KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 2 January 2001


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The hearing in the Kopetdag district court of the capital Ashgabad
over whether to demolish the city�s Pentecostal church has now been
set for 10 am on 4 January. The hearing is due to be presided over by
judge Dovlet Sobiev in Hall No. 4 of the Kopetdag district court on
Turkmenbashi Avenue 69. The suit to demolish the private home
where the church meets was brought by the local authorities in
November. The hearing was due to have taken place on 28 December
(see KNS 21 December 2000) but was postponed without any reason
being given.

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. In 1999 Ashgabad�s Adventist
church and two Hare Krishna temples were destroyed, while last year
two mosques were destroyed.

Pentecostal pastor Viktor Makrousov told Keston News Service from
Ashgabad on 1 January that he was pleased that people around the
world had taken an interest in the fate of his church and asked for
further prayers and support.

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
claimed that Makrousov had failed to seek or receive permission to
use the building for services, failed to gain permission for internal
remodelling and failed to obey instructions to halt services in the
house. 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.

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.

Makrousov has already paid three fines imposed on him for refusing
to halt services in the church (March and July 1999 and October
2000). Further fines over continuing use of the church are pending.

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.

In a separate case, Makrousov, his wife and his daughter were each
fined 250,000 manats (one month�s average wages) by the
khyakimlik of Ashgabad�s Niyazov district after he led an
unregistered worship service at the beginning of December in the
town of Tedjen south east of Ashgabad. Makrousov and his family
initially refused to pay what they considered unjustified fines, but
reluctantly paid after the khyakimlik seized his passport. Although
he received this back on 30 December after paying the fines,
Makrousov intends to appeal against the punishment. (END)