Friday 21 January 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Two months after being fined and freed from prison, a Baptist pastor in the
eastern town of Turkmenabad (formerly Chardjou) is still being refused the
return of his passport. RAHIM TASHOV's passport was taken from him at the
time of his arrest in October 1999 and despite repeated attempts he has been
unable to get it back, sources close to the pastor told Keston News Service on
20 January.

`Each time Tashov goes to the procuracy to ask for the passport back he is told:
"The person you need is not here, come back this afternoon or tomorrow," or
given some other excuse,' the sources reported.

The passport - which serves both for foreign travel and internal identification
purposes - is crucial to be able to conduct any official business. `You need a
passport for any formal dealings,' sources told Keston. `Without a passport you
cannot travel within Turkmenistan, as you need to present your passport every
time you buy a railway ticket. The situation is complicated for Tashov because
Turkmenabad lies within a border zone.'

Tashov, who is pastor of an independent Baptist church which has been
suppressed by the Turkmen authorities, was first detained on 24 October 1999
after National Security Committee (KNB) officers raided his church during the
Sunday service. He was freed the following evening after being severely
beaten. He was again arrested on 31 October by KHOJAYEV (first name
unknown), the local chief of the KNB in Turkmenabad, and was held in the
investigation prison. He was freed on 12 November after being given an
administrative fine of 200,000 manats, one month's minimum wage, under the
law on unsanctioned meetings.

According to the US-based Compass Direct news service, in the interval
between the two arrests Tashov had once again tried to register his church with
the authorities. He received no written response to his application, but was told
verbally that the authorities would never allow a Protestant church to be
registered in Turkmenistan.

Tashov was warned that if he continued to hold meetings of his unregistered
congregation, he would face charges under the criminal code and much heavier
penalties. It has been Tashov's consistent position that the Turkmenistan
Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion and that he is
merely exercising this right.

Sources told Keston on 20 January that the church has not met in one big group
since Tashov's arrest last year, although it is believed small groups of church
members still gather privately for prayer and worship.

The continuing pressure on Tashov comes as Turkmenistan completes its plan
to destroy minority religious faiths. Apart from the officially-approved Sunni
Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church, all religious groups are illegal,
even if they have the 500 minimum adult citizen members they need to apply
for registration under Turkmen law.

Registration was removed from the minority faiths with the change in the law
in December 1996. KNB and police raids on meetings and active believers of a
variety of faiths have been used to stamp out religious practice. Many believers
have been fined. Religious leaders from other CIS states who were not citizens
of Turkmenistan have been deported - most recently the Baptist pastors
from Turkmenabad, summarily expelled on 23 December 1999. Foreigners
from other countries working on charitable projects whom the Turkmen
authorities suspected of involvement in Christian work have also been
deported, including several families late in 1999 and at least three families in
January of this year. Places of worship have been demolished - including two
Hare Krishna temples (see KNS 22 September 1999) and one Adventist church
last year (see KNS 26 November 1999).

No official was available for comment on the government's religious policy at
the Embassy of Turkmenistan in London on 20 January. The same day CHARI
ANABERDIYEV of the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington DC declined
to speak on his government's religious policy as Keston was calling from the
United Kingdom. He referred all enquiries to the embassy in London. (END)

Friday 21 January 2000

Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

There is a humble shelter in central Moscow which bears the rather grandiose
title of the `not-for-profit charitable fund for the social protection of the young
and destitute, the John Bosco Oratorium'. This shelter was established by a
Catholic religious order to help up to several dozen young people to find a

The Salesian order, which has pastoral care of the Church of the Immaculate
Conception of the Virgin Mary, has a particular concern for the welfare of
children and young people. As soon as a few rooms became available in the
church (used as a factory in the later Soviet period), the monks opened a youth
drop-in centre where the children of deprived families could play and the
homeless could shelter instead of sitting around in doorways and attics. At first
the children were afraid to come in but soon they were reluctant to leave,
especially at night. In response to this need the monks decided to open a shelter
for these children where they could be given a meal and a bed for the night and
where some kind of family atmosphere could be created.

A charitable fund was established and the shelter was opened in July 1996. Its
director is FATHER KAZIMIERZZ SHIDELKO. The shelter consists of two
flats on the first floor of an ordinary block on Malaya Gruzinskaya street in the
centre of Moscow, not far from the church. The shelter can accommodate up to
ten children ranging in age from 7 to 12 years. It provides accommodation for
the children on a temporary basis - for six months. After this period it is far
from clear what will become of them, whether they will be taken into care or
somehow reunited with their families. According to LYUDMILA NEE,
deputy director of the shelter, this has a negative effect on the children: `The
children know that they are only here for a limited period of time and that
affects the quality of the relationships they establish with us.'

