Wednesday 28 September

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

In the wake of the unsuccessful legal action brought by the pastor of the Madli (Grace) Evangelical Church against the police of the Gldani district of the Georgian capital, the police are reported to have stepped up their harassment of Evangelical congregations in apparent reprisal. With public Evangelical services in Tbilisi now at a halt, a group of Evangelical Christians in Tbilisi has accused the police of working hand in glove with Orthodox extremists centred around the controversial defrocked priest of Gldani, BASIL MKALAVISHVILI, in their attempt to stifle Evangelical activity.

Pastor ZAAL TKESHELASHVILI, the pastor of the Madli congregation, brought a civil case against the Gldani police for brutality in breaking up an open-air evangelistic rally in May, but the Gldani district court ruled against the pastor on 17 August (see KNS 20 August 1999). Undaunted, he immediately lodged an appeal to the regional court, which he believes has further infuriated the Gldani police.

`Because of the filing of the appeal, the police have become even more negative towards Pastor Zaal and the evangelical Pentecostal churches,' a 9 September statement by a group of Tbilisi Evangelicals declared. `On Sunday 29 August the police from the districts of Gldani and Nadzaladevi tried to attack Zaal and Nino Tkeshelashvili and their church. Pastor Zaal had received word about the intentions of the police and cancelled their meeting for Sunday 29 August.'

Finding noone at the building which Pastor Tkeshelashvili rents for services, the police then moved to a building rented by a congregation led by Bishop OLEG KHUBASHVILI, the leader of the Christians of Evangelical Faith in Georgia. `The police of Gldani and Nadzaladevi came not in uniform, but in plain clothes with guns,' the statement continued. `They began to riot and beat some of the church members from Pastor Oleg's church. The police took some of the members' documents and told them that they would be returned if they came to the police station. The police and their supporters destroyed the meeting. Uniformed police came and assisted the evangelical members to leave their building to return to their homes.' The police then sealed the building.

The police were joined in their raid by anti-Protestant demonstrators, apparently linked to Mkalavishvili, who were shown on a television news report the same evening shouting slogans against the Evangelicals, calling them `dirty people' and `apostles of anti-Christ'.

The raid happened a day after Mkalavishvili's parishioners drove away a group of members of the Word of Life church, who were due to hold an evangelism rally in Gldani. The rally - led by a pastor from the Word of Life church in Kiev - was to have been held in the Gldani House of Culture, which is next to the building rented by Pastor Tkeshelashvili. The meeting never even started. The head of the group, VIKTOR LUTSIK, told a local newspaper that he and his friends were attacked while standing outside the House of Culture after its director had refused to let them in. About 15 policemen arrived but did not intervene.

`Because of the work of the police from these two districts [Gldani and Nadzaladevi], all of the evangelical Pentecostal churches in Tbilisi are now without a place to meet. Pastor Oleg, Pastor Zaal Pastor Gia and Pastor Vitali are unable to hold Sunday meetings any more,' the Evangelicals declare. `We believe that the police of Gldani district are adding to the persecution in hopes of intimidating and preventing any further charges brought before the courts.' However, the Evangelicals pledge to continue their attempt by legal channels to assert their rights, basing their argument of the commitment to religious freedom enshrined in the Georgian constitution.

An Evangelical source in Tbilisi told Keston on 24 September that the Evangelical churches had still not resumed the holding of services. `Sunday services are still suspended; the directors of the buildings were threatened and told not to rent to the Pentecostals. We do not know when the services will resume.' The source speculated that without intervention from the government the harassment might continue until after the parliamentary elections in November. (END)

Tuesday 28 September

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The only Jehovah's Witness in Khachmaz region of north east Azerbaijan has
been subjected to harassment from the law enforcement agencies and 15 days'
administrative arrest for practising his faith, the Human Rights Centre of
Azerbaijan reported from Baku on 28 August.

On 9 August IBRAHIM YUZBEYOV was invited to the regional police office
for discussion of his religious activities. One of the deputy chiefs of the
regional police told him that the inhabitants of his native village of
had complained that he had been engaged in religious propaganda which, the
officer said, was illegal.

After that, the deputy chief and three other policemen accompanied Yuzbeyov
to his home, searched it without a warrant and the witnesses required by law
and confiscated books, audio and videotapes. The village council drew up the
confiscation protocol later in the presence of the village authorities. Back in the
regional police office, the officers forced Yuzbeyov to write a statement before
putting him in a cell.

