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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Evicted U.S. Pastor Gets Visa to Return to Far East

NEW YORK -- Dan Pollard, an American missionary who was evicted from Russia in March under a new law that restricts minority religious groups, has been granted a visa for three months to return to his church in Vanino, a remote port town in the Far East.

He received the visa Thursday from the Russian Consulate in Seattle and planned to leave for Russia over the weekend.

Under the religion law passed last year, Pollard's congregation has fewer legal rights than before because it has neither 15 years of documented history in Russia nor ties with a larger religious body. The law also makes it illegal for independent congregations like Pollard's to have a foreigner as its pastor.

In March, the independent Baptist missionary was refused accreditation as a pastor by a regional official in charge of religious affairs in Khabarovsk in eastern Siberia.

Pollard says that now, in order to extend his stay beyond three months, he must reapply to that same official for accreditation.

Pollard's case had been pressed by the U.S. State Department and several members of Congress. But Pollard says he was granted a visa only because his attorney in Russia secured an invitation for him from a Russian religious group, which he declined to identify.

He hopes to preach again in his church in Vanino next Sunday.

Advocates of religious freedom have warned that regional governments would use the law "On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations," enacted Oct. 1, to discriminate against selected religions. Pollard's case has given them fodder in their campaign against the law.

The missionary said he went to Vanino, which has a population of 25,000, in 1992. Local authorities gave him a piece of land, where he built a wood-frame church. Pollard moved his family to Vanino in 1994.