KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 31 January 2001

I. TURKMENISTAN: DETENTION, THEN DEPORTATION FOR
RETURNING BAPTIST. On 26 January, after a short visit to Turkmenistan, a
Russian Baptist pastor was detained at Ashgabad airport, by border guards who
said that his passport had expired. Pyotr Kashin, who formerly lived and
worked in the city of Turkmenbashi, told Keston News Service that after being
questioned about his church work by officers of Turkmenistan's political police,
he had been put on a plane on 29 January and deported. His residence permit
was revoked, with no reason given.

II. HUNGARY: MINORITY FAITHS CHALLENGE NEW TAX
DISCRIMINATION. Minority religious bodies are challenging an amendment
to the tax law, stating that this rewards traditional faiths and might create a
precedent for future discrimination. But larger religious bodies are broadly
sympathetic to the amendment, considering it to have been made solely for
financial reasons.

I. TURKMENISTAN: DETENTION, THEN DEPORTATION FOR
RETURNING BAPTIST

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A Baptist revisiting Turkmenistan, where he had lived during the 1990s, was
detained by border guards at Ashgabad airport as he was about to leave the
country on 26 January. They said that the validity of his passport had expired.
Pyotr Kashin � a Russian citizen who formerly served as pastor of the Baptist
congregation in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi, where he was still
officially registered as living - told Keston News Service that after being
questioned by officers of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (the former
KGB) about his work with the church in the country he had been put on a plane
on 29 January and deported. His residence permit had been revoked, with no
reason being given.

Kashin reports that despite the pressure on congregations belonging to the
Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists (of which the
Turkmenbashi congregation is a member), the churches are continuing their
work. `They are functioning, preaching and conducting baptisms,' Kashin
declared, `not as we would like, but they are continuing to work for the Lord.'
He acknowledged the difficulties following the deportation of all foreign
Baptists known to the Turkmen authorities as being active in the church, and
the pressure on local Baptists who remain, but remained optimistic. `Christ has
not been deported from Turkmenistan. If I'm not there and another brother is
not there, God will send someone else.'

Kashin told Keston from his new home in the town of Yelets in Russia's
Lipetsk region on 31 January that he had arrived by plane in the Turkmen
capital Ashgabad on 18 January. Although border guards checked his name
against a list of those to be barred from entering the country, Kashin had no
problems entering. `They have a list on the computer,' Kashin declared. `When
we arrived in the airport there was a man named Chernov, and when the name
figured on the list he was taken away.' It appears this was a case of mistaken
identity. Kashin believes the border guards thought the man was connected to
Vladimir Chernov, a Baptist from Ashgabad who was deported in December
1999 (see KNS 22 January 2000).

Only on departing from Ashgabad on 26 January did Kashin run into problems.
He had gone through check-in and reached the final passport control at the
airport, when border guards stopped him. The 1978 Soviet passport on which
he was travelling had already been checked three times, but they claimed it was
no longer valid, something Kashin contests. He was taken to the KNB station in
the airport and interrogated. `They said I was undertaking religious propaganda,
that I was a religious activist living here simply to be able to preach,' Kashin
told Keston. `They banned me from preaching and giving out Bibles. I said that
Article 11 of Turkmenistan's new constitution guarantees religious freedom.'
The KNB officers then asked him to write a detailed statement of what he had
done during his visit, giving details of all the believers he had met. He refused.

They then threatened to take him to the special reception centre `to verify his
identity', although Kashin insisted that they knew very well who he was. The
KNB officers eventually decided not to do so and he was allowed to return to
Ashgabad. His ticket was rebooked for 29 January. They refused to give Kashin
back his passport, although they had already made a copy of it, telling him he
would get it back once he had boarded the flight. `I understood then they were
going to cancel my registration [to live in Turkmenbashi].'

Kashin moved to Turkmenistan with his wife and nine children in 1996 to lead
the Turkmenbashi church. He received a residence permit to live in the city on
16 July 1996. While serving as pastor, he faced constant KNB harassment,
including summons for continuing to hold worship services and confiscation of
religious literature.

By 1997, he told Keston, it was clear that the Turkmen authorities intended to
expel him for his work with the church, despite his legal residency in the
country. His wife and children left for Russia in 1998, while he shuttled back
and forth between Russia and Turkmenistan, serving the church on his frequent
visits. Before his January visit, his most recent previous visit had been in March
2000.

