TURKMENISTAN: Cautious Optimism Over Pentecostal Church Confiscation Case

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 31 January 2001

Ashgabad's Pentecostal pastor and foreign diplomats who attended the appeal hearing this morning (31 January) at Ashgabad city court are surprised but cautiously optimistic over the judge's ruling that the Pentecostal church confiscation case should be sent back to the lower court as its earlier ruling was flawed. Pastor Viktor Makrousov had appealed against the 4 January ruling by the court of Ashgabad's Kopetdag district that the church be confiscated without compensation (see KNS 4 January 2001).

The judge who heard the Makrousov appeal sent the case back to the district court on the grounds that the lower court's decision was flawed - it was not based on the actual complaint filed by the prosecutor that the state of the house where the church met was dangerous, focusing instead on the fact that what the prosecutor believed to be `illegal' religious activity was taking place in the house. `I would interpret this as recognition that the way they put together the justification for the confiscation was simply improper,' Bess Brown of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Ashgabad Centre told Keston News Service on 31 January.

`Everyone was surprised by the ruling - no-one had ever heard of sending a case back to a lower court in this country,' declared Brown, one of three OSCE representatives to attend the hearing. `Everywhere else it is normal procedure, but here it is never heard of.'

Brown reported that the judge was `very professional and polite', and invited Pastor Makrousov to present any written documents in support of his case. The pastor maintained that the accusations that he had remodelled the house illegally and was conducting religious activity in the house illegally were false.

The representative from the prosecutor's office continued to insist on the original accusations, declaring that the Makrousovs ought to be evicted because they were using the house for religious purposes, the congregation was not registered because it did not meet the 500 member threshold specified in the religion law and the reconstruction of the house had not been done for personal use. Asked whether there had actually been any complaints from neighbours about alleged excessive noise from religious services, as had been claimed, she admitted that there had not. However, she claimed that neighbours would have been entitled to have made such complaints.

Also present in court, together with the Pentecostals and the foreign diplomats, was Adventist pastor Pavel Fedotov (whose own church in the same district of Ashgabad was demolished without a court order in November 1999) and a visiting Adventist delegation from the Kazakh capital Almaty, who rushed to the courtroom straight from the airport. No attempt was made this time to obstruct the diplomats from entering the courtroom.

No date has yet been set for the new hearing to take place in the Kopetdag district court. (END)