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A Moscow court has ordered the local Salvation Army branch to close. Vladimir Ryakhovsky, a lawyer for the Moscow-based Slavic Center for Law and Justice, says the Army is appealing.

Judge Svetlana Grigoreva of the Tagansky district court issued an oral ruling on September 12. The Army's attorneys received the written ruling on September 28. Ryakhovsky says the order halting the branch's activities is unjustified.

The Army asked Grigoreva to delay her ruling until other Russian courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg respond to appeals, but she refused.

The Army's ministries in other cities will not be affected by this ruling and will continue to function under current regulations.

In a statement detailing the case, the Salvation Army called the court's action "a rush to judgment" that "perpetuated a pattern of arbitrary discrimination against the Army's basic religious rights."

Moscow authorities accuse the Army of violating a 1997 law that required religious organizations to register with the government by December 2000. Prosecutors also say the denomination did not keep government officials aware of its activities.

In court, the government said it was unaware of the Army's existence from 1998 through 2000 and that it therefore could petition the courts to close the Army's operations.

The Army says it tried to show the court "hundreds of pages of documents" that refuted the government's claim.

"Despite all the documents stacked on tables in front of her, and without looking at any of them," the statement said, "the judge entered the verdict for liquidation. The whole proceeding was over in minutes."

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November 12, 2001

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