The following day, Yuzbeyov was handcuffed and taken to the Khachmaz
regional people's court where he was informed that he had been sentenced by a
judge to 15 days' administrative arrest `because he changed religion'. The
formal accusation was a minor act of hooliganism based on a falsified protocol
which Yuzbeyov had not signed. There was no trial or lawyer, despite the fact
that from the Constitution Court has ruled that from 13 July administratively
people have the right to legal representation from the moment of detention.

Yuzbeyov was reportedly maltreated in the preliminary detention cell. He
claimed he was beaten on his head and face, his hair was cut, and he was forced
to work in the police station. He was fed only once per day. The police refused
to accept a food parcel from Yuzbeyov's father.

During the period of detention, Yuzbeyov was interrogated by officers of the
Ministry of National Security who tried to convince him that Jehovah's Witness
propaganda was illegal (they are not officially registered in Azerbaijan). After
his release, he was invited to meet the chief of the regional office of the
Ministry of National Security who warned Yuzbeyov, who is a citizen of
Azerbaijan, that he would be forcibly deported from the country within three
days if he remained a Jehovah's Witness. Yuzbeyov was then released, but the
books and tapes were not returned.

Concerned by the threats from the national security and police officers,
Yuzbeyov travelled to Baku to bring his complaint to severa human rights
organisations, including the Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan, which is

`This is the most recent case of persecution of members of the Jehovah's
Witness community in Azerbaijan,' Zeynalov declares. `Although all the
necessary documents were presented to the Ministry of Justice several years
ago, the Jeehovah's Witnesses are neithe registered nor have they received a
response, while the believers are "legally" persecuted on administrative charges
because of the lack of registration. There are many cases of forcibly dispersed
meetings, fines, confiscation of identity documents, and confiscations of books
and tapes.'

In November 1997, after the Jehovah's Witnesses had been trying
unsuccessfully to gain registration with the Ministry of Justice for two years, a
Ministry official appeared to indicate that registration would become possible
on payment of a bribe. The Jehovah's Witness representative, ALEKSANDR
USENKO, handed over a 2,000 dollar bribe, and was immediately arrested.
Tried in February 1998, Usenko - a Russian citizen - was given a suspended
sentence of three years' imprisonment on charges of bribery under Article 171
of the Criminal Code. He was freed and allowed to leave Azerbaijan.

In 1998-9, four other foreign Jehovah's Witnesses who travelled to Azerbaijan
to preach were forcibly deported to Russia. The Baku paper '525 Newspaper' reported on 9
April 1999 that a court in Nasimi district of Baku had expelled two Russian citizens,
participation in illegal religious activities. Four other members of the Society
were warned and fined, the paper added. Members of the Jehovah´┐Żs Witness community told the Human Rights Centre that on 1 April 19999 four of the six meetings held in the capital were broken up, that 400 names were taken by the authorities and that many participants had been fined 27,000 manats (about seven US dollars). The owners of the premises where the meetings had taken place were fined 60,000 manats each. Shabanov had been arrested during one of these raids.

Another Baku paper, 'Zerkalo', reported on 21 July that police officers in
Khatayi district held spot-checks in compliance with the Law on Status of
Foreigners and People Without Citizenship. During the checks, the police
detained two Jehovah's Witnesses, ANDREI AVDIYENKO and NINA
TVERITINA, in one flat. `It was found out that they had regularly spread
religious propaganda among school pupils and belonged to the Jehovah's
Witnesses sect,' Zerkalo reported. The Khatayi District Court fined Tveritina.
(It is not clear if this is the same Avdiyenko or, if so, whether this was a
separate incident.)

The Jehovah's Witnesses also suffer for their refusal to perform military
service, which is compulsory iin Azerbaijan. (A 1992 presidential decree
created the procedure for alternative service, but this decree and provisions in
Article 76 part 2 of the Constitution allowing alternative service have never
been enacted.) Earlier this year one Witness, ROVSHAN MURSALOV,
protested against his conscription into the army and began a campaign for his
right to perform alternative service. Since then, the Human Rights Centre of
Azerbaijan reports, he and his family have been harassed by the police, the
military conscription office and the local authorities.

`This background forces us to take Yuzbeyov's statement seriously and to share
his fear of possible further persecution,' Zeynalov concludes, adding that any
further administrative arrests for petty hooliganism could lead to Yuzbeyov's
punishment under Article 207 of the Criminal Code (with punishment ranging
from a fine of 500 dollars to a one-year imprisonment).

Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries around the world (Uzbekistan and
Turkmenistan are among the others) for which the Jehovah's Witnesses do not
publish membership statistics. (END)

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