KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 24 May 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.

CHURCH. Tajik authorities have renewed their attempt to suppress an
unregistered Baptist church, claiming that activity without registration
violates the law. Pastor Genrikh Reimer was given an official warning
that he must halt the church's activity, although Tajikistan has no legal
requirement that religious groups must gain registration to function. The
district procurator insisted to Keston News Service that the religion law
required this, but he was unable to specify which article of the law laid
down this requirement.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Legal authorities in the Tajik capital Dushanbe have renewed their
pressure on an unregistered Baptist church because it refuses to register.
Claiming that the church's activity without registration violates the law
on religion, the local procuracy gave the church's pastor Genrikh Reimer
an official warning that he must halt the church's activity - almost exactly
a year after issuing a similar warning. Despite the fact that Tajikistan's
published law on religion lays down no requirement that religious groups
must gain registration in order to function, Yu. Rahmonov, the procurator
of Oktyabr district of Dushanbe, where the church is based, insisted to
Keston News Service that the religion law required this. Asked to specify
which article of the law laid down this requirement, he said he would
look into it and then respond.

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. A member of the congregation told Keston
from Dushanbe on 24 May that the church is still meeting despite the
attempts to close it down.

An 18 May statement from local Baptists - distributed through the
Council of Churches and passed to Keston by the German-based
Friedensstimme mission - reported that at the end of April the deputy
procurator of Oktyabr district arrived at the church with another official.
They asked where the church's printing press was located, then left a
summons for church member Valeri Chumachenko. Chumachenko went
to the procuracy, accompanied by fellow Baptist Pyotr Plett. There they
were questioned, and discussion turned to why the church was not
registered. Procuracy officials told them to send the leader of the church.

Reimer then went to the procuracy accompanied by another congregation
member, Viktor Plett, and the two were questioned by district procurator
Rahmonov, who insisted to them that registration was compulsory.

On 4 May, an official warning was issued. `Take immediate measures to
halt the functioning of the religious church of Evangelical
Christians/Baptists at the address: 1-y proezd, ul. Telmana 13, until
registration,' it declared.

Despite this instruction, Rahmonov insisted he had not closed down the
church. `No one has been closed down or banned,' he told Keston by
telephone from Dushanbe on 24 May. When read the wording of his 4
May warning, he seemed taken aback and declared: `That was an
explanation.' He asked Keston to call back later, declaring that he had not
given Keston an interview. `Don't write up the story. I will look into it.'

The instruction to halt the church's activity is the latest measure in a long-
running official campaign to close the church. An almost identical
instruction was issued to Reimer on 15 May 2000 by the Oktyabr district
procuracy. As justification, the warning claimed that the church was
violating the law on religion because it had functioned without
registration since 1962 (see KNS 15 June 2000). `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'. (Article 14 lays down the procedure for registration, but
does not make it obligatory.)

Last year Reimer also faced charges under the Administrative Code
because of his congregation's refusal to register. One hearing took place
at the Oktyabr district court, but the case was repeatedly postponed after
telegrams in Reimer's support arrived at the court from Baptists around
the world.

Tajikistan's senior religious affairs official, Saidjon Akhmedov, the
chairman of the government's Council for Religious Affairs, has
repeatedly told Keston that registration is obligatory, although he said
that groups can function in private without registration. `If they don't
have registration they cannot function as a church as such,' he told
Keston last year. `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.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.