Russians bust Lutheran “extremists”

The religious freedom organization Forum 18 tells of a police attack on a Lutheran church outside of Moscow:

Police in the town of Kaluga south-west of the Russian capital Moscow raided the Sunday morning service of St George’s Lutheran congregation on 28 February, Kaluga police, prosecutor’s office and the church's pastor Dmitry Martyshenko separately confirmed to Forum 18 News Service. Pastor Martyshenko told Forum 18 that eleven police officers armed with automatic weapons and accompanied by police dogs burst into the service, looking for alleged “extremist literature”. “Our explanations that the Bible and books of the [Lutheran] Augsburg Confession have nothing to do with extremist literature didn’t seem to convince them,” he told Forum 18 from Kaluga on 12 March.

Pastor Martyshenko told Forum 18 that when the armed officers burst in, they blocked the church doors to prevent anyone leaving or entering. They said they had received a report that “extremist literature” was present at the church. “They told us it was an anonymous call, but that they had to follow up on it.” While one officer openly filmed the search, another officer sat at the back filling in forms which she did not show to the congregation. “All the officers showed a highly negative attitude towards us,” Martyshenko told Forum 18.

Pastor Martyshenko said the police checked the only literature present at the church – Bibles and hymnbooks – as they hunted for the alleged extremist literature. He added that late-comers to the ordination service were prevented from entering to join the fifteen or so church members inside. He said the search lasted about one hour.

The service was also attended by Archbishop Iosif Baron of the Augsburg Lutheran Church, who had come to the church in Kaluga to ordain Martyshenko. Church members continued the service despite the interruption. . . .

While the congregation has been able to worship undisturbed since the 28 February raid, Pastor Martyshenko complained to Forum 18 of what he described as “hostility” to the Lutheran community locally. He said he believes this has stepped up since the community acquired its own worship building in December 2009.

He pointed to several negative articles in local newspapers since the beginning of 2010, particularly a 7 March attack in the paper published by the Kaluga branch of the United Russia political party. It described the community as a “Catholic sect” which has recently stepped up its “proselytism”. It described the 28 February raid as confirming accusations against the community, and particularly criticised Gorbatin.

via Forum 18 Search/Archive.