KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 11.00 9 November 2000

Nov). The town�s mayor insists it is illegal for believers to hold religious
services in private homes despite specific allowance for this in the country�s
law on religion (Article 21). The church is applying for the fourth time and will
seek international help if refused again.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

An Evangelical church in Chkalovsk near the northern Tajik town of Khodjent
has just begun its fourth attempt this year to gain official registration. Three
attempts to register earlier this year have all been rejected on various pretexts,
Keston News Service has learnt from Evangelical sources in the Central Asian
state. The town's mayor told Keston that the church cannot register until it halts
services in a private home and rents a suitable venue for such services. Article
12 of Tajikistan's law on religion requires a religious organisation to specify its
`location' in the statute it submits for registration, but does not link registration
itself with having a suitable place to hold services and meetings, while Article
21 allows religious organisations to hold services in private homes.

Evangelical sources told Keston on 6 November that the Chkalovsk church
lodged its fourth registration application on 3 November. `We are trying to gain
registration by peaceful means. This is our last time,' one source declared. `If
we are not registered we will be forced to address international organisations
that would defend our religious rights.' The church first applied for registration
in the spring, but was refused three times `on various pretexts'. On one
occasion officials claimed that registration was not possible because it would
cause `social unrest'. On another they said that as it was the first church of that
denomination to apply for registration there they did not know who they were,
despite the fact that church members had presented registration documentation
from other Evangelical churches elsewhere in the country.

The source recounted that the church meets in a private home and that the local
authorities are insisting that the neighbours give their permission before
considering the registration application. `They claim the services are disturbing
the neighbours. One of them has signed a declaration allowing services to go
ahead but the other neighbour works for the procuracy and he has not signed
such a declaration.'

Chkalovsk's mayor, Ibragim Ibragimov, told Keston by telephone on 8
November that it was `not allowed' for the church to meet in a private home.
`This is a residential area and according to the law religious rites are banned in
areas where there are a lot of people. This is a very small town, with Muslims
and Christians, and if each group conducted religious services in homes this
would bring about the destruction of the whole society.' Asked to specify which
law bans religious services in residential areas he named the religion law,
although he could not specify which article of the law he had in mind. This is
despite the fact that Article 21 of the law expressly allows religious
organisations to hold services `in flats and in the homes of citizens'.

Ibragimov claimed that his office had received written complaints about the
level of noise during services at the church. `A choir sings during services and
they are very noisy,' he claimed. `They were told to find some other premises
to meet.' He cited the case of a Presbyterian church in Chkalovsk which had
also been meeting in a private home. `The church drew up a rental agreement
with the town's palace of culture two months ago and my office therefore gave
its permission for the church to be registered. The decision on registration is
now with the local religious affairs chief, Mirkamulov.' However, he declined
to give Keston Mirkamulov's telephone number. Ibragimov added though that
the Presbyterian church cannot begin to use the palace of culture under the
rental agreement until the church gains registration.

Ibragimov insists that the local authorities are not banning the Evangelical
church. `We're not banning their activity, only where they are now. We're
banning them from meeting in the private house. We told them there is a palace
of culture in the town. Let them rent that or build their own church.' (END)

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