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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Refuses to Ban Pentecostalists

A Russian court has rejected an attempt to ban a Pentecostalist church in the Far East under a controversial religion law, a defense lawyer said Friday.

Prosecutors in the port city of Magadan had accused the chief pastor of the Word of Life Pentecostalist Church of hypnotizing congregants in order to extort donations.

They tried to ban the congregation under a religion law that gives courts the right to outlaw religious groups that are found to be inciting hatred or intolerant behavior. The law has been used against several groups recently.

However, a Magadan court ruled Monday that the prosecutors' allegations had no legal basis, said Anatoly Pchelintsev, a lawyer working with the Slavic Center for Law and Justice in Moscow.

"The prosecutor's office bears responsibility for the situation that arose around this case," he said Friday.

The court also said that prosecutors had violated church members' rights by illegally videotaping church services and attempting to forge court documents.

The prosecutor in the case has until next week to appeal the case, and Pchelintsev said an appeal would definitely be filed. If the court's decision is not reversed, the congregants are expected to withdraw their appeal for asylum in the United States.

"This decision sends a powerful message to the government. ? Just because the Russian government doesn't like the way this church practices its Christianity, it cannot legally discriminate and harass church members," said Jay Sekulow, an American lawyer who worked with the Russian defense team.