Russian police raid Moscow center for Scientology

Associated Press/February 26, 1999
By Greg Myre

MOSCOW -- Police seized boxes of documents from the Scientology movement and questioned its leaders today, in the latest government action against religious groups in Russia.

Tax police and other security services spent 16 hours confiscating materials from the Scientologists' Moscow center on Thursday, and they returned today to question the leaders, the group said.

Authorities said they were investigating possible tax evasion and other financial irregularities.

Russian authorities have moved against a number of religious organizations following the passage of a 1997 law that placed widespread restrictions on "nontraditional" faiths.

The dominant Russian Orthodox Church strongly supports the law and often speaks out against religious groups that have been arriving in Russia since the Soviet breakup in 1991.

The Scientologists said the investigation against them was politically motivated.

"Cruelty was in the air during this visit (by the tax police), which has reminded us that Russia has not yet acquired the right of freedom -- freedom to think and act in accordance with the convictions of conscience," Alexei Danchenkov, a Scientologist spokesman, said in a statement.

Some 200 students a week attend classes at the Scientologists' center in Moscow, said Danchenkov.

Human rights groups say the religious law is reminiscent of anti-religion drives during the Soviet era, when the Communists decreed an official policy of atheism and many religious groups had to operate underground.

Other current religious cases include:

  • In St. Petersburg, more than 40 teachers and children at a Christian school have been holed up inside their building since Tuesday, under the eye of police in combat fatigues outside. The city gave the Society of Open Christianity a rent-free lease on the aging building in 1991, but are now demanding it back. The group wants a new site for their school.
  • Moscow prosecutors are seeking to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses in an ongoing trial. Prosecutors have accused the group of "aggressive proselytism" and describe it as a cult that destroys families, fosters hatred and threatens lives.
  • In the eastern city of Magadan, authorities have sought for months to close the Word of Life Pentecostalist Church. A prosecutor has accused church leaders of hypnotizing people, while tax police and security services have conducted raids and interrogations. Earlier this month, 400 church members applied for asylum in the United States.

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