TURKMENISTAN: Thursday Hearing Over Pentecostal Church Demolition

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 2 January 2001

The hearing in the Kopetdag district court of the capital Ashgabad over whether to demolish the city’s Pentecostal church has now been set for 10 am on 4 January. The hearing is due to be presided over by judge Dovlet Sobiev in Hall No. 4 of the Kopetdag district court on Turkmenbashi Avenue 69. The suit to demolish the private home where the church meets was brought by the local authorities in November. The hearing was due to have taken place on 28 December (see KNS 21 December 2000) but was postponed without any reason being given.

If the court orders the destruction of the church it would be the sixth place of worship known to have been deliberately destroyed in Turkmenistan on official orders. In 1999 Ashgabad’s Adventist church and two Hare Krishna temples were destroyed, while last year two mosques were destroyed.

Pentecostal pastor Viktor Makrousov told Keston News Service from Ashgabad on 1 January that he was pleased that people around the world had taken an interest in the fate of his church and asked for further prayers and support.

The building (Koltsova Street 21a), which Makrousov owns, has served as the Pentecostal church for some years. The suit brought by the khyakimlik (local authorities) of Kopetdag district on 24 November and signed by the acting khyakim Aleksei Razmakhov claimed that Makrousov had failed to seek or receive permission to use the building for services, failed to gain permission for internal remodelling and failed to obey instructions to halt services in the house. Razmakhov believed the reconstruction violated fire and sanitary regulations and that the building is now in a ‘hazardous condition’. He called for the building to be pulled down without granting Makrousov any compensation.

Contacted by telephone by Keston on 21 December, Razmakhov denied to Keston that the suit to demolish the building represented persecution of religious believers and that the country’s political police, the KNB, was involved. He insisted that proper procedures were being followed, claiming that no other resident of his district had rebuilt their house to hold so many people.

Makrousov has already paid three fines imposed on him for refusing to halt services in the church (March and July 1999 and October 2000). Further fines over continuing use of the church are pending.

The Ashgabad Pentecostal church lost official registration in the compulsory re-registration process in early 1997 that saw all religious communities apart from those of the Sunni Muslim board and the Russian Orthodox Church lose their registration. Although Turkmenistan’s published laws do not specifically criminalise unregistered religious activity, the government treats all unregistered religious activity as illegal and punishes those participating in it.

In a separate case, Makrousov, his wife and his daughter were each fined 250,000 manats (one month’s average wages) by the khyakimlik of Ashgabad’s Niyazov district after he led an unregistered worship service at the beginning of December in the town of Tedjen south east of Ashgabad. Makrousov and his family initially refused to pay what they considered unjustified fines, but reluctantly paid after the khyakimlik seized his passport. Although he received this back on 30 December after paying the fines, Makrousov intends to appeal against the punishment. (END)