Armed officers from Russia’s Federal Security Service disrupted a Christian conference in the town of Ramenskoye, near Moscow, on 2 December, confining attendees in the conference building for around ten hours.
Several dozen officers from the Centre for Combating Extremism (known as “Centre E”) burst into the building towards the end of the conference, wearing bulletproof vests and armed with machine guns.
Before being released the majority of attendees were charged with an “administrative offence” – that is, an act considered to violate “the rules and norms” of the Russian Federation – because the Christian ministry that had organised the event had been declared an “undesirable” foreign organisation.
Attendees could be fined 5,000-15,000 roubles (£50-£150; $68-$204; €60-€180) if they are judged to have committed an administrative offence by taking part in the activities of a foreign organisation deemed “undesirable”.
Having entered the building, security officers aimed their guns at the attendees – including women and children – forcing them to lie face down on the floor.
Some pastors in attendance were kicked as they lay on the floor, despite offering no resistance, and some sustained injuries. Several women were taken ill owing to the stress of being held, while a Barnabas Fund contact says that many of the children “thought that the building was seized by terrorists”.
The contact describes the armed men as “loudly speaking with obscene language”, and said that anybody who asked the reason for the intrusion was met with the answer “shut up” or “shut your mouth”.
After this the officers confiscated mobile phones and took swabs from those in attendance, supposedly as a Covid-19 test (though no results were ever returned).
“We want to serve for the good of our country”
“We are extremely concerned about this event, as we have not done anything illegal,” said our contact, explaining that the conference had been organised entirely lawfully.
“The irony lies in the fact that the armed security forces burst into the hall at the very moment when questions about legislation and the implementation of activities in accordance with the law were raised,” he added.
“We, as citizens of Russia, are interested in the legality of our actions. We pray for and bless Russia – we want to serve for the good of our country. But such actions of ‘law enforcement officers’ armed to the teeth undermine the credibility of the authorities in the most monstrous way.
“In this situation, we felt unprotected against the arbitrariness of the security forces, our religious feelings were offended in the most blasphemous way, our children saw all this injustice and arbitrariness, being unwitting participants in these events.
“Now we do not know exactly which of our religious events will be ranked by the security forces as participating in the activities of undesirable organisations.
“After all, now, judging by everything that happened, armed people will be able to break into any Christian congregation under the guise of it being an ‘undesirable organisation’ and mock believers, including women and children.”
From Barnabas Fund contacts