Issue 10, Article 19, 17 October 2000

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

INVESTIGATION COMPLETE'. Despite the interrogation of more than a
dozen church members - but of no-one from outside the church - officials have
denied to Keston that they are solely seeking suspects from among the church
membership. Three people who were attending the service at the time of the
explosion appear to be in government custody, but the Ministries involved
refused to give any details of the case.

Tuesday 17 October 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

In the wake of the bombing of the Korean-led Grace Sonmin church in the
Tajik capital Dushanbe in which many people were killed or injured, officials
are declining to give any information about the investigation until it is
complete. Keston News Service has learnt from official sources in Dushanbe
that the investigation is a joint operation of the Ministry of Security (the former
KGB), the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Military Procuracy.

Despite the interrogation of more than a dozen church members - but of no-one
from outside the church - officials have denied to Keston that they are solely
seeking suspects from among the church membership. Local Christians ridicule
suggestions that a church member or members could have carried out the attack
and believe it was the work of Islamic extremists. However, Keston has been
unable to gain the view of members of the Grace Sonmin church. Various
church members have referred enquiries to the church's press office, but Keston
has been unable to get through.

The first of two bombs went off in the back row of the prayer hall on the first
floor of the three-storey building in central Dushanbe during the Sunday
morning service on 1 October at which some 400 people were present. A
second blast then went off on the floor below. The powerful blasts tore the
doors off their hinges, shattered the windows and turned the furniture into
splinters. A police spokesman said one of the devices was equivalent to 8
pounds of dynamite. A third bomb planted in the basement of the building did
not explode.

According to a message in Korean faxed from Dushanbe and obtained by the
US-based Compass Direct news service, during the offertory `some stranger
came in and left a bag in one of the pews'. When the bomb hidden in the bag
exploded, the statement said, `the roof came down'. A second bomb was timed
to go off on the ground floor as people tried to flee the building.

The Grace Sonmin church is led by Pastor YUN SEOP CHOI, an ethnic
Korean who arrived in Dushanbe in 1991 from Los Angeles, but he was abroad
when the bomb attack took place. The church gained official registration in
1997 and is made up of Tajiks, Koreans, Russians, Tatars and Uzbeks.

KHODOINAZAR ASOYEV, spokesman of the Internal Affairs Ministry, told
Keston by telephone on 16 October that the investigation is not likely to be
completed `for a couple of weeks'. Asked about reports that about a dozen
church members had been detained in the wake of the explosion and that three
were reportedly still being held, Asoyev declared: `I can't say how many were
arrested as that would interfere with the investigation.' However, he specifically
denied that three church members were currently under arrest. After repeated
questioning he admitted that those present during the Sunday service when the
bomb went off were `interrogated and then released'. Asked about suggestions
that the authorities had long been hostile to the Grace Sonmin church, he
replied: `The authorities have absolutely nothing against this church'.

Contacted by telephone on 16 and 17 October, officials at the Security Ministry
press centre declined to give Keston any information about the investigation.
`The chief, AHMEDALI SHAFATROV, is away on a work trip for three or
four days,' Keston was told. `Only he has the right to give any information.'

SAIDJON AKHMEDOV, the chairman of the government's Committee for
Religious Affairs, told Keston on 16 October that three people were still being
held in the wake of the bombing, though he stressed that `this doesn't mean
they are necessarily guilty'. He said he did not know their names, but said one
was a member of the church while the other two were people who had attended
services. `They will be held for three days while it is established what they
know. Maybe they know what happened. The investigation organs are holding
them. They are not in prison - they are being held in offices.' He denied that the
dozen people held in the immediate aftermath of the bombing had been
arrested, declaring that they had been merely `brought in for questioning'. He
declared categorically that the authorities were not confining themselves to
finding suspects among church members. `The investigators do not believe that
the attack could only come from inside the congregation.'

Like Asoyev of the Internal Affairs Ministry, Akhmedov claimed that there
was no official hostility to the Grace Sonmin church. `We worked with them
and maintain friendly relations. The pastor has been to my home,' Akhmedov
added. Asked about the threats the church had received before the bombing and
the difficulties the church's missionaries had faced he replied: `There have been
no threats from the authorities.' Asked about newspaper coverage of the
bombing, which had described the attack as `God's punishment on the traitors
to their faith' - an apparent reference to the presence of church members who
had converted from an Islamic background - Akhmedov replied: `We don't
control journalists.'

Unofficial sources put the death toll in the bombing at eight. `Seven died at the
scene and an eighth died last week in hospital,' a Christian told Keston from
Dushanbe on 16 October. `48 remain in hospital with serious injuries, some of
them blinded.' However, others put the death toll above ten. KIM SO HEE,
consul for cultural matters at the South Korean embassy in the Uzbek capital
Tashkent (which also covers Tajikistan), told Keston on 16 October that they
had learned that 11 had died. Kim had no information about the reported arrests
and declined to comment. However, she confirmed that no South Korean
citizens were among those killed or injured.

Local Christians were pleased that President IMOMALI RAHMONOV, as well
as the mayor of Dushanbe MAHMADSAID UBAIDULLOEV and the Islamic
Renaissance Party, the only official religious party in the country, condemned
the explosions. They added that the Committee for Religious Affairs and the
president's office helped with arranging the burials of those who died.

However, numerous sources complained that the security services had treated
the victims of the blast as likely suspects. Some officers reportedly `insulted'
church members during interrogation, especially ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and
others of `Muslim' background, accusing them of `betraying' their faith. `Many
in the security organs were not polite. They cannot accept that Tajiks or Uzbeks
can be Christians.'

Even those recovering in hospital were not spared. `Unfortunately, instead of
receiving specialised post-trauma counselling, most of the injured are
continuing to be harassed while in hospital,' another source reported, `being
told that this is all their fault for "selling" their religion, and that they have
actually provoked the attack themselves.' A third source added that those being
treated for injuries were being charged `exorbitant' costs by the hospitals. Local
Christians also complained about the `determined silence' on the part of the
media about the attack. There has been little coverage in the local media apart
from initial reports and several hostile articles in the Tajik-language press.

Last November, representatives of the government's Committee for Religious
Affairs told the church that it was in danger of losing its state registration
because of its active ministry in the capital, linked with evangelistic outreaches
in several towns across the country. In three known incidents in autumn of last
year, police raided worship meetings and arrested some church members,
confiscating their literature and handing down administrative punishments for
`illegal missionary propaganda'.

More recently, the �Sadoi Mardum� newspaper in Dushanbe reported on 31
August that three South Korean citizens had been detained in the town of
Kurgan-teppe on 9 August for `missionary activity'. Local security police chief
AMIRKHON KHOJAMQULOV told the paper that the three, who described
themselves as students associated with the Sonmin missionary centre in
Dushanbe, had been giving out leaflets with messages aimed at `provoking fear
among the population'. The three South Koreans, identified by the paper as
were reportedly expelled from the town, together with two Tajik citizens.

In the wake of the bombing the church has had to move its services to another
location, meeting in a half-finished building with no windows. (END)

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