TAJIKISTAN: Muslim Mayor Refuses to Register Protestant Church.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 17 October 2001

The mayor of Kurgan-Tyube, the third-largest city in Tajikistan, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the capital Dushanbe, Salijon Valiyev, has categorically refused to register an Evangelical Christian church in the city. A Protestant from Tajikistan, who wished to remain unnamed, told Keston News Service on 4 October that the official reason for refusing registration is that the church statute is practically identical to that of another Evangelical Baptist church that has already been registered in the city. However, the Protestant reported, Valiyev informed the church's founders in a private conversation that he had been on the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haj, and that he did not intend to defile himself by registering a Christian church. Valiyev complained that Evangelical Christian Tajiks were 'traitors to the faith of their ancestors', the Protestant added.

The authorities are preventing the church from meeting on the grounds that it is unregistered. Meanwhile, 38 unregistered mosques function in the city, and the authorities do not stop Muslims from praying in them. The Evangelical Christians have brought a legal case against the city authorities, accusing them of refusing registration without justification.

Valiyev did not try to deny the claim that as a Haji he did not want to defile himself by registering a Christian community. 'Yes, I am a Haji, but at work I am first and foremost mayor of Kurgan-Tyube,' he told Keston by telephone from Kurgan-Tyube on 10 October.

'The situation of the Evangelical Christian Church is certainly very difficult,' declared Yusuf Mahmedov, senior field assistant at the office of the Organisation for Security and Co- operation in Europe (OSCE) in Kurgan-Tyube. 'We have identified instances of offences by the authorities against representatives of this church,' he told Keston by telephone on 11 October. He said the fact that the Evangelical Christians' statute was identical to the statute of another organisation was not against the law and that therefore the Evangelical Christians stood a good chance of winning their legal challenge to the registration denial.

'In my personal opinion, and here I'm not speaking as an OSCE employee, the authorities do not want to register the Evangelical Christians for two reasons,' Mahmedov added. 'Firstly, it is a missionary organisation, and the authorities are not keen on Christian expansion. Secondly, both the leader of the community and several of its members are Tajiks. The population of Kurgan- Tyube is very devout, and local residents react extremely negatively when Tajiks convert to Christianity.' (END)