by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 24 November 2000

Officials in the town of Nukus, the capital of the western Uzbek autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, have allowed a banned Protestant Christian church to resume services - although not in the closed church building and only on weekdays, not Sundays. `Let the grandmas get together for their prayers,' local Christians reported officials as telling church leaders. However, officials have not responded to the church's demands for registration to be restored. `There is no progress and no registration,' local Christians told Keston News Service.

The church vigorously rejects Justice Ministry accusations that the Mir Presbyterian Church acted illegally in running a children's camp in July. Until its closure the same month, the church was the only non-Muslim religious organisation that had registration in the autonomous republic, which has a population of some 1.5 million (see KNS 26 September 2000).

The church's pastor Vladimir Kim told Keston from Nukus on 23 November that church members can now meet again in small groups in private homes. He added that there has been no response to the church's many letters of complaint to the Justice Ministry of Karakalpakstan, the Justice Ministry in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, the human rights committee of parliament and other government agencies. In the letters, of which Keston has received copies, the church argues that the revocation of the church's registration was illegal. The church also complains that the authorities failed to explain why they revoked registration.

`We note that there were extraordinary difficulties in registering the Mir Christian Church,' Pastor Kim complained to the Uzbek Justice Minister A. Palvan-zade, `which was the only Christian church in the whole of the Karakalpak republic. At present it is closed and the Christian question in the Karakalpak republic has been fully closed.'

In early November two Tashkent-based leaders of the Full Gospel Church - a union of Protestant Churches to which the Mir church belongs - visited Pastor Kim in Nukus to discuss how to regain registration. They took copies of documentation about the removal of registration.

Keston was unable to reach Seypadin Uterberginov, Karakalpakstan's deputy justice minister, on 24 November, and no other official was available for comment. (END)