Friday 30 April




by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A new draft bill on religion aims to 'regularise' the activity in

Kyrgyzstan of 'numerous sects' and to 'reduce religious propaganda'

broadcast by the National Television and Radio Corporation, declared

JOLBORS JOROBEKOV, the author of the bill. The Jogorku Kenesh,

Kyrgyzstan's lower chamber of parliament, approved the first reading

of the bill on 4 March. A working group of deputies is now

considering a series of proposed amendments before the second

reading. If adopted, the proposed new law would replace the law on

freedom of religious confession and religious organisations passed

by the then Kyrgyzstan Supreme Soviet and signed by President ASKAR

AKAYEV on 16 December 1991.

A Kyrgyz radio report of 4 March, quoting the views of deputies,

spoke of `imperfections' in the 1991 law which allowed religious

organisations and foreign missionaries to `misinterpret' the original

provisions: `There have been numerous instances of huge amounts of

dubious literature and video films being infiltrated and cases of

children being alienated from the system of secular education. In the

activities of individual religious organisations, there have been

frequent cases of direct attempts being made to destabilise public

order and people's safety.'

In a telephone interview on 5 April, the head of the government

Commission for Religious Affairs, EMILBEK KAPTAGAYEV, told Keston

News Service that deputies had put forward many frequently

contradictory views on the draft bill during the debate. Although the

working group consists only of deputies, he said they had also

involved the Commission on Religious Affairs and religious

organisations: `Almost all religious groups have been invited to give

their views several times, both orally and in writing.' However, he

said the bill was unlikely to become law soon: `There are many laws

being considered at the moment'.

Although the draft pledges to respect religious freedom for both

citizens and noncitizens in Kyrgyzstan, it does not extend religious

liberty to unregistered groups. Under Article 4 only registered

religious organisations are exempt from state interference, while the

same article bans `propaganda for entry into unregistered [...]

religious organisations', preaching of the beliefs of such

unregistered groups, whether in public or even in private homes, and

the distribution of literature encouraging citizens to join such

groups. Article 6 includes in its definition of `religious

organisations' the provision that they should be registered, thus

effectively barring nonregistered groups from benefits in the draft

such as the right to facilities for the production of religious

objects or to run religious educational establishments. Article 11,

which covers official registration (`uchetnaya registratsiya'),

states categorically: `The activity of religious organisations and

their associations, missions, branches, representations of foreign

religious organisations active on the territory of the Kyrgyz

Republic, religious educational institutions, as well as the

functioning of objects of religious significance [i.e. mosques,

churches and temples] without official registration is forbidden.'

The draft specifies two types of official recognition of religious

organisations: official registration (`uchetnaya registratsiya') and

the granting of juridical personality (by the Ministry of Justice).

Official registration, described in Article 11 as compulsory and

carried out by the `state organ for religious affairs', is the `basis

for receiving the status of a juridical person'. Applications for

official registration must be accompanied by the statute of the

organisation, a record of the founding meeting, and a list of its

initiators, which must include at least ten adult citizens with their

full names and addresses, place of work and occupation. Missions and

branches of foreign religious organisations must submit in addition a

copy of their statute and information on their employees. In order to

register an educational establishment the founders must present

either a record of the founding meeting or a document setting up the

establishment and a full syllabus, as well as documents proving

sufficient financial resources to run the establishment and

confirming that the premises are suitable for educational purposes.

All groups and establishments may commence their activity only on

receipt of a certificate of registration. In order to engage in

religious work in Kyrgyzstan, a foreign citizen must have an

invitation from a religious organisation, which must apply for

official registration for the individual concerned: this can be

granted for up to one year. Under Article 12, official registration

may be refused to any group or person if `their activity is not in

accordance with legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic, represents a

threat to state security, social stability, interethnic and

interdenominational accord, social order or the health and morals of

the population.'

The draft does not make clear how religious groups gain the status of

a juridical person once they have gained official registration,

although it does specify in Article 13 when such status may be

refused. Article 6 declares that religious organisations and groups

may function with or without juridical status.

In a reference to New Religious Movements, Article 7 declares: `The

activity of organisations belonging to religions not previously

professed in the Kyrgyz Republic may be permitted according to the

system established by law as long as they have the official status of

a religious organisation and function according to a statute that

does not contradict the demands of legislation.'

