KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 3, Article 3, 29 February 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

Tuesday 29 February 2000
TAJIK AUTHORITIES POSTPONE BAPTIST TRIAL

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The trial of the elder of a Baptist congregation in the Tajik capital Dushanbe
failed to go ahead as scheduled on 29 February and has been postponed to an
unspecified future date, although it seems that moves to suppress the
congregation are likely to continue. The elder, GENRIKH REIMER, is facing
charges under the Administrative Code because his congregation - which
belongs to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists - has
refused to register with the authorities. The case is being handled at a district
court in the capital by DJURABEK SHEROV.

It is not clear why there was a postponement of the hearing in the case, which
has already been postponed several times. The Friedensstimme Mission in
Germany told Keston News Service that they believed it was because of the
numerous complaints that had arrived at the court from around the world.
`Because many telegrams arrived yesterday and today (even after the court
hearing had begun) the judge was unsure and dismissed those present,' the
mission told Keston on 29 February, citing information they had received from
believers in the country. `The court hearing was postponed to an unspecified
date.'

Contacted by telephone the same day at his office in Dushanbe, SAIDJON
AKHMEDOV, the chairman of the government's Council for Religious Affairs,
declined to say why the hearing had been postponed. He told Keston that the
new hearing will not take place `in the near future'. Akhmedov was adamant
that Reimer should face charges as, he maintained, the church was guilty of
`anti-social activity' and had `violated social order', for example in its
`missionary activity and propaganda work'. But Akhmedov declined to say
what article of the Administrative Code Reimer had violated, stressing that
`this is a matter for the court'.

`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. Under the law all religious organisations must register.'
Asked whether this meant that the law banned religious activity by unregistered
religious groups, he stated categorically: `Yes, the law bans such unregistered
religious activity.' Questioned again on this, as these articles do not specifically
ban the activity of such unregistered religious groups, Akhmedov repeated his
interpretation and denied that this contradicted guarantees of religious freedom
in Tajikistan's constitution. `You must understand one thing,' he told Keston.
`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.'

He reported that he had invited Reimer and the other church leaders several
times to his office, where he had informed them of what he described as the
`requirement' to register, but they had refused. `It is in your interest to register,'
he told them, `then we will be in a position to defend you.' Akhmedov stressed
that if the church applies for registration it will get it but warned that if it
continues its activity `it will be stopped'.

In a 27 January appeal to the President of Tajikistan, EMOMALI
RAKHMONOV, the members of the church had complained that at a
December meeting with Akhmedov he had insisted that they must register.
`After the conversation with him we understood that we were not being given
full freedom. Later, in January, we were invited to the procurator of the city
procuracy, Mrs S. NABIDJANOVA, who informed us that we had violated the
legislation on religion and religious organisations and ordered us immediately
to correct the violations otherwise measures would be taken against us.' The
procurator threatened to close and seal the church, confiscate the congregation's
property and institute a legal case if they did not comply. During the meeting at
the procuracy, they report, they asked the supervising procurator, SUKHROB
MISHOKOV, on what charges the church would be prosecuted. `We'll find
something,' he reportedly replied.

In response to the procuracy meeting, the church sent a statement on 23
January outlining its acceptance of registration only in the case of full
separation of church and state and subject to approval from a fraternal congress
of the Council of Churches. It stressed that this was the position of the entire
congregation.

On 27 January Nabidjanova again summoned Reimer and another elder, V.
CHUMACHENKO, to the procuracy, where she informed them that `measures'
would be taken against the church and that Reimer would face a trial under the
administrative code.

In their appeal the church members asked President Rakhmonov to ensure that
they would in future be able to gather for services, preach the Gospel and be
protected from arbitrary actions against them.

The Dushanbe church has been meeting since 1962 and was severely
persecuted during the Soviet era. It has consistently refused to register since
Tajikistan gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The authorities' insistence that unregistered religious activity is illegal -
although nowhere specified in legislation - marks a growing trend in the former
Soviet republics. Only in Uzbekistan is unregistered religious activity
specifically banned.(END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.