The 1994-96 war between Russia and its breakaway province of Chechnya effectively ended Moscow's control over this predominantly Muslim region of the north Caucasus. But while Chechnya is largely free of Russian rule, it now has fallen prey to near anarchy. A kidnappers' reign of terror is driving off foreign investment and international relief aid and even threatens to topple the government of President Aslan Maskhadov.
According to the Russian government, armed bands abducted over 200 people in Chechnya and the neighboring provinces of Daghestan, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia in 1998 alone (BBC News Online, 30 December 1998). Between 150 and 550 persons were being held for ransom as of late 1998 (Compass Direct, 28 October 1998; and Reuters, 13 November 1998). By various estimates, victims include up to 400 Russian soldiers, seven Daghestan police, and 100 or more expatriate businessmen, relief workers, and missionaries (Compass Direct, 28 October 1998).
Eleven Christian workers are known to have been taken prisoner in 1997-98 in Chechnya and neighboring Daghestan and Ingushetia. (See chart.) Besides TEAM missionary Herbert Gregg, two others remain in captivity: Rev. Alexander Sitnikov of the Grozny Evangelical Christian-Baptist Church (ECB) and Father Issihiy of the Grozny Russian Orthodox Church, both abducted on 9-10 October 1998.
Members of Rev. Sitnikov's ECB congregation have been subjected to telephone threats, extortion demands, and beatings. Chechnya's general lawlessness and the kidnapping of Rev. Sitnikov prompted the leadership of the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Church in Moscow in 21-23 October meetings to recommend the departure of the congregation from Grozny and its resettlement in Russia (Radiotserkov, 7 November 1998). As of January 1999 no evacuation of the ECB congregation had taken place. A. D. Samoshkin, an ECB church worker in Vladikavkaz, is circulating a list of 58 Grozny church members who want to leave Chechnya for resettlement in Russia. An accompanying report by Samoshkin dated 12 January 1999 notes:
The situation in Chechnya is very complicated due to lawlessness, robbery, murder, theft, and violence. No one knows when this suffering will end. I have proposed to the leadership of our [ECB] Union and to some Christian brothers from abroad that we organize the evacuation of all the [Evangelical Christian-Baptist] Christians from the church in Grozny. So far we have had no results. (Samoshkin report in editor's possession.)
Christian Workers Kidnapped in the Caucasus
|Name||Citizenship||Organization||Date and Location of Abduction||Released||Source|
|British||Center for Peacemaking and Community Development (Quaker)||July 1997 - Grozny||20 Sept. 1998||Associated Press, 22 Sept. 1998|
|Russian||International Orthodox Christian Charities||20 Sept. 1997 - Ingushetia||24 March 1998
11 Aug. 1998
|International Orthodox Christian Charities News and Needs Online 1; (Spring 1998), 1; Blagovest Info, 17 Aug. 1998|
|Hungarian||Hungarian Church Aid||23 Sept. 1997 - Grozny||25 July 1998||East-West Church & Ministry Report 6 (Summer 1998), 11; Religion Today, 29 July 1998|
|Daniel and Pauline Brolin||Swedish||Youth With A Mission||8 Jan. 1998 - Makachkala, Daghestan||23 June 1998||Compass Direct, 20 March 1998|
|Alexander Sitnikov||Russian||Evangelical Christian-Baptist||9 Oct. 1998 - Grozny||Compass Direct, 28 Oct. and 20 Nov. 1998|
|Fr. Issihiy||Russian||Russian Orthodox||10 Oct. 1998 - Grozny||Compass Direct, 28 Oct. and 20 Nov. 1998|
|Herbert Gregg||United States||The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM)||11 Dec. 1998 - Makhachkala, Daghestan||TEAM press release, 15 Nov. 1998|
Civil charges filed against the Moscow Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses on 6 August 1998 claimed that the group's adherents, active in Russia for more than 100 years, "destroy families, foster hatred, and drive their members to insanity and suicide." This lawsuit is the first court attempt to disband a religious group under terms of Russia's 1997 law on religion. The trial, begun in September but postponed several times, resumed on 9 February 1999. Prosecutors have secured testimony from a specialist at the Serbski Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, infamous for its incarceration and abuse of dissidents in Soviet times. Ludmila Alekseeva, president of the Moscow Helsinki Group, fears the impact this trial may have on other minority groups: "What happens today with Jehovah's Witnesses should be at the center of attention of all human rights organizations, since the precedent created by the case will have serious consequences for all religious minorities." Diederik Lohman, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, sees the Jehovah's Witnesses trial as "a major test case" because, if prosecutors win, "they can easily use it as a precedent to close down groups throughout Russia."
Detailed information on the case is available in English and Russian at http://www.jw-russia.org. See also Maura Reynolds, "Jehovah's Witnesses Under Fire in Russia," Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 February 1999; and Anna Astakhova, "If You Don't Like It, You're No Patriot!," Segodnia, 23 November 1998, available in English at http://www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/9811b.html#18; and in Russian at http://www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/jehovah231198.html.
Galina Starovoitova, 52, Duma member and strong defender of human rights, was murdered by automatic weapon fire outside the entrance to her St. Petersburg home around midnight, 20-21 November 1998. Her aide, journalist Ruslan Linkov, was wounded. Thousands of mourners paid their respects at a 24 November 1998 funeral in the ornate Marble Hall of St. Petersburg's Museum of Ethnography. Among bouquets left at the grave in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery was one that read: "From Ruslan. Galina, forgive me that I didn't protect you." Starovoitova was one of the few Duma deputies to oppose the 1997 Russian law on religion. Her pro-democracy views earned her many enemies, especially among Communists and nationalists. Her assassination is widely regarded to have been politically motivated. Father Viktor Klinkukhov of the Church of the Archangel Michael in Troparyov, Moscow, secretly baptized Starovoitova on Orthodox Christmas Day, 7 January 1996. Unlike many other public figures she did not try to gain political advantage by public association with Orthodoxy.
For more information see: Lawrence A. Uzzell, "Defender of Religious Freedom Slain in St. Petersburg," Keston News Service (KNS), 21 November 1998; Xenia Dennen, "How Galina Starovoitova Quietly Became an Orthodox Christian," KNS, 15 December 1998; and Celestine Bohlen, "Russian Deputy Is Given a Funeral Marred by Dread," New York Times, 25 November 1998, available at http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/europe/112598russia-funeral.html.
On 22 December 1998 an unknown assailant shot and killed Protestant layman Vadim Privezentsev outside his Moscow apartment. An employee of Otis Elevator Company of England, he previously worked for several years as manager of St. Petersburg Christian Publishing. Privezentsev became a Christian through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ at Leningrad State University and was nurtured in his faith through St. Petersburg's Salvation Army Corp, established in 1991.
Source: William T. Greig II, Chairman, Gospel Light, Ventura, CA.
Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service Moscow correspondent, has been named director of Keston Institute, Oxford, England, effective March 1999. Keston Institute, founded by Canon Michael Bourdeaux, for decades has been a leading champion of religious rights in Communist and post-Communist states. Uzzell, a graduate of Yale University, is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy from the Episcopal Church. At the same time, he has been an ardent defender of the rights of non-Orthodox believers in the former Soviet Union.
Source: KNS, 4 August 1998.
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