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Tuesday 15 June

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Agents of the Turkmen government's National Security Committee (KNB,
formerly the KGB) raided the Ashgabat home of VLADIMIR CHERNOV,
pastor of an Evangelical Baptist Church in the Turkmen capital. It is
not clear why the authorities decided to raid Chernov's home, nor
whether they had a legal basis for doing so. However, in the course
of the raid KNB agents confiscated large quantities of Christian
literature and identity documents (passports) of a number of church
members who were present at the time. The action is described by
local believers of the Council of Churches of the Evangelical
Christians/Baptists as `the latest instance of persecution against
Christian Baptists to have taken place in Turkmenistan'. They add:
`We ask you to pray and to petition about the return of the illegally
confiscated possessions, as well as about the freedom to preach the
Gospel in our country.'

Three KNB agents and one police officer descended on Chernov's home
(which is also used for worship services) in the morning of 9 June.
`Other Christians who were at the house, U. V. SENKIN and his wife T.
V. SENKINA, as well as D. MELNICHENKO and N. BELYAYEV, all offered
their passports for the passport examination,' a 9 June statement
from the Council of Churches in Ashgabat reported. `After this, [KNB
agent] NURMAMEDOV issued a verbal order, stating that they wished to
conduct an "inspection" of the house. Asked on what basis the KNB
officials wished to conduct the search, the senior official replied
that they did not need permission for an inspection.'

Without receiving any permission to search the house, KNB agents
began to enter all the rooms, opening cupboards, looking through
furniture, and carrying out personal belongings. KNB agents broke
through the door into one of the rooms where a woman was resting with
her child. `In this "inspection", they threw in the yard outside the
house Christian literature and personal belongings, including
personal letters, family photographs, as well as other items. After
this, the Christian literature, personal letters, a slide projector
and an amplifier were loaded onto a lorry and driven away.'

The official report about the confiscated items drawn up by the
officers lists 5085 copies of some 50 named Christian publications.
However, the officers failed to include in the list of confiscated
items the slide projector, the amplifier or the personal letters.
Identity documents were taken away from all those present in the
house and have not yet been returned. The officers also seized 106
audiocassettes with sermons, as well as some brand new blank

The Ashgabat church of the Council of Churches - which like all
Protestant Christian communities in Turkmenistan does not have
official registration - has been subjected to repeated government
harassment. Council of Churches congregations in other cities have
also recently been harassed. In Dashkhovuz in March, LIDIYA ACHILOVA
was fined for allowing her house to be used for Baptist worship
services. A Baptist from Turkmenbashi, SHAGILDY ATAKOV, was sentenced
in March to two years' imprisonment on what local Baptists say are
trumped-up charges of swindling, although he now faces a new trial on
the same charges after prosecutors complained the original sentence
was too mild. Atakov's brother CHARIYAR ATAKOV and another Baptist
ANATOLI BELYAYEV were detained, quizzed and beaten in April. (END)

Tuesday 15 June

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

An official of the procuracy of Magadan oblast, ANATOLI STEPANOV,
swore that he would use all means at his disposal to close down the
Word of Life (Slovo Zhizni) Pentecostal church following the
procuracy's defeat in a civil court case to do just that, the
church's pastor NIKOLAI VOSKOBOINIKOV told Keston on 1 June.

According to Voskoboinikov, the procuracy has appealed for a retrial
under a different judge, as the court did not allow the procuracy to
present evidence. In addition, the pastor told Keston, officials have
already stepped up pressure on the church by reopening investigations
in a parallel criminal case regarding the illegal possession of
industrial gold: 'Our winning the case was an isolated victory. Our
situation has again become difficult.'

On 10 June 1998 the procuracy filed a civil case proposing the
liquidation of the church under Article 14, Part 3 of the 1997
Russian law on religion, which concerns the causing of harm to
believers by religious organisations. It was alleged that, under
psychological pressure exerted by Pastor Voskoboinikov, believers had
handed over to the church their savings and valuables, and that their
relationships with their families had worsened. These accusations
were based on the conclusions of doctors at the local clinic for
psychological and nervous disorders: 'When preaching is conducted at
the Word of Life church, psychological pressure of an imperative
nature is exerted on those present, who are also driven to a hypnotic
state to the level of trance, i.e. a temporary disorder of mental
activity in the form of disturbed consciousness. The aforementioned
psychological pressure aims to suppress the will and critical
faculties, and to transform the sphere of motivation, social
orientation and direction of thought.'

