Wednesday 20 October
AFTER THE UZBEK `THAW': NEW THREATS TO PENTECOSTALS
AND JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The raid on a Baptist congregation in the western Uzbek town of Karshi on 10
October (see KNS 15 October 1999) has been followed by further harassment
of members of Uzbekistan's religious minorities, prompting renewed questions
as to of whether the August and September religious `thaw' ordered by the
government is now over.

The highpoint of the thaw camee on 20 August, when the Uzbe authorities
freed five Protestant prisoners and one Jehovah's Witness prisoner under
presidential decrees and quickly registered 20 religious communities that had
long been denied registration (see KNS 23 August 1999). The two months
since the releases have seen some positive developments, with further
registrations of religious communities, but threats of re-arrest still hang over
three of the freed Pentecostal prisoners, pressure has been maintained on the
freed Jehovah's Witness and the raid on the Karshi Baptists has been followed
by a raid on a Jehovah's Witness group in Tashkent.

Two months on there is also no sign that the authorities are planning to change
the restrictive 1998 religious legislation or changes to the criminal code
enacted in 1998 and 1999 that prescribe harsh penalties for unregistered
religious activity or to simplify the burdensome registration requirements that
require permission from fifteen institutions before a congregation can apply for
registration.

Keston News Service has learnt from Christian sources in Uzbekistan that one
of the Pentecostal prisoners freed in August under a presidential decree,
RASHID TURIBAYEV, was summoned twice by the militia in his home town
of Nukus at the end of September. The local police chief, who had been
involved in the fabricated drugs case against Pastor Turibayev and two of his
colleagues in the Full Gospel Church earlier this year, quizzed Turibayev again
about his alleged involvement in drugs, asking where he got drugs from and
who he sold them to. The militia chief also reportedly asked Turibayev to bring
in his two former fellow prisoners, PARAKHAT YANGIBAYEV and ISET
TANISHIYEV, so that they could be questioned as well. However, the two
have reportedly not gone to the militia. The summons to the militia shows that
even though the order to free the three men in August came from Tashkent,
local militia have still not forgotten the case. The threat now hangs over the
men that the authorities in the Karakalpakstan autonomous republic could
relaunch the case against them.

The authorities have also withheld Turibayev's passport confiscated at the time
of his arrest in February. Life is difficult in Uzbekistan without a passport and
travel is impossible. The militia have told Turibayev that the passport has been
`lost'. Yangibayev and Tanishiyev have both received back their passports.
Yangibayev has still not received back the computer confiscated from him at
the time of his arrest. The computer has been seen in use by the militia in
Nukus. Nor have the confiscated religious books been returned.

Meanwhile the Full Gospel Church in Nukus has finally been able to get the
signatures of the epidemiological service and the fire service (two of the fifteen
institutions that have to give their approval before a registration application can
be lodged) and the church filed its registration application with the
Karakalpakstan Ministry of Justice in Nukus in early October. There has been
no reply so far. The church has been seeking registration for almost five years.

The other two Protestant prisoners freed in August, NAIL ASANOV from
Bukhara and IBRAHIM YUSUPOV from Tashkent, have both received their
passports back. Asanov is due to go to the Supreme Court to find out his exact
legal status. At the time of his release his sentence was converted to a
suspended sentence, but he is trying to clarify whether that still stands.
Yusupov is still reported to be suffering pain in his lungs from the
maltreatment he received in custody.

The Jehovah's Witness prisoner freed in August, SERGEI BRAZGIN from
Uchkuduk, is also reportedly still facing problems. `After his release from
prison, Brazgin is under permanent pressure from the local police,' the
Jehovah's Witness lawyer LUBOMIR MULLER told Keston from Tashkent on
16 October.

The latest raid on the Jehovah's Witnesses occurred on 16 or 17 October when
a group of 18 Witnesses meeting in a private apartment in the Chilanzar region
of Tashkent were interrupted by the militia. The group was discussing the
week's reading from the Jehovah's Witnesses' magazine The Watchtower. The
militia said the group was holding a religious meeting of an unregistered
religious organisation which, they said, was against Uzbek law. They were told
they would be fined and instructed to send their leader to city offices on the
morning of 18 October. Once there, they were told to report to a court that
afternoon. It is not yet known what happened at the court. The militia did not
abuse the members of the group, which included several children.

Among more positive news was the registration of at least eight further
Christian congregations of various denominations since the August round of
registrations. Five are Baptist, two are Full Gospeland one is Charismatic (the
Tashkent Word of Faith congregation led by Pastor DENNIS PODOROZHNY,
which lost its registration in 1998). A further two Full Gospel congregations
have lodged their registration applications with the Ministry of Justice and are
awaiting responses. One of these congregations is the Full Gospel Church in
Chirchik, three of whose leaders were fined 100 times the minimum monthly
wage last June after repeated attempts to register had failed. One of the three
leaders, Bishop LEONTY LULKIN, had the fine revoked by the Supreme
Court on 18 August and, according to a report reaching Keston, the money he
paid has since been returned to him. However it seems the two other men did
not have their fines returned.

