: December 20, 2019
DONBAS: Luhansk: Gospel of John, Baptist books banned
The unrecognised Luhansk People's Republic banned 12 Baptist books as
"extremist", including an edition of the Gospel of John in the widely-used
Russian Synodal translation. Officials refused to say why the books are
"extremist" and what will happen to those found with them. The ban came a
week after the Supreme Court overturned a court order to destroy seized
DONBAS: Luhansk: Gospel of John, Baptist books banned
By Felix Corley, Forum 18
The authorities of the unrecognised Luhansk People's Republic in eastern
Ukraine have banned 12 Baptist books – including the Gospel of John –
as "extremist". The 26 November ban came a week after Luhansk's Supreme
Court overturned part of a lower court decision that Christian books seized
from a Baptist pastor should be destroyed. The Supreme Court left the
pastor's fine of more than a month's average local wage.
As well as the Gospel of John, the banned "extremist" books also contain
the main hymnbook used by the Council of Churches Baptists, "Songs of
Revival", as well as their regular magazine and children's books (see
It remains unclear what will happen in Churches which, for example, might
read out the first verses of the Gospel of John from the Synodal Russian
translation during Christmas services.
The 26 November government decision banning the 12 Baptist books became
known in December, when the Justice Ministry's State List of Extremist
Materials was published on its website. The decision itself has not been
published, with one government official describing it as a "secret document
for official use and for limited distribution". It remains unclear
therefore why such books are regarded as "extremist" and who made this
decision (see below).
Justice Ministry officials in Luhansk refused to tell Forum 18 who
initiated the ban and why, insisting that is was "in accordance with the
law" (see below).
No official was prepared to explain what would happen to those found by
police or state security officers to have copies of the banned Christian
books. "Ask the law-enforcement agencies," a Justice Ministry official told
Forum 18. "Our job is only to manage the list." The duty officer at the
State Security Ministry said "it is difficult to say what will happen" to
those found in possession of any of these books (see below).
Pro-Russian rebels seized parts of Ukraine's Luhansk Region in March 2014
and the following month proclaimed what they called the Luhansk People's
Republic (LPR). Heavy fighting ensued. The rebel administration, which
currently controls about a third of Ukraine's Luhansk Region, has declared
a state of martial law.
Pro-Russian rebels similarly seized parts of Ukraine's Donetsk Region in
April 2014 and proclaimed what they called the Donetsk People's Republic
(DPR). Heavy fighting ensued. The rebel administration currently controls
nearly half of Ukraine's Donetsk Region. The rebel-held area adjoins the
rebel-held area of Luhansk Region.
Worship meetings banned or restricted
The internationally unrecognised authorities of the self-declared Luhansk
People's Republic (LPR) in 2018 banned all exercise of freedom of religion
and belief without the permission of the authorities. No Protestant
community received state permission to exist. Following this, "with great
pain" Seventh-day Adventist communities reluctantly decided to halt all
their activities to avoid "provoking unpleasantness" and the seizure of
church property, including musical instruments and communion vessels
Jehovah's Witnesses were banned
Baptist Union congregations were ordered to halt public meetings for
worship or be punishment. "Officials earlier didn't insist that our
churches should not meet for worship," Pastor Igor Bandura of the Ukrainian
Baptist Union told Forum 18. "But they have now sent a clear message that
they will not tolerate such meetings for worship any more"
"We don't have closed communities. Everything here is good. We have
received no complaints", an official told Forum 18 in October 2019
As is their right under international human rights law
congregations (who are not part of Baptist Unions) in all territories they
operate in refuse to apply for state permission to exist. The unrecognised
LPR authorities' Religion Law bans all non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox
churches from applying for state permission to exist, and the Orthodox
Church of Ukraine – the successor of the Kiev Patriarchate – has not
applied for registration for its Luhansk cathedral and another parish in
the rebel-controlled territory. Jehovah's Witnesses also did not apply for
state permission to exist, pointing out that "the registration procedure
implies the revealing of personal information on the worshippers who could
easily become new targets"
In March 2019 officials raided Protestant Sunday meetings for worship, and
in April raided the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's Holy Trinity Cathedral in
Luhansk, diocesan offices, and the homes of two priests, taking priests
away for interrogation
involved the planting by raiders of allegedly "extremist" material, as
happened during a February 2019 raid on an independent Baptist Church
after raids Protestant pastors have been fined and had property confiscated
for leading meetings for worship without state permission
Meetings for worship without state permission remain banned in all
Protestant churches and Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Halls, and with no
permanently resident priest Catholics hold Mass by Skype – meaning that
they cannot receive communion, an essential part of the Mass. Rebels
leaders have banned clergy from outside rebel-controlled territory from
visiting their fellow believers, so many communities are isolated from
their fellow believers
12 "extremist" Christian books
In a 26 November government decision, 12 books published by the Khristianin
publishing house run by the Council of Churches Baptists were banned as
"extremist". The Justice Ministry then added the 12 books to the State List
of Extremist Materials, which it published on its website in December. The
List now has 13 entries.
Of the 13 items on the List, the only other book formally declared
"extremist" is a collection of songs by a Chechen composer.
The computer formatting of the list is very similar to the Republican List
of Extremist Materials in the neighbouring rebel-held Donetsk People's
December, the Donetsk List contains 45 entries, including the Jehovah's
Witness international website, many Jehovah's Witness publications, and
several Muslim works. However, in Donetsk items are banned not by
government decision but by the Supreme Court.
