KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 24 April 2001

I. BELARUS: NEW RELIGION LAW POSTPONED UNTIL
SEPTEMBER. Despite earlier reports that a new and more restrictive
version of the religion law would be debated in parliament in the spring, the
Belarusian government has declared that the draft text will not now go to
parliament until September, Keston News Service has learnt. Work
continues on the draft in secret, with the government refusing to make texts
of any drafts available. Believers of many faiths fear that the revised law will
make public activity by non-favoured religious groups even more difficult.

II. TURKMENISTAN: TWO MONTH PRISON `QUARANTINE' FOR
ATAKOV. Ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov, who was transferred to
an Interior Ministry prison in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi on 23
March, was placed in two-month `quarantine' within days of arrival, Keston
News Service has learnt. He will be denied all mail and parcels for two
whole months. `This has cut him off from all contact with the outside world,'
director of the German-based Friedensstimme mission Klaus Karsten told
Keston on 23 April. There is no news on Atakov's current state of health.

I. BELARUS: NEW RELIGION LAW POSTPONED UNTIL
SEPTEMBER

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Despite earlier reports that a new and more restrictive version of the religion
law would be debated in parliament in the spring, the Belarusian government
has declared that the draft text will not now go to parliament until
September, Keston News Service has learnt. Work continues on the draft in
secret, with the government refusing to make texts of any drafts available to
local religious groups, Keston or to the diplomatic community based in the
Belarusian capital Minsk until the text has been `finalised'.

The postponement was reported in a letter of 10 April from G. V. Bochkova,
first deputy director of the National Legislative Centre under the Presidential
Administration, of which Keston has received a copy. Bochkova declares
that `the introduction of the draft law into the House of Representatives of
the National Assembly has been postponed until September 2001'.

Bochkova reports that the text has not yet been finalised, adding that `a
series of provisions demand additional agreement with interested parties',
though which agencies or groups represent `interested parties' is not stated.
Making available the text `at this stage of preparation' is therefore
`inexpedient'.

`In our view it would be justified to present the final version of the draft law
later, at the completed stage of its drafting after agreement with all interested
parties,' the letter concludes.

Belarus initially adopted the law on freedom of conscience and religious
organisations on 17 December 1992, a year after the country gained
independence. However, the law was subsequently amended and a host of
other published and secret decrees and regulations steadily eroded religious
liberty.

Although a draft text of the new religion law was leaked to the newspaper
Lichnost last year, officials have repeatedly refused to make texts available.
Ivan Yanovich, deputy chairman of the government's Committee for
Religious and Ethnic Affairs, refused to give Keston a copy of the current
draft in late March. Oleg Gulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki
Committee told Keston in early April that when he and his colleagues met
members of the parliamentary commission in human rights on 5 April they
were told that the text would not be made public until it is discussed at the
next session of parliament, due to convene in the spring (see KNS 6 April
2001).

Believers of many faiths fear that the revised law will make public activity
by non-favoured religious groups even more difficult. (END)

II. TURKMENISTAN: TWO MONTH PRISON `QUARANTINE' FOR
ATAKOV

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov, who was transferred to an Interior
Ministry prison in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly
Krasnovodsk) on 23 March, was placed in two-month `quarantine' within
days of arrival, Keston News Service has learnt. The German-based
Friedensstimme mission told Keston that Atakov was placed in isolation on
28 March, where he will be denied all mail and parcels for two whole
months. `This has cut him off from all contact with the outside world,'
mission director Klaus Karsten told Keston on 23 April. There is no news on
Atakov's current state of health.

Keston has been unable to obtain the telephone number of Lieutenant-
Colonel T. B. Meretklychev, commander of the prison where Atakov is
being held, to find out why he has been put in isolation.

Atakov - a member of a congregation of the Council of Churches of
Evangelical Christians/Baptists - is serving a four year sentence on charges
fellow Baptists believe were fabricated to punish him for his activity in the
Baptist church in Turkmenbashi, where he was arrested in December 1998.

In early February he was transferred to prison hospital in the town of Mary
after widespread concern about his rapidly-deteriorating health, then on 1
March he was transferred back to labour camp in Seydy before being
transferred to the Turkmenbashi prison three weeks later (see KNS 27 March
2001).

Atakov's address in prison:
745000 MVD Turkmenistana
BL-t/5 Departamenta politsii Balkanskogo velayata
g. Turkmenbashi
Turkmenistan

From early March Atakov's wife Artygyul and their five children have been
under intense pressure in internal exile in the town of Kaakhka. Artygyul has
been pressured by the local mullah, administration officials and officers of
the political police the KNB (former KGB) to convert to Islam (see KNS 26
March 2001).

Administrative officials invited Artygyul to attend a committee hearing on 2
April to determine whether her children's refusal to participate in the school
ceremony (reading the oath of allegiance to President Saparmurat Niyazov
and kissing the flag) is due to their personal conviction or whether they are
being influenced by Artygyul. If the latter were proved true, the authorities
threatened to deprive her of her parental rights. It is not yet known what
decisions were taken at the hearing.

From his prison cell, Atakov asked his wife and relatives to have his children
brought up as Christians. He and his wife believe that teaching children in
school to bow down in reverence to the president's portrait is a form of
idolatry which violates basic Christian beliefs. `All that the Atakovs are
asking is for the right for their family to practise their Christian faith and to
abstain from practices that violate their beliefs,' an official of the US-based
Russian Evangelistic Ministries told Keston in early April. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.