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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#14 - JRL 7228
From: Lawrence Uzzell <Lauzzell@aol.com>
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003
Subject: reply to John Helmer/7227

Contrary to John Helmer's overwrought comment in JRL #7227, I did not assert that Baptist student Andrew Okhotin's current ordeal is necessarily a case of religious persecution. I think it's more likely just business as usual at Sheremetevo Airport, i.e. corruption. If the target of opportunity had been a journalist or a secular charity worker rather than a religious activist, I think the behavior of the Russian officials would have been essentially the same. But in that case I doubt that Mr. Helmer would have written such an unbalanced article, giving all the benefit of the doubt to the Russian bureaucrats and none to their victim. I also doubt that he would have played on our emotions with irrelevant jabs at "fanatics" and asides about George W. Bush's foreign policies, tarring the victim with guilt by association.

I repeat: the threat of religious persecution continues to hang over Mr. Okhotin's fellow "initsiativniki" Baptists in Russia. If I had been in Mr. Okhotin's position, I too would have declined to specify just who would be receiving the donations from America. To treat this as suspicious behavior is to play right into the hands of the enemies of a genuinely free and pluralistic society--enemies who lately have been gaining strength in Russia.

Mr. Helmer seems to have more faith than many of us in the Russian legal process--at least in cases where Russian bureaucrats are harassing people whom Mr. Helmer dislikes such as religious believers. If he himself should ever experience such harassment, I hope that supporters of freedom of the press will not "wait for the Russian legal process to reach its end" before speaking up in his behalf.

Mr. Helmer also raises the issue of so-called "proselytism." Most western journalists insist (correctly) that advocates of secular belief systems--feminists, environmentalists, libertarians, socialists--should be free to try to convince Russians to accept their ideas. Religious believers such as Mr. Okhotin have the same moral and legal right, ostensibly guaranteed by Russia's own constitution. Unfortunately Russian officials often infringe on that right in practice, and such infringements receive too little attention because too many western observers are not interested in the rights of people whose religious beliefs they do not share. The next time Mr. Helmer writes about church-state relations in Russia, I hope he will keep a better grip on his prejudices.

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