Thugs Attack Christian Publisher in Ukraine

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Brutal assault aimed at silencing pro-democracy advocate.

by David Miller

MIAMI, December 9 (Compass) -- A brutal attack on a Christian book publisher in Ukraine has underscored the high stakes struggle over human rights and religious liberty in the former Soviet republic preparing for a re-run of a sharply contested presidential election.

On December 2, two unidentified men assaulted Stanislav Kasprov, director of the Smirna publishing house, outside company offices in Cherkassy, a city 110 miles south of Kiev. They beat Kasprov with a ball bat, leaving him bloodied and barely conscious.

At press time, Kasprov’s attackers remain at large and their motives are unknown. Evidence suggests, however, that former operatives of the now defunct KGB may have perpetrated the assault.

Kasprov said he was about to leave that Thursday evening for the village of Verguni to conduct a weekly worship service at a church he pastors there.

“Having approached the door, I heard someone calling me, ‘Stanislav, may I have your attention for a moment?’ There were two young men near the gate to the street.”

Kasprov could not see the pair clearly in the gathering dusk, but one of them asked him if he were going to a service to Verguni.

“Yes,” Kasprov answered.

“I have a brief question for you,” the man said.

When Kasprov approached to listen to the young man’s question, the stranger suddenly hit him in the left eye with what appeared to be brass knuckles. Kasprov reeled and the second assailant hit him on the back of the head with the bat.

“I lost consciousness and fell,” Kasprov recalled. “When I came to my senses, they were kicking me. I heard distinctly a voice that said, ‘Hurry to the office and shout!’

“I began to shout and crawl in the direction of the office. When I had crawled about a meter, they ran away. I stopped shouting and rose to my feet.”

Smirna co-workers arrived on the scene at that moment and called an ambulance to take the wounded man to a nearby hospital. Kasprov required five stitches to close the wound over his eye and nine stitches to repair the back of his scalp.

He is still under medical care, reportedly spending the entire day yesterday in the hospital receiving treatment. Friends say Kasprov continues to experience a great deal of pain from his injuries.

A lawyer by training, the 42-year-old publisher is married with seven children, ages 7 to 15. He has directed Smirna for seven years, publishing about 20 new titles yearly.

According to a Swiss business associate, Smirna has printed over a half million books in Ukraine in the past five years. Demand for Christian literature has risen steadily along with the rapid growth of evangelical Christianity in the country.

It is unlikely that Kasprov’s publishing activities alone attracted the attention of anti-Christian elements in Ukraine, a country of 48 million.

“Stanislav is not a timid person,” a friend from Western Europe told Compass. “Whenever he is invited to speak, he clearly tells the Christian people that it’s up to them what kind of regime they will get, whether Ukraine is going for democracy or some sort of autocracy like most states in Central Asia.”

Since presidential elections on November 21, Ukrainians have staged mass demonstrations to protest victory claimed by Viktor Yanukovich, the hand-picked successor to outgoing President Leonid Kuchma.

Indications that the incumbent regime resorted to fraud to steal the election from West-leaning Viktor Yushchenko and fears that a Yanukovich government would roll back the clock on democratic reform ignited popular resistance against Yanukovich.

The protests prompted the country’s Supreme Court to invalidate results of the November election and persuaded the Ukrainian Parliament to write a reform bill that, among other things, regulates a run-off election set for December 26 between Yanukovich and Yushchenko.

Yesterday the BBC reported that the reform bill passed, with an overwhelming majority -- 402 of the 450 Members of Parliament -- voting in favor of change.

“A large part of what’s at stake here is the future of Christianity in this part of the world,” said HOPE International President Paul Marty, who lives in Ukraine.

In statements reported by Missions News Network, Marty said that a Yanukovich administration would likely impose severe restrictions on Protestant Christian organizations operating in the country.

“If the election goes toward the pro-Russian candidate, then a lot of the policies of the country are going to follow. And, he’s publicly stated that the only church he would recognize would be the Russian Orthodox Church and would not tolerate others.”

Kasprov is but one of scores of Christian pastors and church leaders who have been outspoken in their support for democratic change in Ukraine. During the past three weeks, large numbers of evangelical Protestants traveled to Kiev to pray for hours at a time in the same public square where tens of thousands of demonstrators protested the outcome of the poll.

“Almost all churches, with a few exceptions, supported the pro-Western presidential candidate Victor Juschenko,” Kasprov’s business associate said. “He seems much more to support the idea of religious freedom as an important item for any country.”

According to sources in Ukraine, Kasprov’s public opposition to Soviet style politics probably provoked last week’s attack. They believe tacit support for the assault came from government security officials.

A Smirna employee revealed that in early November, two young men came to the publishing company and asked to meet with Kasprov, who was in Kiev that day. The pair returned on November 23 with the same request, but the publisher was again absent.

“Based on this information, I think it had been planned,” Kasprov said.