KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 31 January 2001

TURKMENISTAN: CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM OVER PENTECOSTAL
CHURCH CONFISCATION CASE. Ashgabad's Pentecostal pastor and foreign
diplomats who attended the appeal hearing this morning (31 January) at
Ashgabad city court are surprised but cautiously optimistic over the judge's
ruling that the Pentecostal church confiscation case should be sent back to the
lower court as its earlier ruling was flawed. Pastor Viktor Makrousov had
appealed against the 4 January ruling by the court of Ashgabad's Kopetdag
district that the church be confiscated without compensation (see KNS 4
January 2001).

TURKMENISTAN: CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM OVER PENTECOSTAL
CHURCH CONFISCATION CASE

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Ashgabad's Pentecostal pastor and foreign diplomats who attended the appeal
hearing this morning (31 January) at Ashgabad city court are surprised but
cautiously optimistic over the judge's ruling that the Pentecostal church
confiscation case should be sent back to the lower court as its earlier ruling was
flawed. Pastor Viktor Makrousov had appealed against the 4 January ruling by
the court of Ashgabad's Kopetdag district that the church be confiscated without
compensation (see KNS 4 January 2001).

The judge who heard the Makrousov appeal sent the case back to the district
court on the grounds that the lower court's decision was flawed - it was not
based on the actual complaint filed by the prosecutor that the state of the house
where the church met was dangerous, focusing instead on the fact that what the
prosecutor believed to be `illegal' religious activity was taking place in the
house. `I would interpret this as recognition that the way they put together the
justification for the confiscation was simply improper,' Bess Brown of the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Ashgabad Centre told
Keston News Service on 31 January.

`Everyone was surprised by the ruling - no-one had ever heard of sending a case
back to a lower court in this country,' declared Brown, one of three OSCE
representatives to attend the hearing. `Everywhere else it is normal procedure,
but here it is never heard of.'

Brown reported that the judge was `very professional and polite', and invited
Pastor Makrousov to present any written documents in support of his case. The
pastor maintained that the accusations that he had remodelled the house
illegally and was conducting religious activity in the house illegally were false.
The representative from the prosecutor's office continued to insist on the
original accusations, declaring that the Makrousovs ought to be evicted because
they were using the house for religious purposes, the congregation was not
registered because it did not meet the 500 member threshold specified in the
religion law and the reconstruction of the house had not been done for personal
use. Asked whether there had actually been any complaints from neighbours
about alleged excessive noise from religious services, as had been claimed, she
admitted that there had not. However, she claimed that neighbours would have
been entitled to have made such complaints.

Also present in court, together with the Pentecostals and the foreign diplomats,
was Adventist pastor Pavel Fedotov (whose own church in the same district of
Ashgabad was demolished without a court order in November 1999) and a
visiting Adventist delegation from the Kazakh capital Almaty, who rushed to
the courtroom straight from the airport. No attempt was made this time to
obstruct the diplomats from entering the courtroom.

No date has yet been set for the new hearing to take place in the Kopetdag
district court. (END)


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