TURKMENISTAN: Pentecostal Church Confiscation Case Postponed.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 1 March 2001

The hearing due to have taken place today (1 March) in Kopetdag district court of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad in the local authorities' suit to confiscate the Pentecostal church has been postponed until 2pm on 14 March, the judge handling the case, Redjep Ilyasov, told Keston News Service by telephone from Ashgabad (see KNS 28 February 2001). He declined to confirm reports from other sources that the hearing was postponed to allow time to consider new materials presented in the case. `You understand I cannot discuss the case until it has been considered in court.'

It is believed the prosecutor's office of Kopetdag district is now claiming that the house where the church meets and which is owned by the church's pastor Viktor Makrousov is not being used for the purpose for which it was supposedly bought and that the contract to buy it was therefore illegal. Contacted by telephone on 1 March, district prosecutor Orunbai Rovshenov told Keston he could not confirm this as he was not familiar with the details of the case. He said he has `many cases' to handle, and that his assistant who had attended court earlier in the day had not returned.

The deputy khyakim (administration head) of Kopetdag district, Veronika Annaklycheva, denies suggestions that the suit to confiscate the house is an attempt to suppress religious activity. `There is no persecution of religious believers here, but everyone must obey the law,' she told Keston on 1 March, adding that she had no involvement in the case. `The khyakimlik has no right to confiscate property - that is a decision for the courts.' She repeated claims by numerous other officials that religious activity without registration is illegal, something Keston has been unable to find in any published law.

The Kopetdag district court ruled on 4 January that the church was to be confiscated without compensation, but this decision was overturned on 31 January by the Ashgabad city court on appeal, to the surprise of Pastor Makrousov and the foreign diplomats who attended the hearing. The city court judge ruled that the case should be sent back to the lower court as its earlier ruling had been flawed.

The case has attracted a high international profile, as evidenced by the presence of diplomats at both the court hearings. The chairman of the Helsinki Commission of the United States Congress, Christopher Smith, wrote to Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov on 2 January expressing his concern about the threatened confiscation. (END)