KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 6, Article 15, 15 June 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________
Thursday 15 June 2000
TAJIK AUTHORITIES INSTRUCT BAPTIST CHURCH TO HALT ITS
ACTIVITY

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Legal authorities in the Tajik capital Dushanbe have stepped up their pressure
on an unregistered Baptist church because it has refused to register. Claiming
that the church's activity without registration violates the law on religion, the
local procuracy has given the church's pastor GENRIKH REIMER an official
warning that he must halt the church's activity. Despite the fact that Tajikistan's
published law on religion lays down no requirement that religious groups must
gain registration in order to function, the country's top religious affairs official
told Keston News Service that registration was obligatory. However he also
said that groups could function in private without registration. He could not
explain why action was being taken against the Baptist congregation.

The `instruction on the elimination of a violation of the law' issued to Reimer
on 15 May by the procurator of the Oktyabrsky district of Dushanbe, where the
church is based, instructed him to `take immediate measures to halt the
functioning of the religious church of Evangelical Christians/Baptists at the
address ul. Telmana 1, pr. Dom 13, until registration'. As justification, the
warning claimed thatthe church was violating the law on religion because it had
functioned without registration since 1962. `The given church is nowhere
registered and the activity of its members violates Article 14 of the Law of the
Republic of Tajikistan on religion and religious organisations'. The warning
was signed on behalf of the district procurator by RAKHMONOV, a legal
counsellor. Reimer signed the warning on 2 June.

Representatives of the Friedensstimme mission in Germany - which maintains
close contact with fellow Baptists in the former Soviet republics - told Keston
on 15 June that `of course' the Dushanbe church continued to meet and hold
services.

Reimer's congregation belongs to the Council of Churches of Evangelical
Christians/Baptists, a group that refused registration during the Soviet period
and which continues to refuse registration in all the post-Soviet republics where
it operates.

Reached by telephone on 15 June, an official at the general procuracy in
Dushanbe told Keston: `We do not give out any information on any cases by
telephone.' He declined to discuss any matters relating to whether religious
groups needed registration in order to function. Keston has been unable to get
through to the Oktyabrsky district procuracy because of poor telephone
connections.

Contacted by telephone on 8 June at his office in Dushanbe, SAIDJON
AKHMEDOV, the chairman of the government's Council for Religious Affairs,
declined to explain why pressure was being put on the Baptist church to
register and why the procuracy believed the church's activity was against the
law. `It is obligatory that religious groups register,' Akhmedov told Keston,
without specifying how he reached that interpretation of the law. He then
maintained that groups could function without registration provided they
confined themselves to activities in private. `If they don't have registration they
cannot function as a church as such. If believers gather in a private house,
though, nothing will happen to them. Let them function without registration,
but if they conduct propaganda, or hold meetings in public or if they invite
outsiders then there will be problems.' He warned that if illegal activity took
place in a private house, the house owner would bear responsibility.

Reimer also faces charges under the Administrative Code because of his
congregation's refusal to register (see KNS 29 February 2000). The case is
being handled at the Oktyabrsky district court by DJURABEK SHEROV. One
hearing has already taken place, but the case has been repeatedly postponed,
reportedly because telegrams in Reimer's support from Baptists around the
world have been arriving at the court.

In an interview with Keston last February, Akhmedov had accused the Baptist
church of `anti-social activity' and `violating social order', for example in its
`missionary activity and propaganda work'. (END)

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