Issue 2, Article 22 - Issue 3 Article 3
1 March 2000

Summaries of recent reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion
in communist and post-communist lands.

NEW from KNS. This Summary service goes only to those who subscribe to
Keston News Service. We will be sending it weekly. Only articles which have
been published earlier in the week will appear. We hope this service is useful to
you as we have greatly increased our reporting in the last three months and
realise not everyone may have time to read all the articles.

ORGANISATIONS (21 February). The regional department of justice in
Voronezh has initiated the single largest local suit against religious
organisations since the reregistration deadline expired 31 December 1999. The
head of the section that registers social and religious association in this
department told Keston that other regions had not begun such proceedings only
because they had 200 religious organisations - not 13 - which remained un-
reregistered. The defendants include the regional administrative centre of the
Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, several Pentecostal denominations,
an Evangelical-Lutheran church and the Overo Jewish community. An
Evangelical Christian activist hopes that the defendants will be able to review
all reregistration documents; he told Keston that if they find just one Russian
Orthodox entity has not undergone reregistration, but was not being liquidated,
then �all 13 cases would burst like soap bubbles�.

(22 Feb). With strong echoes of Soviet-era press attacks on dissidents who
were about to be put on trial, mullah Hoja Ahmed Orazgylych has been
accused of swindling, and proposing two women sleep with him as the only
way of conceiving a child. Speaking from the Council for Religious Affairs,
the chief mufti declared that all allegations were true. US-funded Radio
Liberty, for whom Orazgylych has worked in their religious programmes
section of the Turkmen Service, believes he is being held at the much feared
Tejen prison. The government declined to confirm where he is being held.
President Niyazov questioned the clergyman�s religious authority and his
interpretation of the Koran when addressing Turkmen parliament on 14
February. This may be because Orazgylych opposed the president�s
instructions on celebrating the New Year: to circle a Christmas tree and chant
the prayer to President Niyazov (which appears on the front page of every
newspaper). Radio Liberty reported Orazgylych�s response; �I have been
studying Islam for 24 years and from the first to the last writings I have never
come across anything in the Koran about meeting the New Year with a
Christmas tree� Just the opposite, a Muslim should not act like a Christian.�

practice of the sacraments in mixed marriages and in ethnically and religious
mixed communities, members of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox
Church and of the Roman Catholic Bishop�s Conference in Croatia continued
to work toward greater understanding and mutual cooperation. They also
agreed to cooperate in property restitution covering churches, monasteries,
land, schools and other objects. Large clusters of believers from both
confessions are concentrated in Vojvodina and in the Croatian regions of
Lavonija and Lika.

DEADLINE? (24 Feb). On 18 February the State Duma passed all three
readings of a bill extending the reregistration deadline of religious
organisations to 31 December 2000. On 23 February the chairman of the Duma
will sign it and pass it to the Federation Council. Even if it does not get on to
the Federation Council�s agenda, it will automatically be approved in two
weeks. Then it will go to the President for his signature and after study by
experts for two weeks, it should then be signed or not signed. In other words,
within a month it will most likely be approved and come in to force. Both the
Russian Orthodox Church and the Muslims favour the extension as only one
Muslim spiritual administration and neither Orthodox monasteries, nor synod
departments nor many parishes have been reregistered. Both the head of
reregistration at the Ministry of Justice and a lawyer representing several
churches agreed that no religious organisation can be liquidated - and thus lose
the rights of a legal person - apart from a court decision coming into force.

CONTROVERSY (25 February). Five consignments collected by a reported
150,000 Russians and sent by the Sretensky Monastery with the help of the
Russian Interior Ministry has not satisfied Maksim Shevchenko, the editor of
Nezavisimaya Gazeta - Religion. He questions whether one monastery�s work
could speak for the whole Church and claims the aid was not humanitarian and
that only �the pitiful crumbs which would reach the �Russian refugees� and
�Chechen children� were an irrelevance�. The monastery�s abbot,
Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov) told Keston that he distributed half of the
first consignment to the Chechen mufti who had passed it on to an orphanage
for both Chechen and Russian children. After the war began again and they
could not get into Chechnya, two 70-tonne shipments of aid went to the front
and thus to Russian soldiers as well as to refugees which �included both
Shevkunov told Keston that while some elderly Russian Orthodox
priests had been released in Chechnya while others had definitely been killed.
Fr Yefimy was captured twice, once while delivering aid; �For a month he was
made to sit on a pole suspended above a pot of filth.�
Regarding the number of Russian Orthodox churches in Chechnya, he
thought there were a dozen; Fr Vsevolod Chapnin of the Department of
External Chruch Relations thought just one; and the assistant for the year-old
diocese of Baku and the Caspian confirmed there were three - one destroyed.

Chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, Saidjon Alchmedov, declined to
tell Keston why the hearing of elder Genrikh Reimer had been postponed again
and further declined to say what article of the Administrative Code Reimer had
violated. However, he was adamant that the church was guilty of �anti-social
activity� and had �violated social order�, for example in its �missionary activity
and propaganda work�. Although nowhere specified in legislation that
unregistered religious activity is illegal, Akhmedov insisted that �By refusing
to register with the Council for Religious Affairs, the church has violated
Articles 14,15 and 16 of the 1994 law on freedom of conscience and religious
organisations.� Asked whether this meant that the law banned religious activity
by unregistrered religious groups, he stated categorically: �Yes, the law bans
such unregistered religious activity�Registration covers religious groups�
social activity, their activity as a body in society. It doesn�t cover their internal
religious activity. As for their internal activity, they have religious freedom.�

DENY IT (29 February). After raiding a private home, the political police
(KNB) asked questions about the religion and their religious literature,
searched the home without a warrant, took away all personal photos and
literature, recording all actions on video cameras. Then everyone was taken to a
factory building near the house where the factory director, the trade union
leader, the head of the district administrative office, and the mullah were
already assembled. The believers were interrogated, had their personal details
recorded, were pressured to write that they would not meet any more until they
were registered and were warned that if they continued to meet they would face
penalties under Article 205 of the Administrative Code, issued in 1986 during
the Soviet period. It punishes unregistered religious activity. A leader of the
community had his passport and car confiscated and one member was
threatened with deportation. (END)