Issue 3, Article 28-29, 27 March 2000

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


Monday 27 March 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

As part of his campaign against a mullah, HOJA AHMED ORAZGYLYCH,
the president of Turkmenistan SAPARMURAT NIYAZOV has branded a
translation of the Koran undertaken by the mullah and a writer, ATAMYRAT
ATABAYEV, as `evil' and ordered that all copies be burnt. Keston News
Service has been unable to discover whether any copies of the translation have
yet been burnt or under which legal provision the president is empowered to
order the destruction of these books.

Muslims are divided on the appropriateness of burning copies of a translation
of the Koran, with some calling it sacrilege while others believe an erroneous
translation may be burnt to protect Muslims from being led astray by it.
Turkmenistan's Chief Mufti, NASRULLAH IBN IBADULLAH, is unavailable
for comment as he is travelling within the country and, contacted by telephone
in Ashgabad on 22 March, other officials at the government's Council for
Religious Affairs declined to discuss with Keston the president's order to burn
the Koran translation and whether copies have yet been burnt.

`Hoja Ahmed Orazgylych, together with the writer Atamyrat Atabayev,
translated the sacred Koran into the Turkmen language,' President Niyazov
declared in a speech in Mary on 3 March. `They translated it from Uzbek to
Turkmen and as a result it lost any meaning. I have ordered that all [copies of]
the new translation be collected and burned. This translation of the Koran is

The mullah was paid by the Turkmen government to undertake the translation
of the Koran, which was subsequently approved by Chief Mufti Nasrullah ibn
Ibadullah, and published in two volumes in 1995. However, after Orazgylych
criticised aspects of official New Year celebrations, he fell out of favour and
was accused of `swindling'. In February, after Orazgylych had been taken into
custody, Niyazov publicly questioned his religious qualifications - even though
the 72-year-old mullah studied theology at the respected Mir Arab madrassah
(Islamic seminary) in Samarkand and claims to have studied Islam for 24 years.
Niyazov himself, as far as is known, has never undertaken any systematic study
of Islam.

Orazgylych was freed from prison and sent into internal exile in March (see
KNS 6 March 2000). The Turkmen Service of Radio Liberty confirmed to
Keston on 22 March that the mullah is in internal exile in his home town of

Muslims are divided over burning Orazgylych's translation of the Koran.
Mullah ABDULKARIM - an Afghan Turkmen - told RFE/RL's Turkmen
Service that it is sacrilege: `According to religious principles, no-one can burn
the Koran. A translation of the Koran may be incorrect [in some places] and
pages removed, but burning is prohibited. Anyone who burns the Koran will be
condemned [and] cannot be considered a Muslim.'

However, other Muslims disagree. MUHAMMAD ABDEL HALEEM,
Professor in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African
Studies in London, believes that if it is proved by qualified experts on the
Koran and experts in Arabic and both languages, to be incorrect, there is
nothing wrong with burning it. `The Koran is an Arabic text,' he told Keston in
a telephone interview on 21 March. `A translation is not the Koran, merely a
representation in another language of its ideas. If the translation is incorrect, it
is protective for it to be consumed by fire rather than for it to mislead people.'

Monday 27 March 2000

by Jonathan Luxmoore, Keston News Service

A Polish government official has warned that his country's freedom of
conscience law may need further tightening, to allow the withdrawal of rights
from registered churches whose activities �allow room for doubts�. However,
he denied that pressure for restrictions was being exerted by the predominant
Roman Catholic Church, which has recently improved ties with Poland's
largest minority denominations. �We need to strengthen the capacity of the
state and its organs to act against organisations which evidently violate the
law�, said KRZYSZTOF WIKTOR, the director of Poland's Inter-Ministerial
Team for New Religious Movements. �However, the Catholic hierarchy has
maintained a moderate, tolerant attitude towards new religious groups.
Deciding which groups are dangerous in the competence of the state, not the

In a KNS interview, Wiktor said his Team had been set up in August 1997 to
�collect information� on new religious movements and identify �various
threats�. He added that it �co-operated and exchanged views� with Poland's
Roman Catholic Bishops Conference, as well as local church-run anti-sect
information centres. �Our task is to provide internal information to state
institutions and local governments - we don't make official statements or apply
public labels�, Wiktor told KNS. �However, we have evaluated some registered
Churches as dangerous sects which threaten civic freedoms. We may now have
to withdraw their registration - although we haven't come under any church
pressure to do this�.

Besides the Roman Catholic Church, of which 95 per cent of the country's 39
million citizens claim membership, 13 Christian denominations are currently
recognised as �historic Churches� under their own separate laws in Poland,
ranging from the 570,000-strong Autocephalous Orthodox Church to the 7000-
member Baptist Union. A further 139 confessional unions are registered with
full church rights, including seven Muslim councils, nine Hindu groups and 14
Buddhist groups.

Poland's 1989 freedom of conscience law, passed in the final year of
communist rule, required only 15 signatures and a brief doctrinal statement as
conditions for legal registration. However, the threshold was raised to 100
signatures under June 1998 amendments, which also imposed stricter criteria
for defining the aims and activities of religious groups.

