(Washington) - The United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman today expressed dismay over the recent Moscow district court ruling to allow “liquidation” of the city's branch of the Salvation Army.
“I am mystified and troubled by this ruling,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “Once again, no good deed goes unpunished. The Salvation Army provides free meals to many of Moscow’s underprivileged, and now it is being told to cease and desist its activities because of a technical error in its registration petition. Justice might better be tempered with mercy in this case.”
“Those who suffer most will be the poor and hungry of Moscow,” Smith added. “Nations have a right to uphold their laws, but law is supposed to serve the people, not make their lives more difficult.”
A Moscow municipal court has upheld a lower court decision denying the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army its “legal personality” and has ordered it to cease its activities in the Russian capital. The denial was allegedly due to a minor technicality in the application for registration. In 1998, city prosecutors attempted to close down the Salvation Army presence in Moscow, asserting it was a paramilitary organization because of the word “army” in its name, and uniforms and military titles for members.
Founded in London in 1865 by evangelist William Booth, the Salvation Army currently operates in about 80 countries and in 28 other Russian cities. The Salvation Army’s presence in Russia dates as far back as 1913.
Meanwhile, the Keston Institute reports that Moscow officials have acceded to the demands of a “district community” not to permit a Pentecostal church to build a new worship center in western Moscow on land that had been previously allocated to the church. According to a representative, the church stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars were it forced to abandon the property and may be forced to challenge the decision in court.
A local newspaper has called the Emmanuel Church “a new-Pentecostal movement brought here from the U.S.” “I hope,” said Co-Chairman Smith, “that local officials have not been influenced by prejudice and unfounded charges against a religious minority. I urge the city officials to use every appropriate opportunity to see that religious liberty is ensured for all living in Moscow.”
For more information about the situation of the Salvation Army in Moscow, materials from the Helsinki Commission’s October 11, 2001 briefing on “Religious Registration in the OSCE Region” are available at http://www.csce.gov, as are other materials regarding “freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.”
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.