KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 1 August 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

TURKMENISTAN: JEHOVAH'S WITNESS FAMILY LODGES LAST-
DITCH EVICTION APPEAL. A Jehovah's Witness family in the Turkmen
capital Ashgabad, threatened with eviction from their rented home after
using it for religious meetings, has lodged a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme
Court. The Segzekov family´┐Żs earlier appeal against a district court ruling
that they be deprived of their home `without provision of another place of
residence' was rejected by the Ashgabad city court. No date has yet been set
for the Supreme Court hearing. The decision is part of a wider campaign to
evict believers of a variety of faiths who use their homes for religious
meetings.

TURKMENISTAN: JEHOVAH'S WITNESS FAMILY LODGES LAST-
DITCH EVICTION APPEAL

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A Jehovah's Witness family in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad, threatened
with eviction from their rented home after using it for religious meetings, has
lodged a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court. The Segzekov family
lodged the appeal in mid-July after losing an appeal against an earlier court
ruling ordering their expulsion. The Ashgabad city court rejected that appeal
on 4 July, upholding the ruling of the Niyazov district court that they should
be deprived of their home `without provision of another place of residence'
(see KNS 12 June 2001). No date has yet been set for the Supreme Court
hearing. Maria Segzekov, her husband Amangaly (who is not a Jehovah's
Witness) and their two children will not be evicted until the legal process is
over.

The Jehovah's Witnesses - like all non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox
faiths - have been refused registration under Turkmenistan's highly
restrictive religion law and cannot thus acquire places of worship.

Ambassador Istvan Venczel, the head of the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) office in Ashgabad, told Keston News
Service on 1 August that his office is `following this case very closely - even
more, we have tried to intervene'. `We don't give up hope that we can help
them in some way.' He added that they had already raised the case with
various officials, pointing out that the Segzekov family had halted their
religious meetings after a warning in April in the wake of a raid and that the
case to evict them had begun after that. He said he had also sent details of
the case to the OSCE headquarters in Vienna, and this had elicited `very
sharp comments' from the delegations of the OSCE member countries.

On 1 August Keston telephoned Yagshimurad Atamuradov, chairman of the
government's Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs, but when asked why
the family was due to be evicted for holding religious meetings in their own
home he put the phone down. When Keston called back he had switched the
fax machine on.

In its verdict (of which Keston has a copy), the Ashgabad city court ruled
that it saw no reason `to annul or change the district court decision'. It agreed
that Article 108 of the Housing Code did not allow rented properties to be
used `not for their purpose' or for practices that `systematically violate the
rules of communal living that make it impossible for others to live together
in one building'. The city court verdict declared that Maria Segzekov `did
not deny the fact that religious meetings took place in her flat', and that she
had received administrative fines for this (which she had refused to pay).

In his appeal, which was rejected by the city court, Amangaly Segzekov had
argued that `in itself, the use of the living quarters for friendly meetings for
the periodic discussion of Biblical questions does not change the functional
designation of the living quarters'. He stressed that the flat remained the
family home, and was therefore being used for its correct purpose, claiming
that of 168 hours in any week, the flat was used for religious meetings only
for eight hours, less than five per cent of the time.

Segzekov pointed out that the khyakimlik (local administration), from whom
he rents the flat, had never complained about the alleged misuse of the flat
and that his wife's fines had been for violation of the laws on religion. He
said the district court's decision, issued on 4 June, had violated the
guarantees in Article 22 of the Constitution and Article 25 of the United
Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the right to housing.

He also argued that any punishment for holding religious meetings at home
violates the Constitution and the religion law. `My provision of my rented
living quarters for friendly meetings to my acquaintances for the discussion
of Biblical questions represents the realisation of my right to freedom of
conscience,' Segzekov insisted. The district court had not, he added, pointed
to `any concrete actions on my part that caused a threat to the security of the
state to the life of the residents of my building. No complaints from other
residents of the building ever reached me.'

Segzekov also claimed the eviction would violate the rights of their two
children who, without a place to live, would be deprived of full access to
education and healthcare.

The city court - under presiding judge M. Ishadov - accepted the arguments
of N. Nammetdurdiyeva, an aide to the city procurator, rejecting all
Segzekov's arguments.

The original campaign to evict the family was initiated by Maksat
Yazmuradov, head of the special commission of the Niyazov district
khyakimlik, the same official who closed the city's Baptist church earlier this
year (see KNS 2 March 2001). Yazmuradov was unavailable by telephone
on 1 August.

The decision to evict the Segzekov family from its home is part of a wider
campaign to evict believers of a variety of faiths who use their homes for
religious meetings. A number of Protestant families have already been
deprived of their homes so far this year.

Ambassador Venczel told Keston that everyone in Turkmenistan should
have the right to conduct small-scale religious meetings with family and
friends in their own home. `This is their right under international human
rights standards and the laws of Turkmenistan. Expressing religious faith is a
simple freedom of the human being.' (END)