I. GEORGIAN POLICE BREAK UP EVANGELISTIC MEETING
II. SALVATION ARMY RESTRUCTURES ITS WORK IN MOLDOVA AND ROMANIA
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Friday 11 June
GEORGIAN POLICE BREAK UP EVANGELISTIC MEETING
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
Georgian police have been accused of brutality in breaking up a
series of Evangelical rallies held in the Gldani district of the
capital Tbilisi by the Madli (Grace) Evangelical Church. In the wake
of the police attack on the rallies - held at the end of May in a
Tbilisi housing estate - the congregation has been in a state of
fear, as the church's pastor, ZAALI TKESHELASHVILI, told Keston News
Service by telephone from Tbilisi on 10 June. `The police observe
where we meet and our parishioners. We fear they could do anything to
us at any moment.' The church has, however, continued to meet for
Sunday worship in the cinema they normally rent.
According to Tkeshelashvili, the church had informed the police of
the events before the rallies took place. `They didn't ban them, and
told us they could go ahead.' He believes the Gldani police
themselves took the initiative in seeking to halt the rallies and
attack participants. `They did this without official sanction. We
have had problems before but not on this scale.'
Immediately after the violent break-up of the rallies, it seemed that
the police were seeking to arrest Pastor Tkeshelashvili and he went
into hiding for several days, but returned home on 5 June. The police
also seemed eager to hunt down and remove a videotape documenting
their violence against the congregation.
The Madli church belongs to the Christians of the Evangelical Faith
Church in Georgia, a Pentecostal denomination which has registration
as a `social organisation'. (Georgia has no law on religion, and this
is the form of registration that church headquarters need to gain
The congregation has been seeking redress from the authorities in the
wake of the police attacks. `We hope to assert our rights in
Georgia,' Tkeshelashvili told Keston, stressing that Georgia is on
the path to democracy now it has become a member of the Council of
Europe. The congregation took the case to the Public Defender
(Ombudsman). `They wrote everything down and handed it to the
procuracy. We expect the case to begin next week.'
The congregation also circulated an open letter on 1 June, signed by
eight leading members of the Christians of the Evangelical Faith
Church, and made representations to a number of foreign embassies in
Tbilisi and the local office of the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe.
The letter, signed by Tkeshelashvili and his wife NINO (the associate
pastor), the Church's Bishop of Georgia OLEGI KHUBASHVILI, the
President of the Association of Evangelical Faith Christians of
Georgia RAULI KHVEDELIDZE and four other pastors, recounts the
following version of events surrounding the rallies.
On 27 and 28 May, the Madli Church conducted outdoor meetings between
Buildings 21 and 22 in Micro District 3-A of Gldani, with music and
preaching. On the first day everything was peaceful. But on the
second day, two officers from the Gldani district police station
interrupted their gathering without any warning, asking the pastor
and his wife to follow them to the police station.
Later that evening the pastor and his wife went to the police station
where they were questioned by two officers, Gldani Assistant Police
Chief GIVI EKIZASHVILI and SHALVA RUKHADZE. The officers demanded an
explanation of why they were gathering and a complete list of the
names of their congregation. They refused to give the list of names.
After two hours, the officers told them that everything was all right
and allowed them to leave. The officers did not forbid them to gather
publicly and only asked for the volume on the sound system to be
On the evening of 29 May, the congregation moved to the nearby
Building 23 where several members of the congregation live. At 6:00
p.m. they began their meeting. After approximately 30 minutes, two
police officers arrived and again interrupted their meeting. They
refused to give Pastor Tkeshelashvili their name or their reason for
coming, but asked him to go with them to the police station. This
was completely unexpected because of the meeting with the police the
previous night at the police station. After the pastor promised to
go to the police station following the meeting, the officers left and
the meeting continued.
Within twenty minutes, again without any warning, the Assistant
Police Chief Ekizashvili stormed into their meeting and forcibly
removed the microphone from Pastor Tkeshelashvili as he was speaking.
He insulted both Zaali and Nino, adding: "Go away from this place, I
will kill you all!" (this entire encounter was recorded on video).
Ekizashvili lost his self-control and began to abuse the people
standing around. He struck Nino and then turned and pushed a 60 year
old woman to the ground. Moments later he threatened to pull out his
gun (also recorded in photos and on video).
Soon after this assault the Gldani Police Chief, TAMAZ DAVITASHVILI,
arrived and began to verbally abuse those gathered there, clearly
supporting the actions of his subordinates.
The police continued to insult and argue for some time. Pastor
Tkeshelashvili, wanting to maintain peace, called his congregation
together and asked them to leave and return to their homes. Most of
them left, but approximately 25 (five men and twenty women) went with
the pastor and his wife. As they were leaving the police attempted
to take Zaali and Nino, but because of the large number of people
gathered there, they were not able to.
It was impossible for Pastor Tkeshelashvili to go in his own car and
the 25 church members decided to stick together. They walked for
about twenty minutes toward the Akhmeteli metro station. When they
were in the courtyard of Building 3-B of Micro District 3, three
police cars containing approximately 12 officers drove in front of
them, trapping the group of 25 in the courtyard.
The officers immediately attacked the pastor and tried to take him by
force, but the congregation protected him and would not allow them to
do this. For the next ten minutes the police beat the congregation
members. GOCHA LALEBASHVILI was thrown to the ground and kicked in
the head and face, leaving him with three loose teeth. KAKHA BERIDZE
was hit in the face and choked. They put Beridze and GOGI TCIKLAURI
in one of the cars, but again the congregation freed them. The
pastor was beaten and many of the women. The shouting and crying
attracted the attention of many local residents and because of the
inability of the police to overcome the group quickly, the officers
returned to their cars and left.