Article 23, which covers religious literature, restricts the right to

publish and distribute liturgical (`bogosluzhebnaya') literature.

Religious organisations and 'scholarly establishments', it states,

have the `exclusive' right to do this. The article also specifies

that religious organisations may produce, export, import and

distribute religious objects, other literature, and video and audio

material. Although the article appears to ban individuals and

commercial companies from producing and distributing `liturgical'

texts, it is not clear whether they may produce and distribute other

religious literature or not. Article 28 requires religious

organisations to seek approval from the `state organ for religious

affairs' if they wish to hold `international religious forums' in


Despite the provisions inherent in the draft which clearly restrict

religious liberty, Emilbek Kaptagayev told Keston that he was happy

with the text and that it fully conformed to Article 18 of the

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which

Kyrgyzstan has acceded. In claiming that the only restrictions

imposed were on the grounds of protecting public order and preventing

interreligious conflict, he cited Article 18: `Freedom to manifest

one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as

are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety,

order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of

others.' Kaptagayev denied that banning unregistered religious

activity restricted religious freedom or that the system of

registration itself was a form of restriction: `That is a debatable

point. There is more than one opinion in the world - there are

different ideas in different states. The main thing is that

registration should not restrict believers.'

Speaking to Keston by telephone from Bishkek on 14 April, a priest at

the Catholic church of St Michael the Archangel said that he did not

know about the plans for a new law on religion: 'As far as I know the

harsh old Soviet law is still in force'. He said that his church had

not been reregistered, but did not wish to give any further

explanation over the telephone.

Over the past few years the Kyrgyz media have constantly carried

reports complaining about the number of Kyrgyz converts, especially

to Protestant Christianity. Among recent such articles was one by

MAKHABBAT KULAMIDINOVA in the 17 February edition of the weekly

Aalam, which complained that more than 15,000 young Kyrgyz had

converted from Islam to other religions. She wrote that 23 new

religious sects had registered with the Ministry of Justice and that

this represented a great danger to Islam in Kyrgyzstan. Despite such

pressure from `traditional' religious groups, however, the current

draft bill is not so explicitly targeted at new religious movements

as were earlier drafts. The draft circulating at the end of 1997 and

beginning of 1998 would have banned religious activity by religious

denominations `not previously preached by the majority of the

citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic.' It also stated that citizens who

persisted in following a religion banned from registration in

Kyrgyzstan would have to move to a country where that religion could

be freely practised.(END)

Friday 30 April



by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

In a sharp turn of events against the embattled American Baptist

missionary DAN POLLARD, local authorities in Russia's Far Eastern

town of Vanino have declared that his congregation's church was

constructed illegally. Pollard's lawyer YEKATERINA SMYSLOVA told

Keston News Service that she 'would not be surprised' if the

authorities should now simply demolished the building.

The authorities have now formally revoked a decree from the

Khabarovsk province's governor transferring to Pollard the land on

which he then built the church. They cited a new legal opinion by

the procurator according to which the decree should have made the

land available only for a lease period, not indefinitely. The

procurator also argued that since Russian law did not specifically

authorise a private individual to receive land for a religious

building - as distinct from a residential or commercial structure -

such transfers were therefore forbidden.

`When this site - situated in the centre of the town - was

transferred to Pollard the land was a rubbish dump in aswamp,'

Smyslova told Keston. `Everyone had given up on it long agoand no one

minded handing it over to the Baptists. For three years officials

were unable to set the level of land tax as no one knew how much tax

to levy on the use of a rubbish dump, but in the end they allowed

Pollard to pay tax at the highest rate, as he absolutely wanted to

pay something towards our state. Strange people, these Americans. The

media are now shouting that the "Quiet American" (as the local paper,

the Tikhookeanskaya zvezda, has dubbed him) grabbed the best piece of

land. Indeed, the site is now probably the best in the town and has

not without reason become the favourite place for local people to go

for a walk. A lawn has begun to grow and lights shine out clearly at

night from the perimeter of the building. And people find themselves

drawn to the prayer house, built according to the latest ideas in

construction, to come in and have a look...'

Smyslova said that Pollard had all along been concerned to avoid

potential problems over ownership. `Pastor Pollard thought long and

hard about how to record the rights to the prayer house without

transferring ownership of the prayer house. Given the real danger

over the fate of property (the Russian autonomous Baptists retain

fresh memories of persecutions) he registered it as his own property,

but immediately signed an agreement allowing the church community to

have use of the building free of charge.'