The 12 Baptist books banned as "extremist" in Luhansk include the Gospel of
John. The Council of Churches Baptists use the 19th century Synodal
translation of the Bible into Russian, which is widely used by other
Christian Churches in the Russian-speaking world, including the Russian
Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate and many Protestant Churches.
Other books on the List include the main hymnbook used by the Council of
Churches Baptists, "Songs of Revival", as well as their regular magazine
"Herald of Truth" and children's books.
The 26 November government decision banning the 12 books has not been
published. An official of the government department handling citizens'
calls – who did not give her name - told Forum 18 from Luhansk on 20
December that the decision is a "secret document for official use and for
limited distribution". She refused to comment on the content, referring all
questions to the Justice Ministry.
Yelena Tsvetkova, the head of the Registration Department at the Justice
Ministry, said that the government banning decision is not public. She
insisted to Forum 18 from Luhansk on 20 December that all is in accordance
with the law. She cited the February 2018 Law on Countering Extremist
Activity, which established the List.
The 2018 Law defines "extremist materials" as those calling for or
justifying "extremist activity", including the works of leaders of the
German Nazi party and the Italian fascist party, espousing ethnic or racial
superiority, or justifying war crimes aiming to destroy all or part of an
ethnic, social, racial or religious group.
Tsvetkova was unable to say in which category officials have placed the 12
Baptist books. She declined to discuss why the Gospel of John – as part
of the Christian Bible widely read in Christian worship meetings and
privately – was banned as "extremist". It remains unclear what will
happen in Churches which, for example, might read out the first verses of
the Gospel of John during Christmas services.
Tsvetkova was also unable to say who had initiated the ban.
What punishment for those with banned Christian books?
Forum 18 was unable to find out from officials in Luhansk what will happen
to individuals or communities found to be in possession of any of the 12
banned Christian books.
"Ask the law-enforcement agencies," Yelena Tsvetkova of the Justice
Ministry official told Forum 18. "Our job is only to manage the list."
The duty officer at the State Security Ministry in Luhansk said that the
Acting State Security Minister, Anatoly Antonov, was not in the office. The
duty officer – who did not give his name – told Forum 18 on 20 December
that "it is difficult to say what will happen" to those found in possession
of any of these books. The duty officer added that he could not say which
department of the Ministry handles extremism issues. "You're asking too
many questions," he added, and then put the phone down.
Officials at the Interior Ministry in Luhansk (which controls the police)
referred Forum 18 to Aleksei Melnik, the head of the office of Interior
Minister Igor Kornet. "Anyone who spreads extremist literature will be
dealt with in accordance with the law," Melnik told Forum 18 on 20
December. "There is the Criminal Code and the Administrative Code."
Melnik refused to explain if anyone who possesses the Gospel of John in the
Synodal translation will face prosecution or not. He then put the phone
Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 on 19 December that officials
had told them of the ban on 12 of their publications, but had not told them
what would happen to them if they are found to be in possession of any of
Literature destruction order overturned
On 18 November – just over a week before the government banned the 12
Baptist publications - a panel of judges at the Supreme Court in Luhansk
overturned part of a lower court decision ordering seized Christian books
to be destroyed.
On 4 August police raided the Sunday meeting for worship of the Council of
Churches Baptist congregation in Krasnodon [official Ukrainian name
Sorokyne]. Officials then brought charges against Pastor Pyotr Tatarenko.
On 7 October, Judge Yuliya Kudrevatykh of Krasnodon Town and District Court
found Tatarenko guilty (http://www.forum18.org/archiv
under Administrative Code Article 20.2, Part 2 ("Violation of the
established procedure for organising or conducting gatherings, meetings,
demonstrations, processions or pickets").
Judge Kudrevatykh fined him 7,000 Russian Roubles (the LPR uses the Russian
Rouble). This represents more than a month's average local wage for those
in formal work. The Judge also ordered that 20 Christian books seized from
Pastor Tatarenko be destroyed.
Judge Kudrevatykh's assistant refused to explain why the Judge had fined
Pastor Tatarenko and others for exercising freedom of religion or belief
and why the Judge had ordered his books destroyed. "Court decisions cannot
be discussed," the assistant told Forum 18 on 20 December. "All was in
accordance with the law." Told that the Supreme Court had overturned the
book destruction order, the assistant responded: "The Supreme Court is
responsible for its own decisions taken in accordance with the law."
Pastor Tatarenko appealed against the decision to the Supreme Court. In its
18 November decision, the Court left the fine of 7,000 Russian Roubles
unchanged, but cancelled the order to destroy the 20 books, local Baptists
told Forum 18 on 19 December. They said he is not intending to appeal
Baptists said the 20 seized Christian books have not been returned and
officials have not told them what they intend to do with them. They
insisted that Pastor Tatarenko will not pay the fine.
Council of Churches Baptists have adopted a policy of civil disobedience in
all the countries where they operate, refusing to pay fines handed down to
punish them for exercising freedom of religion or belief.
After another Krasnodon Baptist Pastor Pavel Rytikov refused to pay a
similar fine, the same Judge Kudrevatykh on 18 October ordered him to
conduct 20 hours' community service.
On 7 November, in a separate case, Pastor Rytikov lodged a further appeal
to the Supreme Court against a 20 June fine for leading worship, according
to his appeal seen by Forum 18. He lost his first appeal at the Supreme
Court on 21 October.
Baptists told Forum 18 that the last time police raided any of their
communities was in August. (END)
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