Salvation Army wins the right to stay in Moscow

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The Independent Online

The Salvation Army in Moscow has won its appeal against being labelled a subversive paramilitary group by the Russian authorities.

The ruling ends three years of legal wrangling after the authorities pointed to Salvation Army uniforms and its use of ranks as indicators that it was dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government.

Russia's Constitutional Court overruled earlier decisions that declared it illegal and allowed the organisation, which feeds 7,000 homeless people a month in the capital, to be given charitable status.

Colonel Kenneth Baillie, who heads the Salvation Army's operations in Russia and four other former Communist countries, said: "We are thankful to God that our ministries have not been closed down. We only want to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and serve suffering humanity."

The problems started when the Salvation Army, which has been in Moscow since 1992, applied for re-registration as a charity five years later in response to a change in law.

During the tortuous process of trying to remain in Moscow, the Salvation Army first found that different courts claimed to have no jurisdiction over the case and then, on another occasion, the city's lawyer filed documents alleging that the group might be plotting an insurrection.

The new legislation behind all the difficulties had been championed by the Russian Orthodox Church and was primarily aimed at consolidating its position. Since the fall of Communism, it has tried to recover the status it enjoyed under the Tsars when it was the official state church. The Salvation Army will now have to resubmit an application to the city's Ministry of Justice.

The Salvation Army has six sites for religious services in the Russian capital. Its representatives also visit prisons, provide home care for the elderly and run soup kitchens for the hungry in train stations.