KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 4, Articles 16-17, 14 April 2000
Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
I. BELARUS: CARDINAL ORDERS PRIEST TO DEFY EXPULSION ORDER
II. AZERBAIJANI BAPTIST CHURCH FIVE YEARS WITHOUT
BELARUS: CARDINAL ORDERS PRIEST TO DEFY EXPULSION ORDER
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
One hour before the deadline of 10 o�clock tonight (1900 GMT), 14 April, by which he was
due to leave Belarus, Catholic priest Father ZBIGNIEW KAROLYAK told Keston News
Service by telephone that the head of the Catholic Church in the country, Cardinal
KAZIMIERZ SWIATEK, has ordered him to defy the expulsion order and remain in his
parish in the western Belarusian town of Brest. �Cardinal Swiatek told me that I remain, as
before, priest of the parish of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. So I must stay in the parish.�
The priest�s lawyer, IGOR KABALIK, had told Keston from Brest in the early evening of 14
April that since the cardinal has issued the instruction to Father Karolyak to remain to serve
his parish, the priest will not comply with the expulsion order. Kabalik believes that given
Father Korolyak�s decision to comply with his cardinal�s instructions and remain the
authorities will forcibly deport him once the deadline has expired. Kabalik told Keston that
some half a dozen parishioners at a time are mounting a guard outside Father Karolyak�s
home in an attempt to defend him. Father Karolyak added that the parishioners will stay all
night in the parish church.
The police chief of the Leninsky district of Brest, ARKADY KOSTYUCHIK, fined Father
Karolyak, who is a Polish citizen, 44,000 roubles (just over $50) on 13 April for remaining in
Belarus without permission under Article 185 part 1 of the administrative code. Kostyuchik
also issued the order for him to leave the country and the deportation order was stamped in his
passport (see KNS story earlier today). The parish is contesting this decision and Kabalik told
Keston that �we have already lodged an appeal with the police�.
Under the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, a priest is named to a parish by his bishop and
is to exercise that responsibility until the bishop relieves him of it. Father Karolyak has served
as priest of the parish for nine years, despite the persistent attempts of the local authorities to
remove him. Father Karolyak told Keston that there had been �great pressure� on the parish
from the authorities.
Keston telephoned Kostyuchik at his office in the police station on 14 April, but his telephone
went unanswered. (END)
AZERBAIJANI BAPTIST CHURCH FIVE YEARS WITHOUT
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
Officials in Azerbaijan have been denying official registration to a
Baptist congregation in the northern town of Aliabad for five years -
longer than any other religious body of any confession. Even during the
last six months, during which Azerbaijan has registered a series of
religious congregations that had long been denied registration, the Aliabad
Baptists' application has remained without response. Officials have failed
to give Keston News Service any clear reason why. An official in the
Justice Ministry even denied to Keston that the church had ever applied for
registration, as did the temporary acting chairman of the government's
Administration for Religious Affairs. However, the Baptists are about to
lodge a further application.
The congregation of the Aliabad Baptist church - with about 30 adults plus
children - is largely made up of Inglos, a Georgian-speaking ethnic group.
On 17 February 1995 and again on 14 April 1995 they applied for
registration to the local authorities of Zakatala district and, as prescribed
in the law, to the Administration for Religious Affairs in Baku, headed by
MUSTAFA IBRAHIMOV (Keston has seen documentation from the
congregation recording this). Having failed to get a response the community
wrote again on 15 July 1995, sending a copy of the letter to the office of
Azerbaijani President HEIDAR ALIEV. Since then the community has written
numerous appeals to many government agencies, but such appeals have gone
unheeded. Keston has seen these documents and has received a copy of one
such appeal, signed by twenty church members and dated 1 October 1997.
The congregation has repeatedly complained that the local police and the
National Security Ministry (the renamed KGB) `have wanted to destroy us'.
