TAJIKISTAN: Renewed Attempts to Suppress Baptist Church.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 24 May 2001

Legal authorities in the Tajik capital Dushanbe have renewed their pressure on an unregistered Baptist church because it refuses to register. Claiming that the church's activity without registration violates the law on religion, the local procuracy gave the church's pastor Genrikh Reimer an official warning that he must halt the church's activity - almost exactly a year after issuing a similar warning. Despite the fact that Tajikistan's published law on religion lays down no requirement that religious groups must gain registration in order to function, Yu. Rahmonov, the procurator of Oktyabr district of Dushanbe, where the church is based, insisted to Keston News Service that the religion law required this. Asked to specify which article of the law laid down this requirement, he said he would look into it and then respond.

Reimer's congregation belongs to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, a group that refused registration during the Soviet period and which continues to refuse registration in all the post-Soviet republics where it operates. A member of the congregation told Keston from Dushanbe on 24 May that the church is still meeting despite the attempts to close it down.

An 18 May statement from local Baptists - distributed through the Council of Churches and passed to Keston by the German-based Friedensstimme mission - reported that at the end of April the deputy procurator of Oktyabr district arrived at the church with another official. They asked where the church's printing press was located, then left a summons for church member Valeri Chumachenko. Chumachenko went to the procuracy, accompanied by fellow Baptist Pyotr Plett. There they were questioned, and discussion turned to why the church was not registered. Procuracy officials told them to send the leader of the church. Reimer then went to the procuracy accompanied by another congregation member, Viktor Plett, and the two were questioned by district procurator Rahmonov, who insisted to them that registration was compulsory.

On 4 May, an official warning was issued. `Take immediate measures to halt the functioning of the religious church of Evangelical Christians/Baptists at the address: 1-y proezd, ul. Telmana 13, until registration,' it declared.

Despite this instruction, Rahmonov insisted he had not closed down the church. `No one has been closed down or banned,' he told Keston by telephone from Dushanbe on 24 May. When read the wording of his 4 May warning, he seemed taken aback and declared: `That was an explanation.' He asked Keston to call back later, declaring that he had not given Keston an interview. `Don't write up the story. I will look into it.'

The instruction to halt the church's activity is the latest measure in a long-running official campaign to close the church. An almost identical instruction was issued to Reimer on 15 May 2000 by the Oktyabr district procuracy. As justification, the warning claimed that the church was violating the law on religion because it had functioned without registration since 1962 (see KNS 15 June 2000). `The given church is registered nowhere and the activity of its members violates Article 14 of the Law of the Republic of Tajikistan on religion and religious organisations'. (Article 14 lays down the procedure for registration, but does not make it obligatory.)

Last year Reimer also faced charges under the Administrative Code because of his congregation's refusal to register. One hearing took place at the Oktyabr district court, but the case was repeatedly postponed after telegrams in Reimer's support arrived at the court from Baptists around the world.

Tajikistan's senior religious affairs official, Saidjon Akhmedov, the chairman of the government's Council for Religious Affairs, has repeatedly told Keston that registration is obligatory, although he said that groups can function in private without registration. `If they don't have registration they cannot function as a church as such,' he told Keston last year. `If believers gather in a private house, though, nothing will happen to them. Let them function without registration, but if they conduct propaganda, or hold meetings in public or if they invite outsiders then there will be problems.' (END)