KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 21 December 2000

I. TURKMENISTAN: NEW YEAR DEMOLITION FOR PENTECOSTAL
CHURCH? A year after the destruction of the Adventist church in Turkmenistan's
capital Ashgabad, Pentecostal pastor Viktor Makrousov has learnt today (21
December) that the Kopetdag district court is to rule next week on the local
authorities' suit to destroy the private home where the city's Pentecostal church
meets. The hearing has been set to begin on 28 December at 10 am. If the court
orders the destruction of the church it would be the sixth place of worship known
to have been deliberately destroyed in Turkmenistan on official orders.

II. RUSSIA: CHRISTIAN PAPER DISTRIBUTOR ROBBED IN MOSCOW. On
3 December a distributor of the newspaper published by the Living Faith
Pentecostal church in Penza, was robbed in Moscow. The incident comes in the
wake of increased pressure on the church from the regional authorities (see KNS
15 December 2000).

I. TURKMENISTAN: NEW YEAR DEMOLITION FOR PENTECOSTAL
CHURCH?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A year after the destruction of the Adventist church in the same district of
Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad, Pentecostal pastor Viktor Makrousov has learnt
today (21 December) that the Kopetdag district court is to rule next week on the
local authorities' suit to destroy the private home where the city's Pentecostal
church meets. Makrousov told Keston News Service from Ashgabad that the
hearing has been set to begin on 28 December at 10 am. If the court orders the
destruction of the church it would be the sixth place of worship known to have
been deliberately destroyed in Turkmenistan on official orders. Last year two Hare
Krishna temples were destroyed as well as the Adventist church, while this year
two mosques have been destroyed.

The building (Koltsova Street 21a), which Makrousov owns, has served as the
Pentecostal church for some years. The suit brought by the khyakimlik (local
authorities) of Kopetdag district on 24 November and signed by the acting
khyakim Aleksei Razmakhov (of which Keston has received a copy) claimed that
Makrousov had failed to seek or receive permission to use the building for
services. `V. E. Makrousov, without the appropriate permission from the Ministry
of Justice, began to gather various representatives/citizens belonging to the
Christian faith, of Baptist and Evangelical tendency,' the suit complained, adding
that religious meetings held there had violated presidential decree No. 2906 on
bringing religious organisations under control, as well as Articles 178 and 205 of
the Administrative Code. It noted three fines already imposed on him for refusing
to halt services (March and July 1999 and October of this year).

Noting that Makrousov also owns another home, where he lives, Razmakhov
complained that 30 or more people regularly gather for worship, disturbing `social
order' in the neighbourhood. He claimed that Makrousov had also violated a 1997
decree from the Ashgabad khyakim by remodelling the interior of the building to
accommodate more people. Razmakhov believed the reconstruction violated fire
and sanitary regulations and that the building is now in a `hazardous condition'. He
called for the building to be pulled down without granting Makrousov any
compensation, a request met by the court.

Makrousov has been expecting a court case since an inspector was sent round in
early November to check if the house was fit for habitation. `The house in question
is in no worse state than are its near neighbours,' one Ashgabad-based diplomat
told Keston on 21 December.

Contacted by telephone by Keston on 21 December, Razmakhov denied to Keston
that the suit to demolish the building represented persecution of religious believers
and that the country's political police, the KNB, was involved. He insisted that
proper procedures were being followed, claiming that no other resident of his
district had rebuilt their house to hold so many people. `Of course people in this
country have freedom of conscience,' he claimed. `But this building was bought
for use as a home and the owner did not have permission to use it for large
gatherings.' He insisted that the maximum number of people other residents hosted
in their homes - such as for weddings - was 20, far below the 30 or more who
attended services at Makrousov's home. However, he admitted that Makrousov
had done little more than knock down one internal wall to make the building's two
rooms into one.

Officials at the government's Council for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad were
unavailable on 21 December. The switchboard of the Ashgabad headquarters of
the KNB (formerly the KGB) declined to put Keston through to Khudaiberchen
Saparovich Khudaiberdiyev, the officer believed to be in charge of religious policy
in the KNB, or to anyone else.

Sources told Keston that such pressure has been exerted on the congregation in
recent months that it has been forced to halt public services.

The Ashgabad Pentecostal church lost official registration in the compulsory re-
registration process in early 1997 that saw all religious communities, apart from
those of the Sunni Muslim board and the Russian Orthodox Church, lose their
registration. Although Turkmenistan's published laws do not specifically
criminalise unregistered religious activity, the government treats all unregistered
religious activity as illegal and punishes those participating in it.

Meanwhile the court of the Niyazov district of Ashgabad has postponed a hearing
to rule on Makrousov's refusal to pay an administrative fine, imposed for leading
an unregistered worship service at the beginning of December in the town of
Tedjen, south east of Ashgabad. The hearing - originally scheduled for 21
December - is now expected around New Year.

Although Makrousov was accused of leading the `illegal' meeting by the Tedjen
authorities, they handed his case to Ashgabad. The Niyazov district khyakimlik
imposed a fine of 250,000 manats (one month's average wages) under Article 205
of the Administrative Code. This article - which dates back to the Soviet period -
punishes `violation of the procedure established by legislation for the organisation
and conducting of religious meetings, processions and other cult ceremonies', a
provision often used to punish leaders of unregistered religious communities.
Fines handed down are usually 200,000 or 250,000 manats.

The khyakimlik also seized Makrousov's passport, refusing to give it back until the
fine was paid despite his repeated requests. Passports serve not only for
international travel but also as internal identity documents, making it difficult to
travel inside the country or to conduct any official activity without one. (END)


II. RUSSIA: CHRISTIAN PAPER DISTRIBUTOR ROBBED IN MOSCOW

by Mikhail Edelstein, Keston News Service

On 3 December a woman distributor of the Living Faith newspaper
published by the Living Faith Pentecostal church in Penza, a town 440
miles (700 km) east of Moscow, was robbed in the Russian capital.
Church representatives are unsure whether the incident was purely
criminal or had a religious or political motivation, although the
incident comes in the wake of increased pressure on the church from
the regional authorities (see KNS 15 December 2000).

Sergei Strokov, the secretary of Living Faith, told Keston that a man
who introduced himself as an employee of the Ministry of Internal
Affairs detained and interrogated the distributor who had come from
Penza to Moscow. After this the `militiaman' bullied the woman into
taking him to the hotel where she was staying. In her room he carried
out a search without a warrant and confiscated the money received from
the sale of the newspaper without giving any written record. After the
search the `militiaman' got the woman to give him details of the
paper's distributors in Moscow and then left, telling her he was
called Artyom and giving her the number of his Moscow pager (telephone
9508050, subscriber number 29623).

The distributor immediately phoned Penza to report what had happened.
Church representatives sent a message to the pager and Artyom
responded with a phone call to the church office. Artyom confirmed to
the church's pastor Oleg Serov that he works for the Moscow division
of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but refused to state his precise
place of work or to give his surname. He offered to come to Penza to
meet church representatives, but church leaders fear Artyom intends to
continue extorting money from them.

Keston was unable to contact this `militiaman'. Artyom did not respond
to the message sent to his pager or phone the number given by Keston.
(END)

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