KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 21 January 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. AZERBAIJAN: TWO-WEEK PRISON FOR PENTECOSTAL
LEADERS. Amid growing pressure on Protestant congregations, two
leaders of an unregistered Pentecostal church have been arrested and
given fifteen-day prison terms, Protestant sources in the Azerbaijani
capital Baku have told Keston News Service. The two - Yusuf Farkhadov
and Kasym Kasymov - were detained in Sumgait, a town close to Baku,
when police and National Security Ministry officers raided a prayer
meeting last Friday (18 January) held in a private flat. "All they were
doing was praying," one church member told Keston. The Azerbaijani
authorities seem intent on closing down many Protestant churches, with
the majority likely to lose their registration.

II. TURKMENISTAN: CHIEF MUFTI REFUSES TO DISCUSS
PRESIDENTIAL MADRASSAH CLOSURES. Turkmenistan's chief
mufti has resolutely declined to discuss President Saparmurat Niyazov's
public admission that he ordered the mass closure of madrassahs (Islamic
schools) and his insistence that there will be only one madrassah with a
maximum of 20 students for the entire country. Keston News Service
managed to reach the mufti by telephone on 17 January, but as soon as he
found out why Keston was calling he immediately said that he had
"absolutely no time". Niyazov's acknowledgement that the state
intervenes in believers' affairs comes despite the country's constitution,
which declares that religion is separate from the state.

I. AZERBAIJAN: TWO-WEEK PRISON FOR PENTECOSTAL
LEADERS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Amid growing pressure on Protestant congregations, two leaders of the
unregistered Pentecostal church Living Stones have been arrested and
given fifteen-day prison terms, Protestant sources in the Azerbaijani
capital Baku have told Keston News Service. The two - Yusuf Farkhadov
and Kasym Kasymov - were detained in Sumgait, a town close to Baku,
when police and National Security Ministry officers raided a prayer
meeting last Friday (18 January) held in a private flat in the town's 9th
micro-district. The two were given the two-week prison term under
Article 310 of the Administrative Code, which punishes "petty
hooliganism". "All they were doing was praying," one church member
told Keston. They are serving their term in police detention cells in
Sumgait.

"At about 3 p.m. ten to fifteen police and security ministry officers burst
into the flat where the prayer meeting was going on," one of the church's
leaders told Keston from Baku on 21 January. "They searched the flat and
took away all the religious literature they could find. Ten of those
attending the meeting were taken to the local police station, where they
were interrogated about the life of the church and pressured to write
statements. All were then freed except Farkhadov and Kasymov. They
were sentenced by 6 p.m. that evening."

The Living Stones church has unsuccessfully tried to register with the
authorities to gain legal status. "We gave in the application and it lay
around for a year and a half," the church leader told Keston. "Then last
autumn it was returned. They said there were errors in the application."
The church is also listed as a branch of the Nehemiah Protestant church,
which does have registration. However, when they showed the certificate
to the officers raiding the meeting "they weren't interested".

The church has encountered frequent hostility from the Sumgait
authorities. In 1999, during the last wave of anti-Protestant activity,
members were detained and fined. The authorities have stepped up such
measures recently. Another member of the Sumgait church was
imprisoned for fifteen days last autumn, while yet another was fined
75,000 manats (16 US dollars or 11 British pounds) late last year.

The Azerbaijani authorities seem intent on closing down many Protestant
churches. The compulsory re-registration drive now underway is likely to
see the majority lose their registration (see KNS 12 December 2001).
Many Protestant churches have been vilified on independent television
stations. One Protestant source told Keston that journalists from such
stations appear to have lists of the locations where Protestants meet from
Rafik Aliev, chairman of the State Committee for Relations with
Religious Organisations.

On 23 January the Narimanov district of Baku will hear the case brought
by the State Committee to liquidate the city's Love Baptist church (see
KNS 18 January 2002). (END)

II. TURKMENISTAN: CHIEF MUFTI REFUSES TO DISCUSS
PRESIDENTIAL MADRASSAH CLOSURES

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

Turkmenistan's chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, has resolutely
declined to discuss President Saparmurat Niyazov's public admission that
he ordered the mass closure of madrassahs (Islamic schools) and his
insistence that there will be only one madrassah with a maximum of 20
students for the entire country. Keston News Service managed to reach
Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah by telephone on 17 January, but as soon as he
found out why Keston was calling he immediately said that he had
"absolutely no time". Pressed by Keston, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah advised
phoning Murad Karriyev, the deputy chairman of the Gengeshi (council)
for religious affairs, which is responsible to the president. However,
Karriyev told Keston from Ashgabad by telephone the same day that "any
comment on such matters" was the prerogative of the chief mufti. "There
is complete religious freedom in Turkmenistan," Karriyev insisted.
"There are 368 mosques functioning here. A theological faculty has
opened at the Turkmen University and also a theological lycee."

Turkmenistan currently has no functioning educational institution to train
mullahs, despite the fact that the majority of the country's 4.7 million
population is of Muslim background. The theological faculty at the
Turkmen university trains only secular scholars.

President Niyazov made his remarks in a speech on 12 January in the
fortress of Geokdepe on the outskirts of Ashgabad at a ceremony to
commemorate those who fought for Turkmenistan's independence. In his
address, broadcast on channel 1 of Turkmen television the same day,
Niyazov spoke in particular about state policy on religion. "Concerning
religion, I must note that in many areas we have closed down the religious
madrassahs. This was the right decision because any random person
started to teach religion in his own way and according to his own ideas,"
Niyazov declared. "We plan to set up just one madrassah to train village
clergymen. The religious school will function at the Artogrul Gazy
mosque [in Ashgabad] and at Geokdepe mosque. It will have some 15-20
students with a two-year course. One year will be spent at the Geokdepe
mosque and the next year at the Artogrul Gazy mosque. The student body
should not exceed 20."

Niyazov's public admission that the state intervenes in believers' affairs -
by no means the first time he has admitted as much - comes despite the
country's constitution, which declares that religion is separate from the
state.

Although neither the chief mufti nor officials of the Gengeshi for
religious affairs were prepared to explain what justified the president's
unconstitutional interference in Islamic education, the press officer at the
Turkmen embassy in Russia, Grigori Kolodin, proved more forthcoming.
"Saparmurat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan, is battling against
religious ignorance," he told Keston by telephone from Moscow on 17
January. "Frequently people have preached in the mosques who lack
elementary religious education. It is both right and logical to close down
such mosques. This is not the first time that the Turkmen authorities have
taken measures in the battle against religious ignorance. In 2000,
Saparmurat Niyazov ordered the Gengeshi for religious affairs to check
the level of theological preparation of the imam-hatybs at the mosques
and to dismiss those who were professionally unfit."

"Of course, the fact that the Turkmen president is closing mosques is an
infringement of believers' right," Bess Brown, an official of the mission in
Ashgabad of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe,
told Keston by telephone on 17 January. "I don't think there is anything
unusual about Niyazov's speech at Geokdepe. Niyazov has never
previously hidden the fact that he intervenes in believers' affairs." (END).

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.