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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Protestants See Rise in Intolerance

Protestant officials said Tuesday that discrimination and intolerance is increasing in Russia, citing 10 arson attacks in the past two years and an incident in which the police violently broke up an anti-drug rally.

Before each arson attack, believers received threats from people who identified themselves as patriots, officials said at a news conference. Among the properties set ablaze were Baptist churches in Chekhov and Balashikha near Moscow.

Pentecostal pastor Andrei Bashmakov said the Russian Orthodox Church was at least partially responsible for the difficulties. He said Orthodox officials did not want do deal with rival faiths and were using influence with the authorities to remove them.

Bashmakov, who leads a congregation in Lisky in the Voronezh region and organized the anti-drug rally in late August, showed a video of the police violently breaking up the meeting.

The footage showed men and women scattering and officers stuffing others into police vehicle. The detainees were shown walking out of a police station later that day with bruises on the backs.

Police said the believers did not have a permit to hold a rally, said Anatoly Pchelintsev, co-chairman of the Slavic Legal Center, a human rights organization that supports Protestants.

But, Pchelintsev said, the only permission needed was for a venue. Lisky officials were contacted a month before the rally and they proposed a number of far-flung sites that the believers considered unacceptable, he said. Some officials insisted that the group coordinate the rally with the Orthodox Church, he said. In the end, no permit was issued.

There are some 15,000 Protestant congregations in Russia, second only to the Orthodox Church, Pchelintsev said.