On 29 January Kashin wrote a letter of complaint to Baigeldy Gelenov, consul
at the Turkmen embassy in Moscow, asking for a written explanation of why he
was deported, arguing that this violated Turkmenistan's constitution and
international human rights conventions. He has not so far had any response. A
spokesman for the embassy, Grigory Kolodin, confirmed to Keston on 31
January that Gelenov had received the letter and had requested further
information from Ashgabad. Kolodin said Gelenov would reply to Kashin as
soon as he had received this information. (END)


II. HUNGARY: MINORITY FAITHS CHALLENGE NEW TAX
DISCRIMINATION

by Robert Polcz, Keston News Service

Hungary's leading opposition political party and a group of minority faiths are
lodging appeals to the Constitutional Court over an amendment to the tax law
taking effect on 1 February allowing donors to `socially significant' religious
bodies only to get tax relief on contributions. They argue that this rewards
traditional faiths, excludes other faiths and denominations and might create a
precedent for future discrimination.

Parliament has approved the amendment to the tax law submitted by Young
Democrat (FIDESZ) deputy Szilard Sasvari, vice-president of the ruling party's
parliamentary group. Under it, religious bodies that can prove they have existed
for 100 years, had an organised body before 1928 or have the support of 1% of
all taxpayers will be eligible to issue receipts for donations entitling the donor
to gain tax relief up to a maximum of 50,000 forints (GB� 120 / 370 DM / US$
80). By mid- January, 14 of approximately 130 registered religious bodies
reported that they met these conditions. But as the amendment was submitted
late and was thus voted on without debate, several opposition deputies question
the legality and intention behind the amendment.

Many larger religious bodies are broadly sympathetic to or have remained silent
about the amendment, some members considering the amendment to have been
made for financial and not theological or ideological reasons. These believe that
verification of the authenticity of religious bodies is justified, as some bodies
were formed to solely to gain the financial support made available under the
1990 law on religion. `After the 1990 law on religion was adopted several
"churches" have been registered, but a number of them are not really churches,'
Tamas Kodacsy, a lecturer at the Reformed Theological Faculty of the
University of Debrecen, told Keston News Service on 30 January. `An extreme
example was the "Witches' Church" founded by a few lawyers to get these
allowances. I do not think that all of recent 130 registered religious bodies are
really religious.' Kodacsy also suggested that regulation should focus on the
uses to which support received is put, rather than the easier option of regulating
which bodies receive support.

However, minority faiths did not welcome the amendment. A protest launched
by Peter Buda, local representative of Human Rights Without Frontiers has
gained support from 13 minority bodies, including Christian charismatics,
Buddhists, Reform Adventists and Independent Methodists. `We believe the
criteria specified in the law cannot legitimately reflect the social role churches
have,' a declaration issued by them complained. They argued that the term
`socially significant' should not be defined according to `irrelevant categories',
and that the law discriminates between religious bodies (See KNS 20 July
2000) and between equal citizens.

Krisztina Danka, spokesperson for ISKCON Hungary and a protest organiser,
told Keston by telephone on 15 January that the protest goal is not financial, as
none of the protesters could benefit from the new privileges. She emphasised
that `although this particular discrimination is insignificant, it has the potential
of being extended in the future.' She stated that more than 10 of the 13 religious
bodies are likely to sign the appeal to the Constitutional Court, to be handed in
by the end of January. Buda told Keston on 20 December that several other
churches sympathise with the protest but have refrained from joining either for
theological or political reasons.

Despite the criticism Sasvari, who has a degree in Catholic theology, insists the
amendment is compatible with the law on the freedom of religion. `It is from
neither perspective discriminatory,' he told Keston on 21 December, `since it
extends rather than restricts privileges.' He argues that the Constitutional Court
has already decided in a case related to religious services in the army that the
state can differentiate between religious bodies according to their `social
importance'.

However, Magda Kosane Kovacs, Socialist deputy and head of the
parliamentary human rights committee, denies a direct analogy can be drawn
with the `army case', maintaining that in extending privileges on a subjective
basis the amendment violates the constitution. She told Keston by telephone on
15 January that she is alarmed by attempts to push through `questionable'
religious policies in laws that require only a majority vote, while the
amendment to the law on religious freedom (in preparation since the present
coalition took office) requires a two-thirds majority in parliament. The Socialist
appeal to the Constitutional Court was lodged at the end of January.

Balazs Schanda, head of the Religious Affairs Department at the Ministry of
National Cultural Heritage, told Keston by telephone on 15 January that Sasvari
did not consult the ministry about his amendment. He believes the criteria
specified in the amendment are `arbitrary' and `require refinement'. He hopes
that the amendment to the law on religion, if adopted, will settle the principles
according to which the state can differentiate between religious bodies. (END)

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