Church members have been accused of being `traitors to the faith and to the
homeland'. They in turn accuse the local authorities of stirring up the
rest of the population against them. Official persecution of the community
was most intense in 1997. The church's pastor, ZAUR BALAYEV, had his
internal passport confiscated and then, in April 1997, was sentenced to 16
days in prison for `violation of the passport regime'. He was also fined
137,500 manats (some $35). That same month three female members of the
church were sacked from their jobs. The following month two private homes
where the church met were shot at with automatic weapons. `Either die or serve
Islam!' church members were reportedly told. Balayev and another church
member were briefly detained in July.
Although this harassment ceased later in 1997, there has been no success on
the application for registration. On 5 December 1997 the church wrote to
the Ministry of Justice in Baku to complain about the sacked workers, the
confiscation of Balayev's passport and the refusal to register the church.
The church members were astonished to receive a reply not from the Justice
Ministry but from the chief of police of Zakatala region, Lt-Col. SALAHOV,
dated 17 February 1998. In this reply he informed them that his office was
dealing with the question of Balayev's passport, promised that the sacked
workers - he mentioned only TAMAM SHABANOVA by name - would be
given their jobs back, and informed them that on the question of registration
they should apply to the Ministry of Justice in Baku. He did not explain why he
was answering the letter the church members had sent to the Ministry of
Justice. Nor did he explain why the Ministry of Justice had apparently
asked him to tell the congregation that they should apply for registration
with the Ministry of Justice when the community had written to the Ministry
of Justice in the first place.
In a further bid to break the logjam, half a dozen church members travelled
to Baku in November 1999 to meet Ibrahimov at the Administration for
Religious Affairs, but again they had no success in gaining registration.
Keston tried to discuss the case with Ibrahimov. After an initial interview
with Keston in his office on 27 March, during which he was reluctant to
discuss the present situation in detail, he spoke with Keston again by
telephone on 14 April. He initially claimed not to know anything about the
Aliabad church, then declared that he had personally met only one person
from the church `three or four years ago'. He said he had heard that a
group had come to his office last year, and that they had `shouted and
complained'. They had been told that they must obey the law, he said. After
declaring categorically that his office had not received an application
from the church Ibrahimov terminated the conversation and put down the
In a wide-ranging interview in his office at the Justice Ministry in Baku
on 29 March, FAZIL MAMEDOV, the head of the department of the ministry
that registers religious organisations, flatly denied that his ministry too had
ever received an application for registration from the Aliabad Baptists.
`We have never received their documents,' he told Keston. `I have never
heard of this case.' When Keston showed him copies of some of the numerous
appeals that the community has written, he looked through them quickly and
then declared: `I don't know if Ibrahimov is holding onto the documents. It
can't be. What reason has he to hold onto them?' Mamedov had no explanation
as to why the Aliabad church's letter to the Justice Ministry of 5 December
1997 had been sent to the local police for a response. Asked about the
harassment of the congregation, Mamedov declared: `I have never heard of
these events.' However, he did state that if the church lodges an
application `we will consider it'.
The head of the Baptist community in Azerbaijan, ILYA ZENCHENKO, told
Keston in an interview in Baku on 29 March that the Aliabad church
would again be submitting an application for registration together with
churches in Sumgait and Neftchala. He confirmed that the situation for the
church has been `calm on the surface' for the past two years or so. `There
have been no incidents of stone-throwing or people being sacked from work.
The only problem now is registration.' Zenchenko - who visits the
congregation to lead services once a month while Pastor Balayev is studying
abroad - reports that its members still meet in private homes. `We want
registration so that we can acquire a building, as the church is growing.'
Azerbaijan's 1996 law on religion requires a religious organisation to have
ten adult founding members - a requirement that the Aliabad congregation
clearly meets. Azerbaijan's Baptists are hoping that despite the opposition
of the local authorities, the Administration for Religious Affairs and the
Justice Ministry, Aliabad's Baptist church will eventually obtain the
registered status to which it is entitled under the law. (END)
Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.