Nee is a psychologist with fifteen years' experience of working with children.
She found this position by chance: she had been out of work for five months
when she suddenly learned that there was a vacancy at the shelter. Asked
whether it was difficult for her to work for a Catholic organisation she
explained that she was an Orthodox Christian who had been baptised relatively
late in life, at the age of forty. A woman recently called her `ecumenical': her
response was that God is one and there should be no divisions.

`Our Salesian fathers are afraid to talk openly about the shelter and its work,'
Lyudmila asserts. `The difficult situation that the Catholic Church finds itself
in has a negative effect on our shelter. We should be publicising our activity
and establishing contacts with many other organisations. In an ideal world we
would join forces with them and create a general information resource on
economic and legal issues. There needs to be a state programme.'

The shelter has only a limited number of staff and everyone who works there
has to combine several different responsibilities. An enchanting Polish lady
called Eliza comes in each day to prepare food and then stays overnight to look
after the children. `Of course it is hard,' she admits, `but I have worked here for
a long time - this is my second year. I hardly ever leave the shelter apart from
attending church on Sundays. But I am happy, otherwise I would not be here.'
Another of the shelter staff is a young man called Aleksei who helps to look
after the children. Katarina and Ivonna also work at the shelter: they are social
workers who have come from Germany as volunteers. Katarina is now into her
second year and she is happy here: `I have a lot of friends here so I feel at
home.' Ivonna arrived only a short while ago and still speaks only a little
Russian. She teaches the children English. Lyudmila is delighted with them:
`The girls help a lot and they are very professional in their approach.' Katarina
is full of praise for Russian children. `They are different from German children,
much more sociable. In Germany children are more selfish and possessive
about their things.' In particular the two Germans are full of praise for the
children in their care: `You should see how clever and talented they are. All
they need is a little care and attention and they blossom.'

The children from the shelter attend the neighbouring school. The shelter staff
have been grateful to the teachers for their support. Before a child from the
shelter joins a class, the teacher usually talks to the children about the new
arrival and parents are also supportive. Lyudmila told Keston News Service the
story of one young boy, Marat, currently in hospital following a hernia
operation: his classmates and teacher have been bringing him fruit and get-well
cards every day. Marat's father died last March and his mother is suffering from
a mental illness. Marat has been begging shelter staff not to tell his mother
where he is because he is afraid she will come to take him away.

Children come to the shelter from the local police station. Questioned by
Keston about the Catholic shelter the local inspector responsible for juveniles
gave a guarded response: `Yes, the Oratorium takes children who have been
removed from their parents - we do not have any problems with them.'
Lyudmila declares that the shelter has satisfactory relations with the local
police. `Of course the shelter must undergo standard health and safety and legal
checks as well as an inspection by the juvenile division of the social services
department,' she explains. `The procurator's department checks if we are
teaching religion to the children or proselytising. According to health and
safety regulations children are not allowed to help in the kitchen and this is also
checked. We do not receive a penny from the state - all we ask is that we be left
to carry out our work without interference.'

However, a shelter of this kind cannot possibly meet the varied needs of these
children. A comprehensive centre needs to be developed which includes a
shelter, a children's home modelled along family lines and an educational
department. Lyudmila states that there is one such centre in Moscow under the
patronage of VALENTINA BORODINA, wife of PAVEL BORODIN (head of
the Presidential administration until 10 January, when he became secretary of
state of the Union of Russia and Belarus). The shelter wants to develop a centre
along similar lines. A building programme is already well under way. The
district authorities allocated a run-down old kindergarten building to the
shelter, not far from Filevsky park in the west of the capital. The building
project is being funded by the Salesians in Germany with the support of the
Bavarian government. Here forty children of 5-12 will be accommodated,
divided into groups of eight with their own `mother', who will have an assistant
to share the task of caring for the children.

Lyudmila acknowledges that this is no substitute for family life: `If a child is
able to return to his or her family that is the best possible outcome for the child.
The shelter is also planning to develop a programme of work with the parents.'

What happens to the children once they have left the shelter? Father Kazimierz
explains that once the work has been completed on the new building the
existing premises will be turned into a hostel for young adults where they can
live and learn the skills necessary for independent living. `We will be like
protecting angels,' jokes Father Kazimierz. `After all parents do not throw their
children out at sixteen and tell them to get on with it.' In Poland, where Father
Kazimierz comes from, there is a special programme to help young adults find
work and get themselves established, but things are not as developed in Russia.
Asked whether it was hard working in Russia Father Kazimierz replied: `Any
venture can drown in a sea of red tape.'

The Salesians are calling the new children's home their gift to mark the new
millennium. Of course, this modest children's shelter does not have the same
grandeur as the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which is
also being built to commemorate the Year 2000, but who can tell which gift
will be more valued? (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000