TAJIKISTAN: Evangelical Church Fears Losing Registration.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 23 October 2001

The head of an Evangelical Christian youth group from the southern town of Sarband, Shirmo Kabirova, has told Keston News Service that the town authorities are using every means to hamper the activity of the community. The Evangelical Christian community, which has registration, consists of 15 people, while around 20 people attend their meetings regularly. Kabirova claims the head of the local branch of the ex-KGB is leading the campaign. However, although he denied to Keston that he has taken action against the church, he alleged that the church had used 'deception' to gain registration and openly described it as a 'sect' which bribed Tajiks to convert.

Sarband is situated 15 kilometres (10 miles) from Kurgan-Tyube, the regional centre of Khatlon region. Local Protestants who prefer to remain anonymous have complained to Keston that the leadership of the region has begun an all-out campaign to eradicate Christianity (see separate KNS article).

Kabirova told Keston on 21 October in Sarband that the town authorities were trying to remove registration from the church, which currently meets in a private flat, on the grounds that there were fewer than 15,000 inhabitants in Sarband, while according to the law on religious organisations a church may only be registered in a town with a population of more than 15,000. 'In fact, Sarband and its outskirts have more than 20,000 residents and we are operating on a thoroughly legal basis,' she declared.

Kabirova added that the problem was that the local head of the National Security Committee (the former KGB) Djavol Godoyev, the 'most influential person in the town', is 'an active opponent of our church'. 'Godoyev uses every means to hamper our activity.' She reported that in August the church rented an onion field on the outskirts of Sarband, intending to distribute the harvest to children at a children's home and large families whose providers had died during the civil war of 1992-93. 'However, Godoyev managed to arrange the cancellation of the rental agreement.' She also claimed that Godoyev was trying to set her church against the Muslims. 'He is particularly incensed that many members of our community are Tajiks and that we invite young Tajiks to our meetings. Today there are rumours circulating in the town that Evangelical Christians want to poison the water supply.'

Keston conducted a tense interview with Godoyev on 21 October in Sarband. He spent 15 minutes carefully checking the Keston correspondent's documents, saying that they might be forged. Then Godoyev inspected each visa in the correspondent's passport, saying that it was important for him to know what countries his interviewer had visited. Only after this careful investigation did Godoyev agree to talk to Keston.

'It's rubbish that I removed their rental of an onion field,' he insisted. 'It's simply not my remit. My work does not involve Evangelical Christians. That issue is the remit of the town authorities. However, my operational role obliges me to keep track of the situation in the town. I think that the Evangelical Christians gained registration by means of deception. But even if it was lawful, then Evangelical Christians have no right to meet in a private apartment because that will disturb the neighbours.'

Godoyev claimed to have read a lot about Christians, but said he had heard nothing about Evangelical Christians. 'The Evangelical Christians in Sarband are a sect, supported from Germany,' he complained. 'These dishonourable people are using gifts to try and convert Tajiks to their faith. As an operational officer, I know that the residents of the town are very unhappy about that. There has been a Baptist church in Kurgan-Tyube since Soviet times, and the Evangelical Christians' statute is the same as theirs. Why do we need lots of Christian churches with one and the same statute?! In my view, the fact that a Baptist church is already operating in Kurgan-Tyube is quite sufficient.' (END)