According to Smyslova, `the media started to spread rumours that the

visiting missionary had built himself a magnificent villa, while in

reality Pollard and his family occupy two small rooms. For example,

the story of the construction, retold in the form of a fairytale, was

published in one of the central Russian papers, Komsomolskaya pravda

of 2 April.

It had seemed only recently that Pollard's problems were resolved -

he had decided to reregister his church under the umbrella of a

centralised religious organisation, which should have defended him

from the arbitrary actions of the local authorities. Smyslova

recommended to him the Union of Evangelical Christians/Baptists led

by PYOTR KONOVALCHIK as, she argued, `Konovalchik's ECB union has now

undertaken a serious re-examination of its views and is open not only

to Evangelical Christians but even to Presbyterians'. Pollard had

already considered joining this union and had even asked for

information from the union's leadership. However, the union had

demanded that he change his congregation's statement of beliefs (on

the issue of the possibility of an individual's losing salvation),

that he pay monthly contributions from each member of the

congregation to support the union's central apparatus, and that he

should be under the control of the ECB union's Far East section.

Pollard, who back in the US belonged to the independent Baptists, was

troubled by the extent of the demands and decided to join the Russian

United Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) under

the leadership of SERGEI RYAKHOVSKY. This body, unlike Konovalchik's,

acts only as a loose association tolerant of doctrinal differences

among its member churches.

On her recent return from Vanino, Smyslova told Keston: `Pollard has

himself registered locally as a foreign citizen without any problem

and has submitted the documents for the re-registration of the church

under the umbrella of Konovalchik's ECB union. During my visit to

Khabarovsk, I personally took Pollard to the Far Eastern section of

the ECB union and spoke with its head, GENNADI ABRAMOV. At first he

did not want to accept Pollard, who had acquired a scandalous

reputation. But when he travelled to Vanino he discovered that the

local administration had no complaints against Pollard and that the

chairman of the church council was a member of the local Duma. The

community welcomed them and Pollard presented the youth movement

Avana, which is very popular among Russian Baptists and which of

course was very interested in the ECB union. They agreed to take

Pollard under their wing.' Having discussed thoroughly the question

of Pollard's church joining the union, the two sides agreed that on

the question of money the Vanino community would contribute as much

as was materially possible. The union demanded of Pollard that he

ordain a Russian pastor from among the local people and that control

from the union would ensure that `there was no speaking in tongues


While in Khabarovsk, Smyslova also visited the plenipotentiary for

relations with religious organisations, VIKTOR NIKULNIKOV, soon due

to retire. She said that he denied any participation in the conflict

with Pollard, telling her: `I have no reason to get involved in

this. If any organs violate his legal interests - let him take it up

with them by law.' Smyslova told Keston that `local authorities have

referred to his instructions when they put obstacles in the way.'

When Smyslova told Nikulnikov that Pollard had reached agreement with

the Baptist Union, he exclaimed: `Why on earth does he need the

Baptists?!' That same evening, said Smyslova, Nikulnikov telephoned

Abramov and had a long conversation with him.

In response to the accusations against him, Pollard wrote a

conciliatory letter to Nikulnikov declaring that he was upset by the

controversy stirred up by the media, that he wanted to maintain

constructive relations with the Khabarovsk administration and that he

understood that the source of the misunderstandings lay in the

differences between the Russian and American mentalities.

In a telephone interview with Keston, Abramov confirmed that the

Baptist Union was accepting Pollard. `The documents have been

submitted for the registration of Pollard's church within our union.

They will be under our control, I will make sure of that. Of course,

Pollard is a complex individual and it is very hard to contact him.

He has his own ideas of how to live here and he believes they are the

only correct ones. In addition, he is fanatically attracted to

suffering. He reacts hyper-sensitively to everything and makes a

problem out of any document. This is not how you should behave here,

you should do things more calmly.' Asked about Nikulnikov's reaction

to the union's decision to accept Pollard, Abramov responded:

`Nikulnikov understands that Pollard sees this as a shelter. But I

have known him [Nikulnikov] for a long time and he knows that nothing

is capable of standing in my way. He too is a difficult person, but

it's possible to talk even with him. The main thing is for you

journalists not to inflame passions.'

