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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 23:52 GMT
Moscow bans Salvation Army
Elderly Moscow woman eating charity meal
Help for Moscow's poor is threatened
By Steve Rosenberg in Moscow

The authorities in Moscow have refused to re-register the Salvation Army, claiming it to be a dangerous group.

The ban has fuelled fears that religious freedom in Russia may be in danger, as the Russian Orthodox Church tries to assert its influence across the country.

They may feed the hungry and care for the sick, but to Moscow's Department of Justice, the Salvation Army is nothing more than a violent paramilitary group out to destroy the Russian state.

The officials' refusal to re-register it is strange, really.

After all, since 1992, when the Salvation Army set up in Moscow, it has provided humanitarian aid for nearly 900 different city organisations - everything from churches to prisons, hospitals to orphanages.

Now, though, it is the Army itself which is in need of help.

In one part of the city its meals-on-wheels service for the elderly has been suspended.

It faces eviction from some of its Moscow properties, and local police have been gate-crashing services to check documents.

Legal hurdle

So why has an organisationactive in more than 100 countries suddenly fallen foul of the authorities in Moscow?

The answer may lie with the law on religious organisations, passed in 1997.

That aimed to boost the power and influence of the Russian Orthodox Church at the expense of religious organisations from abroad.

All religious groups across Russia were required to re-register with the authorities by the end of last year if they wanted to continue to operate. Not all were successful.

But the Salvation Army has not given up yet. It is still praying that it will be re-registered on a federal level.

That would give it the chance to continue its charitable work in the Russian capital.

The Salvation Army is to be expelled from Moscow after a court ruled that its name and uniforms defined it as a "paramilitary organisation".

The Christian charity claims the real reason for its expulsion is its refusal to pay bribes.

It says that many homeless people will suffer this Christmas without their help.

Since 1992, when the Salvation Army set up in Moscow, it has provided humanitarian aid for nearly 900 different city organisations - everything from churches to prisons, hospitals to orphanages.

In January this year, Moscow's Department of Justice refused to re-register the organisation, claiming it was a violent paramilitary group out to destroy the Russian state.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow
The Russian Orthodox Church is suspicious of foreign Christian groups

In one part of the city its meals-on-wheels service for the elderly was suspended.

It faced eviction from some of its Moscow properties, and local police started gate-crashing services to check documents.

It is believed this sudden change of heart from the authorities may lie with the law on religious organisations, passed in 1997.

That aimed to boost the power and influence of the Russian Orthodox Church at the expense of religious organisations from abroad.

All religious groups across Russia were required to re-register with the authorities by the end of last year if they wanted to continue to operate. Not all were successful.

See also:

07 Jan 01 | Media reports
Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas
14 Aug 00 | Europe
Sainthood for last tsar
20 Oct 00 | Europe
Russian church on rail mission
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