KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 4 January 2001

TURKMENISTAN: CONFISCATION OF PENTECOSTAL CHURCH
ORDERED. The court of the Kopetdag district of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad
has today (4 January) ruled that the private house used as the city's Pentecostal
church is to be confiscated without compensation. The pastor defended his right to
use the house that he owns for worship services, but such use was ruled illegal by
the court. He is to appeal against the ruling.

TURKMENISTAN: CONFISCATION OF PENTECOSTAL CHURCH
ORDERED

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The court of the Kopetdag district of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad has today (4
January) ruled that the private house used as the city's Pentecostal church is to be
confiscated without compensation. At the hearing - presided over by Judge Dovlet
Sopiev - Pastor Viktor Makrousov defended his right to use the house that he owns
for worship services, but such use was ruled illegal by the court. Makrousov
immediately informed the court that he is to appeal against the ruling to the
Ashgabad city court and the confiscation order will not take effect until after the
appeal is heard. No date has yet been fixed for the appeal hearing.

Judge Sopiev denied access to the courtroom to a number of foreign diplomats at
the morning session, telling them that he could not conduct the hearing with
foreigners present. He did not, however, obstruct their entry into the courtroom for
the afternoon session, after they challenged the ban with the Foreign Ministry.

Despite the original suit by the Kopetdag acting khyakim (head of administration)
Aleksei Razmakhov that the building also be demolished (see KNS 2 January
2001), the two-page court ruling - of which Keston has received a copy - made no
mention of demolition.

`We did not believe they would do this to us,' Pastor Makrousov told Keston News
Service from Ashgabad in the wake of the hearing. `They did not listen to our
arguments, they just issued the verdict to take away the house and that was that.
The illegality comes down from the top.' Although he declared that they would
appeal and complain to as many agencies as possible he felt there was little point.
`I don't know if it will be of any use. No-one listens to us.'

The confiscation ruling was criticised by a number of the diplomats who attended
the afternoon session, among them Bess Brown of the Organisation for Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Ashgabad. `The ruling appears to
have very little legal foundation in Turkmenistan's own law,' she told Keston on 4
January. `This case seems to be motivated by an intent to stop Pastor Makrousov's
religious activities, which certainly is not in accord with Turkmenistan's OSCE
commitments and violates its own law on freedom of conscience.' Brown stressed
that one of the reasons cited for the confiscation - the alleged `dangerous state' of
the building - appeared flimsy, as the house is in no worse physical condition than
any of the surrounding houses. She contrasted the action taken against Makrousov
with the lack of action over the house next to where she lives, despite numerous
complaints from her and her neighbours about its dangerous state.

The Kopetdag administration complained that Makrousov had used the house `to
assemble various representatives/citizens belonging to the Christian faith of
Baptist and Evangelical tendency without the appropriate sanction of the Justice
Ministry'. `Religious rites are systematically taking place without observing the
rules of social order, making normal life impossible for the inhabitants of
neighbouring houses.' The ruling claimed that the `large number´┐Ż of people
attending services were at risk because of the `dangerous state' of the building.
Makrousov had failed to get permission before demolishing an internal wall to
make the two rooms into one, the court claimed, and had failed to meet fire,
sanitary and earthquake safety norms.

Makrousov challenged the view of the local authorities that inviting people to his
home for religious services constituted an illegal activity and noted that he has
applied for state registration of his church with the Ministry of Justice. He also
contested the view that the house was in a dangerous state and that fire and safety
norms had been ignored. Makrousov told the foreign diplomats attending the
hearing that the country's religious law specifically guaranteed the right to conduct
religious rites in private homes.

The high international profile of the case - the chairman of the Helsinki
Commission of the United States Congress, Christopher Smith, wrote to Turkmen
president Saparmurat Niyazov on 2 January expressing his concern about the court
case - and the presence at the hearing of diplomats from the OSCE mission and the
British, US and German embassies may have helped to prevent the court from
ordering the demolition of the church.

Five places of worship have already been destroyed on official orders in
Turkmenistan since 1999 - two Muslim mosques, two Hare Krishna temples and
one Adventist church. Ironically, one of those present in the courtroom to support
Pastor Makrousov was Pastor Pavel Fedotov, whose Adventist church in
Ashgabad was bulldozed in November 1999 without any court hearing. So far the
Adventists have received no compensation and the road which the local authorities
of the Kopetdag district said they were to build through the site has not yet been
started. (END)