The church's defence lawyer VLADIMIR RYAKHOVSKY announced at a 27 May
press conference in Moscow that the procuracy requested an
adjournment of the first court session on 28 August 1998 in order to
gather evidence. Numerous inspections of the church were subsequently
conducted, during one of which industrial gold weighing approximately
13 grammes was discovered on the premises. (By Russian law the
possession and sale of industrial gold is a state monopoly.) Separate
criminal proceedings were instigated on this basis, but the criminal
case was closed after a further month of investigations. According to
Ryakhovsky, the public prosecutor annulled the official decree
concerning the closure of the criminal case, in his view in order to
discredit the church morally. During searches of the church, said
Ryakhovsky, 'personal details of members of the church were recorded;
they were invited to talk to the law enforcement agencies.'

When the civil case resumed on 21 May 1999, said Ryakhovsky, Stepanov
declared that the principal piece of evidence would be a video
recording made by a FSB agent of a service at the church, where
hypnosis was alleged to have taken place: 'We protested, since this
constituted intrusion into the private lives of citizens; public
confessions take place at the services. According to Russian
Federation law such recordings may take place only in connection with
the filing of criminal proceedings.' The court refused to view the
evidence, added Ryakhovsky, and when the prosecutor then tried to
present another video cassette of a service supposedly filmed
casually by an employee of the House of Culture rented by the church,
the court likewise rejected it as inadmissible.

According to Ryakhovsky, the court then issued a special statement
directed at the procuracy, declaring that 'in the gathering of
evidence for the trial a secret recording was made in violation of
the law.' In addition, he revealed that the statement cited other
violations of the law: that a mentally ill woman, L. ISAKOVA, was
brought from a psychiatric hospital to the procuracy to give
evidence, and that witnesses' statements were falsified, as one
witness declared in court that he had not in fact said what was in
his purported statement to the public prosecutor.

The head of the independent Psychiatric Association of Russia YURI
SAVENKO, who gave an expert analysis to the court, said that in his
view the procuracy had been using psychiatry 'to dress up'
allegations throughout Russia for the past four years. As a result,
these accusations all sounded the same: 'under the semblance of
religious rites psychological pressure is imperceptibly being brought
to bear on people, harming their health, breaking up their families
and conning them out of their cash.' In this case, he believed,
'psychiatry serves to smooth off difficult corners.' (END)

Tuesday 15 June

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Hearings in the case against the Jehovah's Witnesses began in the
Isani district court in Tbilisi on 8 June. The Georgian parliamentary
deputy GURAM SHARADZE is seeking to have the registration of the
Jehovah's Witnesses in Georgia revoked (see KNS 1 June). According to
Georgian press reports, representatives of the Orthodox Patriarch
attended the trial. In the courtroom, the lawyer representing the
Jehovah's Witnesses felt obliged to prove that he was an Orthodox
Georgian and patriot.

While the hearing was going on, the flock of the radical priest BASIL
MKALAVISHVILI - formerly of the Patriarchate's parish in Tbilisi's
Gldani district who was defrocked by the Patriarchate for his radical
political activity - burnt Jehovah's Witness books on the doorstep of
the courthouse. Father Basil has publicly burnt Jehovah's Witness
literature on a number of previous occasions and campaigned for
distribution of such literature to be banned in Georgia.

The local Union of Jehovah's Witnesses was registered with the Isani
court on 17 April 1998 and the Representation of the Watch Tower
Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, USA, in the Republic of
Georgia was registered with the same court on 11 June 1998. Sharadze
has filed identical suits against both organisations. Sharadze, a
deputy of the Union of Georgian Citizens/Georgia Above All alleges
that it has become evident to his party that the Jehovah's Witnesses
undertake anti-state, anti-national and anti-Orthodox activities.