The director of the Polish government's Confessions Office, ANDRZEJ
CZOHARA, told KNS that only two registration requests had been granted
since the 1998 law changes, while two others were still pending and several
had been discontinued. �The latest legislation is satisfactory, since it hasn't
blocked new requests for registration and can't be applied retrospectively to
those already registered�, Czohara added. �I'm not aware of any attempts to
make further changes in the law. Nor has any effort been made by the Catholic
Church, which can't interfere in such matters�.

However, the Inter-Ministerial Team director, Krzysztof Wiktor, said he
believed the law still needed tightening to bar �doubtful groups� from claiming
church rights. He added that his Team would be sending a staff-member to
improve working contacts with a parallel government department in France,
headed by ALAIN VIVIEN, which had �greater experience� in identifying
�dangerous sects�. �The 1998 legislation has succeeded in radically stemming
the increase in registered Churches in Poland�, Wiktor continued. �But the
problem remains how to cancel the legal status of Churches whose activities we
have doubts about, and how to apply legal sanctions against dangerous
organisations which have already gained full rights and privileges as registered

Although Catholic politicians have repeatedly demanded restrictions on �non-
traditional faiths� in Poland, the call for curbs has not been publicly endorsed
by the country's Bishops Conference, which has taken steps this year to
improve ties with minority Churches. On 23 January, Roman Catholic leaders
signed a declaration mutually recognising baptisms with Poland's six largest
minority Churches, a week after a landmark church was returned to Lutherans
at Siemianowice, 54 years since its post-War occupation by Roman Catholic
Visitation order nuns. Meanwhile, in the first jointly organised ecumenical
service at Gniezno on 12 March, attended by five European heads of state,
Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders regretted past misdeeds, and
said they had come together to fulfil Pope John Paul II's call to celebrate the
Millennium �if not reconciled, then at least close to unity�. The Roman
Catholic Church set up a Commission for Dialogue two years ago with the
Polish Ecumenical Council (PEC), grouping the country's seven largest
minority denominations, a quarter-century after establishing working ties.

However, the PEC's Lutheran chairman, BISHOP JAN SZAREK, warned in
February that Polish society still lacked a �sense of pluralism�, adding that
inter-church attitudes contrasted sharply at the local level. �Over the past
decade, all Churches have been freed from political pressure and been able to
act on their own initiative�, Bishop Szarek told KNS. �However, there's still a
tendency to think in majority categories, without acknowledging that other
people live here too. It should be recognised that today's society is pluralistic�.

Among cases of discrimination, the bishop said a Lutheran minister had been
refused access to a home for the elderly in Silesia on the grounds that he would
�desecrate� its chapel, while Roman Catholic councillors in Poland's
northeastern Bialystok region had secured the dismissal of Orthodox municipal
officials. �Religious minorities still suffer from Polish society's strange
tendency to search for enemies - until an ecumenical culture emerges, our life
will not be easy�, the Ecumenical Council chairman continued. �Major
Christian feasts, including Christmas and Easter, were often described on state
radio and TV as 'Catholic festivals'. This failure to notice minorities results less
from ill will than from a simple lack of awareness. But the Pope has said
tolerance isn't enough - we should also accept each other. Christianity is
already on the defensive in Poland, and we need a common testimony.�

Bishop Szarek said he regularly gave advice to some of Poland's 70 other
registered Christian groups, including the Adventists and Christian Assemblies.
Among recent cases, he said the Gideonites had been authorised to distribute
New Testaments to school libraries by a county education director but had later
been ordered to remove them by the local Roman Catholic bishop's office.

In his KNS interview, Krzysztof Wiktor said his Team was monitoring
activities by �potentially dangerous groups� which had separated from the
Roman Catholic Church and now had �nothing in common with it�, but had not
blacklisted any organisations within the mainstream Churches. Although not
demanding legal curbs, Poland's Roman Catholic bishops have threatened
excommunication to members of several breakaway Catholic groups, including
followers of the late arch-traditionalist ARCHBISHOP MARCEL

He added that several hundred new religious movements were known to be
active in Poland, but said the situation was �too dynamic� to allow a
�responsible count�. �We have to act within the law�, the official told KNS.
�Searching out, identifying and acting against illegal groups are a problem for
the executive power, rather than with the current law. But I don't exclude the
need for further legal changes, which won't violate essential freedoms or cause
a religious war�.

Only one registered religious group, the Church of United Christians, had so
far had its legal status withdrawn in Poland for falsifying the signatures of
founder-members. However, several others have been refused registration,
including the US-based �Children of God� in 1994 and the Raelians in 1998.

Several registered religious groups have successfully sued for damages in
Polish courts, including the Hindu Chaitani Mission, which won a slander case
against a Catholic anti-sect group last July, and the Buddhist Karma Kagyu
Union, which won a banning order against a book, �Sects - expansion of evil�,
in January 1999.

In a 1997 report, Poland's State Security Office said it had revised an earlier
strident analysis of the threat posed by new religious movements after
concluding that it lacked objective criteria for evaluating sect activities. (END)

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