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Russian pastor risks having house destroyed for hosting church services

by Heather Preston

A pastor in Russia could have his house torn down by the authorities after running allegedly illegal church meetings there.

The city administration of Novorossiysk has filed a  lawsuit against Pastor Vitaliy Bak who is the leader of a Baptist community in Southern Russia, ordering for the demolition of his house because religious worship services were held there.

Under Russian law, communities with the status of a religious group cannot own property and must therefore meet in residential buildings. The property was previously sealed off by the authorities in July 2019 based on the same allegations. 

"I bought this house for myself and my family. The Russian law says I can host religious meetings in my private property and that's what I was doing until the authorities came for us. It started with the threat of legal proceedings and culminated in a raid during a service and the forced closure of the building. Now I can't use my own property, my religious community has no place to meet, and my house may be demolished," Bak told Christian advocacy group ADF International.

ADF has accused the Russian authorities of violating Pastor Bak's rights to freedom of religion and have filed a case to the European Court of Human Rights to reopen his home as a place of worship. 

A letter to the court reads: "No one should be persecuted because of their faith. Everyone has the fundamental right to choose their religion and practice it alone and with others, in public and in private. 

"This is deeply concerning for religious minorities in Russia. Religious communities should be free to worship without government interference. Pastor Bak's case marks a dangerous return to darker times in history, when the places of worship of disfavored religious groups were routinely shut down and even demolished using the pretext of alleged administrative violations."

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