Registered as a centralised religious organisation in early September was the
Baptist Union. The Full Gospel Church has lodged its application to register
for similar status for its headquarters. Until recently the only religious groups
that had been able to register centralised religious organisations - and thus gain
the privileges that go with it, such as the right to publish religious literature -
were the Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church. (END)


Wednesday 20 October
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CONDEMNS ATTACK ON JEHOVAH'S
WITNESSES

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service


Georgian President EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE has made an unprecedented
television appearance to condemn an attack on a Jehovah's Witness
meeting in the Gldani district of Tbilisi. The 17 October attack,
reportedly organised by the defrocked Orthodox priest BASIL
MKALAVISHVILI, who is based in Gldani, left twenty Jehovah's Witnesses
in hospital. Some of their injuries were described as `grave'. The
intruders also verbally abused the Jehovah's Witnesses present.

`I condemn this occurrence and believe that the law-enforcement
agencies should institute a criminal case,' the president said on 18
October at a televised news conference. However, he added that it was
important that the legal status of the religious sects currently
operating in Georgia be clarified, because their influence on people
should be taken into consideration.

ARNO TUNGLER, a Jehovah's Witness representative in Tbilisi, told
Keston News Service on 19 October that a mob of some 200 people took
part in the attack on the Jehovah's Witness meeting, which was
attended by about 120 people. `Some of those in attendance tried to
escape through another exit, but most were surrounded by the mob,
which proceeded to beat all in attendance including the women and
children,' Tungler reports. `Twenty received injuries serious enough
to warrant treatment at a hospital. Two or three were seriously
injured. One non-Witness attender received bruised ribs. The mob was
apparently using crosses made of iron along with clubs similar to
police billy clubs.'

`Some of those who escaped turned to two different police stations for
help. However, upon finding out that they were Jehovah's Witnesses,
the police refused to help, even going so far as to insult them.'
Tungler reports that in the wake of the attack one woman remains in
hospital with severe vision problems in one eye after she was struck
on the side of the head. The victims have photographed the injuries
sustained.

However, public pressure in the wake of the incident has brought some
limited success. `The next day, some of those who were beaten filed
complaints with the public prosecutor's office. These were accepted no
doubt due to the footage shown on television and the mounting pressure
accompanying it. Apparently eight of those involved in the mob action
have since been arrested.'

`The mob was led by priests who had been excommunicated from the
Georgian Orthodox Church for their hard line views. They have
previously held protests and arranged bonfires of our literature.
Apparently they are so proud of their activity that they went so far
as to videotape their own mob action and gave copies to the local
media. These were shown on at least two television stations, who added
positive comments on our behalf and demanded action on the part of the
police.'

Mkalavishvili - who was defrocked by the Georgian Orthodox
Patriarchate in 1997 - and his supporters have repeatedly harassed
members of religious minorities active in Gldani. He turned up as the
Gldani police were breaking up an open-air evangelistic rally in May
organised by the Madli (Grace) church led by Pastor ZAALI
TKESHELASHVILI. When Tkeshelashvili took legal action against the
police on charges of brutality, Mkalavishvili and his supporters
packed the courtroom and tried to disrupt the proceedings (see KNS 11
June 1999, 20 August 1999 and 28 September 1999).

During court hearings in June in the case against the Jehovah's
Witnesses, in which parliamentary deputy GURAM SHARADZE sought to
have
their registration in Georgia revoked (see KNS 15 June 1999 and 1
October 1999), Mkalavishvili and his supporters burnt Jehovah's
Witness literature on the steps of the courthouse.

After his supporters broke up an evangelistic rally organised by the
Word of Life church in a house of culture in Gldani on 28 August,
Mkalavishvili congratulated them on the victory over the `apostles of
the Anti-Christ' and reproached the Patriarchate of the Georgian
Orthodox Church for what he considered its inability to defeat
religious sects.

However, a source in Tbilisi told Keston that the harassment of
religious minorities in Tbilisi - and Mkalavishvili's activity in
particular - has reached such a point that human rights activists are
finally coming to the defence of the religious minorities.
Tkeshelashvili's appeal against the dismissal of his case against the
Gldani police by the Gldani district court on 17 August is due to be
heard by the Tbilisi regional court on 20 October. `Many
non-governmental organisations here in Tbilisi have contacted Pastor
Zaali telling him that they will be at the court tomorrow for the
appeal hearing,' the source told Keston on 19 October. `Obviously
there will be great pressure on this new judge to act on the side of
the law and for justice.' (END)

***************
All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 1999