Keston also telephoned Pollard in Vanino and learned that after

Smyslova's departure the situation had changed again. Nikulnikov had

decided to remain at his post for another year. `Difficulties have

emerged over the ownership of the property,' said Pollard. `My visa

is valid until the end of April and I will get an invitation from a

registered Baptist group in Khabarovsk. Today I received a reply to

my application for permanent residency - here again there are further

problems.' Pollard said that he was afraid to go into details, as the

local authorities were using all his words against him.

Also, the Administration of Justice for Khabarovsk province has now

refused to reregister the Vanino congregation because the legal

address of its church building is `not legally correct'. In

addition, according to the Administration of Justice the information

provided by the congregation on its religiousteachings `does not

correspond to reality' as it fails to state that those teachings

include limitations on the fulfilment of civil obligations. (What the

Administration of Justice evidently has in mind is that Baptists

serving in the army do not take the military oath). Since the changes

to the congregation's charter have not been registered by the

province's Administration of Justice, the church has not received

legal status as a member of the Baptist Union - despite the

confirmation issued by the union itself.

Visa problems for Pollard and his family soon followed. According to

Smyslova, all invitations for foreign religious workers in the

province cross Nikulnikov's desk. (END)

Friday 30 April



by Geraldine Fagan, Roman Lunkin and Tatyana Titova,

Keston News Service

The Council of Christian Evangelical Churches in Russia

was registered by the Ministry of Justice on 12 March

because �there are enough loopholes in the new law�,

president of the Moscow-based mission organisation

Association of Spiritual Renewal GEORGE LAW told Keston

News Service on 1 April. President of the new Council,

Pentecostal bishop SERGEI RYAKHOVSKY, told Keston on 12

April that it was a �miracle� that they had managed to

include �Russia� in the title of the new Council when

under the 1997 law on religion the term is reserved for

organisations more than fifty years old: �The Ministry of

Justice has decided that evangelical Christianity is a

traditional confession.�

According to Law - who helped to found the Council and

whose Association will house its administration - it is

the only interdenominational association of its kind in

Russia; what he calls a �plain jane vanilla� association

encompassing all Christian evangelicals. The Nicene Creed

(without the filioque) has been chosen as the

organisation�s creed, said Law, in order to open

membership to as many churches as possible: �Speaking in

tongues is not an issue in this association, neither is

being Calvinist or Arminian, as that is predated by the

Nicene Creed.� Members also have to acknowledge the Bible

as the sole rule of authority, which in Law�s view would

mean that the Orthodox Church would be unable to join:

�They put the Bible on the same level as the Church

Fathers.� However, he thought that individual Orthodox

parishes such as SS Cosmas and Damian in Moscow could

potentially join �because of their strong belief in the


Sergei Ryakhovsky - whose Russian United Union of

Christians of the Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals)

containing over 1000 churches is another founding member

- told Keston that the new council already includes

Presbyterians, evangelicals, Wesleyans, Baptists,

Pentecostals and charismatics: �There are even

discussions for the entry of Messianic Jews.� According

to Law the purpose of the Council is to present a united

Protestant front: �It would remove the stigma in Russian

society of Protestants as splintered - we would also get

a quicker response from the government if we had all

Protestants - and we are talking activists who go to

church every Sunday - in the Council.� However,

Ryakhovsky stressed that the Council was not an attempt

to unify churches or dilute doctrine. He personally was

against ecumenism as a unifying theological movement, as

he believed that �everyone has the freedom to read God�s

word in their own way� . The Council, he said, was an

�evangelical alliance outside doctrine� and �not a

confession but a coordination centre.�

Ryakhovsky viewed the Council as a response to the 1997

law on religion: Either the state controls us or we

organise ourselves so that we can stop it meddling in the

affairs of the church.� In addition to the law, George

Law thought that the dominant climate of Orthodoxy and

nationalism - �both of which pose a serious threat to

evangelicals� - was forcing Protestants into one

association, �just as the communists forced five

Protestant denominations together in 1948.� Although with

respect to his own Association he declared that the 1997

law was �not an inhibitor or cause of

problems for us because we have good status,� Law

admitted that it was so broadly worded as to pose a

threat to almost anyone: �Even an Orthodox church could

be liquidated under the new law if a communist came to

power and decided to cleanse the land of Orthodox

churches - and they do stir up hatred very often.�

One of the main reasons for the Council�s existence, Law

told Keston, was precisely to challenge the 1997 law on

religion at a constitutional level using the class action

suit principle: �We think 18 different statutes need to

be changed through the Constitutional Court.� The

Cuncil�s leaders and their lawyers intend to challenge

the law in court even if the Cuncil itself, having

received legal registration in March, cannot be one of

the plaintiffs. .He thought that court hearings would

commence in early September, but acknowledged that this

would leave �an uncomfortable couple of months� between

the verdict and the end of 1999 registration deadline for

those who had taken the risk of not registering.

