KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 21 December 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. TURKMENISTAN: ELDERLY BLIND WOMAN THREATENED
WITH EVICTION. Mariya Zadorozhnaya, an elderly, blind Baptist, has
been threatened with eviction from her flat in the town of Khazar
(formerly Cheleken) on the Caspian Sea after hosting a Baptist service
raided by the political police last Sunday (16 December). "They
threatened her that if believers gather in her flat again, they will take it
away from her," declared a 20 December statement from the Khazar
church, passed to Keston News Service by the US-based Russian
Evangelistic Ministries. "They have banned the believers even from
visiting this sister." The officers issued a "final warning" to the Baptists
that if they continued to meet for worship or distribute Christian literature
they would be expelled from the town or would be taken to court under
Article 205.

II. AZERBAIJAN: EIGHT-MONTH BAN ON BAPTIST SERVICES
OVERRIDDEN. A Baptist church in the western Azerbaijani town of
Gyanja held its first public service yesterday (20 December) after an
official of the State Committee for Relations with Religious
Organisations in the capital Baku overrode a ban on the church's public
worship issued by the local police last April. Pastor Boris Kuliev told
Keston News Service from Gyanja on 20 December that the official gave
the verbal assurance the previous day when the church lodged its re-
registration application at her office in Baku. "She said we could meet
and declared that no-one had the right to ban us."

I. TURKMENISTAN: ELDERLY BLIND WOMAN THREATENED
WITH EVICTION

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Mariya Zadorozhnaya, an elderly, blind Baptist, has been threatened with
eviction from her flat in the town of Khazar (formerly Cheleken) on the
Caspian Sea after hosting a Baptist service raided by the political police
last Sunday (16 December). "They threatened her that if believers gather
in her flat again, they will take it away from her," declared a 20 December
statement from the Khazar church, passed to Keston News Service by the
US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries. "They have banned the
believers even from visiting this sister."

"The Sunday morning service had only just finished when officers burst
into the flat where it had taken place without even knocking," the church
reported. "They announced that a passport check was underway in the
town and demanded passports from those present." After writing down
the names and passport details the officers warned the Baptists that they
were violating Article 205 of the Administrative Code, a provision
punishing unregistered religious activity that dates back to the Soviet
period.

The officers issued a "final warning" to the Baptists that if they continued
to meet for worship or distribute Christian literature they would be
expelled from the town or would be taken to court under Article 205.

The Khazar church is a member of the Council of Churches of
Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which refuses to register in all the post-
Soviet republics where it operates. Even were it to apply for registration
in Turkmenistan it would be refused, as there is an unpublished rule that
Protestant churches, like all non-Muslim and non-Orthodox communities,
may not be registered, even if they meet the strict registration
requirements.

Local Baptists identified the officers of the KNB, Turkmenistan's
successor to the KGB, as the local KNB chief, Major Chutbaev; one of
his aides, Lieutenant Mamedov; the head of the passport desk
Niyazmukhamedov; and an official of the procuracy, Magdenov.

Keston has not been able to verify the report of the raid independently,
but statements issued through the Council of Churches have a long track
record of reliability. Keston has been unable to reach the hyakim (head of
the town administration), Aygul Satylova, to ask her why Zadorozhnaya
is being threatened with confiscation of her flat, or the local KNB and
procuracy, to ask why a religious meeting in a private home (specifically
permitted in Turkmenistan's constitution) was raided.

The raid on the Khazar Baptist church came a month after a raid in the
capital Ashgabad on a meeting of the Word of Life Protestant Church,
which resulted in massive fines for some 40 people, the expulsion of three
foreign citizens to Russia and two week imprisonment for several
participants (see KNS 5 December 2001), and a raid on an Adventist
meeting in the town of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou), during which
six people were briefly detained and religious publications confiscated
(see KNS 7 December 2001). The hosts of both these meetings have been
threatened with the loss of their flats, though so far this has not happened.
(END)

II. AZERBAIJAN: EIGHT-MONTH BAN ON BAPTIST SERVICES
OVERRIDDEN

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A Baptist church in the western Azerbaijani town of Gyanja held its first
public service yesterday (20 December) after an official of the State
Committee for Relations with Religious Organisations in the capital Baku
overrode a ban on the church's public worship issued by the local police
last April. Pastor Boris Kuliev told Keston News Service from Gyanja on
20 December that the official, Zemfira Rzayeva of the State Committee's
registration department, gave the verbal assurance the previous day when
the church lodged its re-registration application at her office in Baku.
"She said we could meet and declared that no-one had the right to ban
us," Kuliev told Keston.

Ilya Zenchenko, the head of the Baptist Union in Azerbaijan to which the
Gyanja church belongs, told Keston on 12 December that this had been a
difficult year for the church. "For six months it could not meet," he
complained. "However, we believe the problems are on the way to being
resolved."

The Gyanja church, which has existed for more than a hundred years and
which gained registration in 1967 under the restrictive Soviet-era
legislation, was banned by the police, who claimed that because it had not
undergone the compulsory re-registration of all religious organisations in
1997 it was functioning illegally. "The police came during a Sunday
service, took me off to the police station and told me to halt services until
they church gained re-registration," Kuliev recounted. "They said it was
illegal to meet without this." Azerbaijan's published laws do not require
religious groups to register to be able to function, and the vast majority of
religious communities, especially mosques, function without state
registration.

"We had gained re-registration in 1994, but not in 1997 as no-one told us
we needed it," Kuliev reported. "When we asked officials at the time they
said we didn't need re-registration and when we did they would tell us."
They were banned from continuing to use a state-owned building which
they had turned into a prayer house (though they continued to pay the
rent), and between April and October they had to meet in private homes.
"Despite the ban we resumed our services in our rented prayer house in
October, and no-one has touched us."

In the wake of the April ban on meeting, the church lodged its re-
registration documents with the old Directorate for Religious Affairs
(which has now been subsumed into the new State Committee), but for
months there was no progress. However, Kuliev reports that when the
application was submitted this week under the new regulations introduced
in the autumn, which require all religious organisations to apply for re-
registration by 31 December (see KNS 12 December 2001), there were no
problems. "Everything was handled correctly. We expect to get re-
registration earlier in the new year."

Kuliev would like to build his own church for the congregation so that it
would not have to rely on rented premises. However, he told Keston that
his congregation does not have the money to do so.

Both Zenchenko and Kuliev reported that the Gyanja Adventist church
had had similar problems during the year. (END)

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