KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 4 July 2001.=20
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist=20
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. TURKMENISTAN: CONSCRIPTED BAPTIST REFUSES TO TAKE=20
MILITARY OATH. A young Baptist from the Turkmen capital Ashgabad=20
forcibly drafted into the armed forces in May against his will has refused=
to=20
take the military oath, Keston News Service has learnt. At a ceremony at his=
=20
military unit in the town of Serdar (formerly Kyzyl-Arvat) on 1 July, Dmitri=
=20
Melnichenko was called last of all the conscripts and, while senior officers=
=20
and the deputy political officer of the unit looked on, repeated his earlier=
=20
refusal to swear the compulsory oath. It is not clear what will happen to=
him=20
now.

II. BELARUS: CASES AGAINST CHRISTIAN PAPER EDITOR AND=20
DISTRIBUTORS DROPPED. Administrative cases against volunteers who=20
distributed an interdenominational Protestant newspaper on the streets of=
the=20
Belarusian capital Minsk have been dropped, Keston News Service has=20
learnt. Also facing charges was the editor of the Slovo (Word) newspaper,=20
Aleksandr Velichko, but he told Keston from Minsk on 4 July that - to his=20
surprise - `the case was closed at the end of May due to the lack of=
evidence=20
of a crime.'=20

I. TURKMENISTAN: CONSCRIPTED BAPTIST REFUSES TO TAKE=20
MILITARY OATH

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A young Baptist from the Turkmen capital Ashgabad forcibly drafted into=20
the armed forces in May against his will has refused to take the military
oath,=20
Keston News Service has learnt. At a ceremony at his military unit in the=20
town of Serdar (formerly Kyzyl-Arvat) on 1 July, Dmitri Melnichenko was=20
called last of all the conscripts and, while senior officers and the deputy=
=20
political officer of the unit looked on, repeated his earlier refusal to
swear=20
the compulsory oath. It is not clear what will happen to him now.

`They ordered him to pick up the folder with the oath,' reported a 3 July=20
statement from local Baptists passed on to Keston by the German-based=20
Friedensstimme Mission. `He opened it and cited a verse from the Holy=20
Scriptures, Matthew 5.34: "And I say to you, do not swear at all..." After
this=20
the officers demanded that he at least sign as having taken the oath. Dmitri=
=20
refused. Then they asked him to sign that he was refusing to take the oath.=
=20
He also refused. The officers drew up an official document about his refusal=
=20
and signed it.'

The Baptists report that Melnichenko has several times appealed to the unit=
=20
commander, Colonel Murat Khusainov, to allow him to be given medical=20
treatment for the after-effects of severe beatings he received after being=
=20
forcibly conscripted (see KNS 7 June 2001). The beatings have affected his=
=20
hearing and left him with head aches. He has had no response to his appeals.

Although Keston has not been able to verify the latest report on=20
Melnichenko independently, information from sources within the Council of=20
Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists - to which Melnichenko's home=20
congregation in Ashgabad belongs - has a long track record of reliability.=
=20
(END)

II. BELARUS: CASES AGAINST CHRISTIAN PAPER EDITOR AND=20
DISTRIBUTORS DROPPED

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Administrative cases against some twenty volunteers who had distributed an=
=20
interdenominational Protestant newspaper on the streets of the Belarusian=20
capital Minsk have been dropped, Keston News Service has learnt. Also=20
facing administrative charges was the editor of the Slovo (Word) newspaper,=
=20
Aleksandr Velichko, but he told Keston from Minsk on 4 July that he too is=
=20
no longer facing charges. `The case was closed at the end of May due to the=
=20
lack of evidence of a crime.' He professed himself surprised at the move to=
=20
drop all charges.

The newspaper's distributors got into trouble in April after distributing=20
copies of Slovo with a supplement advertising an evangelistic campaign=20
organised by Jews for Jesus and held from 18 April to 5 May. The=20
authorities argued that although the paper was registered with the State=20
Committee for the Press, distribution of the supplement was illegal. `They=
=20
can distribute the paper, but the leaflets were issued by a religious=20
organisation that is not registered and its activity is therefore banned,'
Alla=20
Ryabitseva, head of Minsk executive committee's department for religious=20
and ethnic affairs told Keston on 2 May (see KNS 3 May 2001).

Velichko was accused under Article 193 of the administrative code, that=20
punishes `founding and leading an underground religious organisation' with=
=20
a fine of up to five times the minimum monthly wage. The other volunteers=20
were facing charges under Article 172 part 3 of the administrative code,=20
which lays down fines of up to three times the minimum monthly wage for=20
`distributing a paper without registration'. All those accused were facing=
=20
proceedings in their place of residence, and it is not clear where the
decision=20
was taken to drop all the charges against the group. (END)

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