According to Law, the court case would be funded using

Council membership fees, which Ryakhovsky put at between

100 and 300 US dollars: �This is not a burden but an

expression of obligation, it prevents churches from just

coming and going and makes them feel truly part of the


Ryakhovsky stated that the Slavyansky Centre run by his


not within the structure of the new Council and would not

be representing it officially, but admitted that there

was an agreement between the two bodies, as �they are the

best lawyers specialising in religion�. Under this

agreement, the Slavyansky Centre would provide legal

services such as taking care of the body�s registration,

as well as recommending the council to evangelical

religious organisations which turned to them. Ryakhovsky

considered the Slavyansky Centre�s tactics to be �correct

and conciliatory�, because they maintained a �good

working relationship� with officials such as GENRIKH

MIKHAILOV, plenipotentiary for religious affairs in the

Russian government, and ALEKSANDR KUDRYAVTSEV, head of

the registration department of religious organisations at

the Ministry of Justice.

Ryakhovsky thought that the large unions of Pentecostal


the Council and make it a �serious authority�: �There are

already moves towards unity in their unions. Everything

just depends on the will of the leaders.� However, he

admitted that �at first glance it doesn�t look very

likely� and accused the Baptist Union of having �too many

Soviet traditions�: �Every Protestant defends himself -

in that sense our mentality is in the spirit of eastern

Orthodoxy - and when we�re divided there can be no

effective defence. Not everyone understands the aims of

the Council yet. The narrowmindedness of some is an

obstacle - some think that because they have good

relations with the Moscow Patriarchate and are members of

the presidential committee they can defend themselves

adequately. But in order for the Council to function

normally we cannot stick to our own positions or hide

behind the confines of our own churches.�

Law told Keston that despite their erstwhile support for

the 1997 law the Baptist Union churches were having

problems in the provinces - �four or five of their

churches have been refused registration� - and that it

was therefore in their interests to join the Council.

Echoing Ryakhovsky, he thought that - �just like the

Orthodox� - it was difficult for the Baptist Union to

change quickly. In his view, however, the only reason

change happened in Russia was through crisis or force,

and �there is a crisis today for evangelicals so they

must change�.\

Ryakhovsky told Keston that both Murza and Konovalchik

had been invited to a meeting about the Council on 20

April: �We intend to prove to them the need for the

Council and assure them that unlike the union of

Evangelical Christian-Baptists it is not totally


Vladimir Murza told Keston on 13 April that he did not

know anything about the new Council, but said that he had

been invited to the meeting on 20 April.

Petr Konovalchik told Keston on 13 April that he had not

been invited to the meeting on 20 April. He stated that

his view of the Council was negative; a representative of

one of his union�s Moscow churches had attended a meeting

in May 1998 at which the charter for the Council had been

presented, he said, and had seen that it was that of a

union involving the subordination of its members, not a

council: �The organisers explained that any other type of

charter would not be accepted by the Ministry of

Justice.� According to Konovalchik, when the Baptists had

offered to join some kind of alliance instead those

setting up the Council had refused: his union would

therefore never join it: �There is no need for such an

association.� The Baptist leader gave as another reason

not to join: �There are charismatics joining this Council

and we will never cooperate with charismatics.�

Nor was the Council the only option for Russian

Protestants in his view: �There is the Evangelical

Alliance in Europe which includes the Lutheran, Baptist

and Methodist Churches - we are looking into the

possibilities of joining that.� He also told Keston that

he had heard of attempts by Korean Methodists to set up a

similar council encompassing all Russian evangelicals,

but could not recall any further details.

A Protestant specialist in religious affairs told Keston

on 14 April that the only organisations entering the new

Council were those which had western sponsors and

Ryakhovsky�s Pentecostal union. In her view traditional

Russian evangelical churches would be wary of joining the

Council as �the voice of the West is very strong