The pastor, his wife and eleven members of the congregation went to a
home belonging to one of his parishioners. At 11:00 p.m. the pastor
was informed by mobile phone that a large number of the Gldani police
were aggressively looking for him and the videotape. The entire
congregation was extremely concerned. It was impossible for Pastor
Tkeshelashvili and his wife to leave Gldani. By mobile phone, they
asked two American friends to come and take them out.
After the Americans came to take this last group of people, one
police car followed them for approximately 40 minutes. At one point
the officers tried to stop the group in order to obtain the videotape
which would incriminate the Gldani Police Department, but with the
help of the Americans the group was able to leave Gldani.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have reported a
series of other cases involving brutality against suspects and
suspects' relatives by officers of the Gldani police over the past
few years. Little has come of complaints in these cases, but the
Madli church seems determined to defend its rights through legal
Friday 11 June
SALVATION ARMY RESTRUCTURES ITS WORK IN MOLDOVA AND ROMANIA
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
Five of the twenty new lieutenants commissioned in the Salvation Army
in Moscow's Izmailovo Hotel on 29 May were from Moldova, one of the
four CIS republics where the Salvation Army is active (the others are
Russia, Ukraine and Georgia). All twenty had completed two years'
theological training at a Salvation Army college in Finland. There
are a further fifteen Moldovan cadets currently in training to become
officers, eleven in the second year of study and four in the first
Two of the five new Moldovan lieutenants, VALERI LALAK and his wife
VIKTORIYA, were commissioned to begin the Salvation Army's work in
the Romanian capital Bucharest, after Romania was added to the
Salvation Army's Moldovan Region to form a new Moldova/Romania
After earlier difficulties, the Salvation Army was officially
registered in Moldova on 5 October last year. `We have flourished
ever since and our growth has been amazing,' Major WILL CUNDIFF, the
Regional Officer for the Moldova/Romania Region, told Keston News
Service on 10 June. `Our work was very difficult prior to
registration in Moldova and there are still some hurdles to overcome,
but by God's grace we have seen many modern-day miracles and we of
course see many heart-breaking difficulties.'
The Salvation Army arrived in Moldova in spring 1994, but was
prevented from registering for many years as Moldovan law requires
the head of a religious organisation to be a Moldovan citizen.
(Article 22 part 1 of the Law on Cults of 24 March 1992 declares:
`Leaders of cults on the republican level and hierarchs chosen in
accordance with the statute (charter) of the given cult, as well as
all servants of cult must be citizens of the Republic of Moldova.')
However, the group was able to conduct its activities without
The problem of the leadership was solved before registration by
establishing local citizens as the leaders, with an officer sent from
the international headquarters to cooperate with that leadership.
`The leader of the committee to register the Salvation Army in
Moldova is listed as the head of the organisation,' explains Cundiff,
`and along with the other members of the committee cooperates with
and allows the officer appointed by the international leaders of the
Salvation Army to operate as the spiritual and fiscal director of the
work by invitation.'
Cundiff reports that relations with other Christian churches,
including the Orthodox Church, have generally been good. `I was
allowed the privilege of preaching at two Orthodox churches a couple
of years ago.'
The Salvation Army has tried to continue its work in the breakaway
Transdniester Republic, a region on the east bank of the River
Dniestr that remains outside the control of the central government in
Chisinau. `We have been working in the city of Dubasari for more than
three years and are doing well there,' reports Cundiff. However,
although they were registered there in April 1997 the Transdniester
Bureau of Religion and Cults, based in the capital Tiraspol and
headed by ZELESHKOV, has repeatedly said that that registration was a
mistake. Zeleshkov has said that this mistake will not be repeated.
Salvation Army work has been more difficult in Tiraspol itself, where
it has never been allowed to register officially. `We began our work
in Tiraspol in May 1998 with the permission of the mayor and social
work department of the government, first distributing humanitarian
aid and serving hot meals to starving senior citizens. We began
weekly worship meetings in a borrowed meeting room and had such great
success that there were complaints that we would be stealing folks
from other churches and that we were a cult and not real Christians.
After much work and growth in December 1998 we were told we would
have to close the feeding programme and cease all humanitarian aid
distribution as well as any evangelistic outreach. We were told that
as of 1 January we could only deliver humanitarian aid to other
groups there and allow them to distribute as they saw fit.' Cundiff
is uneasy about distributing aid through other organisations because
of the lack of accountability and certainty that the goods have
reached their intended destination.
However, Cundiff is optimistic that the Transdniestran authorities
will once more allow the Salvation Army to function fully. `I believe
this limitation will soon be lifted because of the work we are doing
with children's homes there.'
Cundiff is also active in setting up the organisation's work in
Romania. `The Salvation Army has just recently begun the process of
registration in Romania. We have the two Lieutenants Lalak there, as
well as two helpers LENA DRUGUSH and OKSANA PISMINUK. The Salvation
Army has never had an official work there, although we have been
cooperating with a number of other groups and agencies there in
humanitarian aid for some time. We have rented quarters for these
folks and are in the process of finding office and meeting space and
will soon be involved in discussions involving everything from the
problem of street children to refugee resettlement.' (END)