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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Salvation Army Trial Set for Sept. 11

A Moscow court on Monday set a date — Sept. 11 — for a trial into the city's bid to shut down the Salvation Army's activities here, renewing concerns about religious freedom in Russia.

The Moscow government says the Salvation Army did not register on time and failed to regularly report its activities to authorities. But the missionary group, which operates soup kitchens and other charity works, says its troubles stem from a strict 1997 religious law championed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Tagansky district court in Moscow will hear the case, brought by the Justice Ministry's Moscow branch, on Sept. 11, Judge Svetlana Grigoreva announced.

Several groups have had troubles since the passage of the religion law, which sets strict registration rules for all but the three "traditional" religious groups in Russia: Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism and Islam.

Captain Adam Morales, a spokesman for the Salvation Army, conceded Monday that his group had not submitted an annual report to authorities since 1999, and that it had not been able to register until February — after the Dec. 31, 2000 deadline.

Still, he said the group had been in regular communication with justice officials over its registration woes.

"We sent them documents every month and we talked to them. How do they not know that we exist?" he said in exasperation.

The Salvation Army was denied registration in Moscow in 1999 and then sued over it, to no avail. It then took the case to the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, which on May 22 accepted it for consideration, Morales said.

Vladimir Zhbankov, a Justice Ministry official, insisted the case was a purely legal issue.

"We do not reject anyone for ideological considerations. The main thing for us is observance of our laws," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

The Salvation Army operated briefly in tsarist Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution, and returned after the 1991 Soviet collapse. It is also active in other Russian regions, where it has not had serious registration troubles. Those chapters will not be affected by a verdict in the Moscow case.

Yelena Speranskaya, a spokeswoman for the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow patriarchate, denied that the church was behind the Salvation Army's legal troubles. But she added that the Orthodox Church regards humanitarian activities by the Salvation Army as "an attempt to win over believers," Interfax reported.