On 5 March, St Petersburg's Harvest Pentecostal Church's appeal against its closure was rejected by Russia's Supreme Court. The court upheld a ruling on 14 November that the church had been conducting general (non-religious) educational work, which, as a religious organisation, it was not licensed to do.
The church had been subjected to an unannounced inspection in May 2013 by officials purportedly checking for "extremist" activity. It was fined for minor violations of fire and sanitary regulations, and the pastor was later summoned to attend the liquidation hearing.
A case was brought against Harvest Church because, the Prosecutor's Office said, its premises were "equipped as classrooms with school desks and chairs [and] shelves with educational literature". St Petersburg City Court ruled that the church was running an eksternat, an external/home schooling programme.
The church said that it simply allowed its building to be used for the eksternat and was not involved in the teaching, which was done by children's pastor Yekaterina Lipovskaya and her assistant in their own time, unrelated to their employment by the church.
Harvest Church lawyer Sergei Chugunov told Forum 18 that the prosecutor need not have sought to shut down the church over this matter: "[They] could simply have demanded an end to the activities they deemed illegal, and taken action in the event of disobedience. But apparently it was decided to resort immediately to the most extreme measure â liquidation."
The decision means that Harvest Church has lost the right to own or rent property. It nevertheless continues to meet for worship and intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Elsewhere in Russia, church-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres are facing state harassment, which appears intended to close them down. One, run by Exodus Pentecostal Church in Taganrog, Rostov-on-Don, has already voluntarily ended its rehabilitation work after being taken to court last year over alleged violations of fire and sanitation regulations.
Two other centres in the Rostov-on-Don region have also been targeted. One, in Duvanovka, was raided on 22 March; everyone present was taken away for questioning. This raid followed an attempt to shut down the centre last year. A court ruled in June 2013 that it should be closed after it was found to be unregistered, in breach of sanitary regulations and lacking a licence or qualified staff to carry out medical and pharmaceutical work. But this ruling was overturned in August 2013.
The other centre, in Krasny Luch, was inspected by police â who failed to show a search warrant â on 17 January on suspicion of illegal detention, forced manual labour, drug possession and illegal business activities. Nothing of the kind was found, but the rehabilitation centre's patients were taken in for questioning. No charges were brought.
A drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre run by Exodus church in Smolino in the Chelyabinsk region is also being investigated. It was inspected on 28 February, and a subsequent Interior Ministry report said that the police and security services are "continuing a set of measures aimed at collecting evidence and documenting the illegal activity of participants of the Exodus Church".