Siberian police, religious sect end standoff

Reuters/March 3, 1999

Moscow -- Police on Wednesday ended their siege of a building in a remote Siberian town where about 60 members of a religious sect had been holed up for three days and had asked to be shot dead, officials said.

"The standoff ended peacefully. The members of the sect offered no resistance when police entered the building," said Sergei Litvinenko, head of the local administration in the Aldanskaya region of Russia's vast eastern Yakutia province.

He told Reuters by telephone that the women and children in the group had been taken to hospital for checks and that the men were being questioned by police.

The group, which earlier on Wednesday has asked police to shoot them dead saying the police would be forgiven, was not officially registered, Litvinenko said.

The group of evangelical Christians locked themselves in the administrative building on Sunday evening demanding compensation for timber they had provided for local residents.

But they subsequently rejected offers of money, broke off negotiations with the police and began singing and praying.

Evangelical Christians and other religious groups have experienced a revival in Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union brought an end to 70 years of official atheism.

But both the secular authorities and Russia's own 1,000-year-old Orthodox Church have often expressed scepticism toward less conventional religious movements.

Speaking in Moscow on Wednesday, Patriarch Alexiy, head of the influential Orthodox Church, criticised the activities of minority religious sects.

"Russia has been flooded by sects of a destructive nature which often cripple people's souls," he told reporters.

The Orthodox Church strongly supports a controversial religion law which imposes curbs on minority religious groups and has been condemned as discriminatory by human rights groups.

Under the 1997 law, Moscow prosecutors are seeking to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses in a court case that is being monitored closely by human rights groups.

Last week police raided the Moscow offices of the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.