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Russian Protestant Leader and Former Businessman Under House Arrest

BY JEREMY REYNALDS                                                                          ©2013 ASSIST News Service

On Russia's national evening news on June 13, viewers saw the unshaven and ailing Alexander Trofimovich Semchenko, one of Russia's best-known Protestants, opening the door of his house early that morning to law enforcement.

They were there to arrest Semchenko, who had recently suffered a mild stroke, as part of an investigation. 

The claim is that during reconstruction of the Bolshoy and Malyi Theaters between 2005 and 2007, Semchenko's company stole approximately 100 million rubles (about 33 million US dollars) from the state.

According to an article by William Yoder, of the Russian Evangelical Alliance in Moscow, Semchenko, both a church philanthropist and businessman, then spent the next 48 hours in jail.

Yoder said during that time, the police searched Semchenko’s house, business and denominational offices. He is now under house arrest and wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.

Yoder said on the issue of allegedly corrupt business dealings, Protestants say only a court can untangle the complicated mess.

Yoder wrote that while Pastor Leonid Kartavenko, probably Semchenko's closest associate, told the BBC, "This is religious repression and has nothing to do with economics,” he admitted he was unfamiliar with the details of the business issues involved.

Yoder said Protestant observers have universally condemned the way Semchenko was arrested.

Yoder said Pastor Yuri Sipko spoke of sadism and claimed, “This is as in the days of Stalin. They (government representatives) have been humiliated, and they compensate for their humiliation by humiliating others. They are a disgrace to Russia. They have performed a medieval orgy with ultra modern means.”

Sipko was president of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptists (RUECB) until March 2010. He and Semchenko had a harsh ending of their long term relationship in February 2008.

In spite of their differences, Sipko was willing to speak up for Semchenko. Yoder said they may not like each other much, but at least in this case they have a common adversary-the government.

After the Feb. 2008 break, Yoder said, Semchenko became bishop of a tiny Evangelical Christian denomination and formed the “All Russian Fellowship of Evangelical Christians” (VSEKh). It is a loose association of 700 congregations with some Pentecostal ties.

Yoder said there has also been a chorus of evangelical support expressing appreciation for Semchenko. Sipko spoke for many when he called him a “renowned altruist and philanthropist, a gifted leader with great vision.”

Semchenko was talented enough to realize most of his dreams. Yoder said Alexey Smirnov, Sipko's successor as RUECB president, wrote that the accused “has done many good things as a Christian - not only for the church, but also in general for the well being of our country.”


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