KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 10, Articles 22-23, 20 October 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

SUMMARY:
I. TURKMENISTAN: PRIEST/BUREAUCRAT JUSTIFIES ORTHODOX
AWARD. The Russian Orthodox Church has granted Turkmenistan�s president
its highest award to a head of state for his �peace-loving activity�.
Turkmenistan�s senior Russian Orthodox priest has defended the action while
simultaneously agreeing that the following has occurred under Niyazov�s
presidency: an Adventist church was demolished in 1999, leaders of various
religious groups including Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses were deported,
and Muslim, Baptist and other religious leaders have been sent into internal
exile or detained.

II. TURKMENISTAN: RELIGION LAW INTRODUCED `TO CUT
NUMBER OF MOSQUES'. A deputy chairmen of Turkmenistan�s Council for
Religious Affairs rejected suggestions that it should be the role of believers to
decide how many religious communities and premises they should have. More
than half the mosques and most religious schools lost registration in 1997 in
the compulsory re-registration drive that followed the adoption of the revised
religion law.

Friday 20 October 2000
TURKMENISTAN: PRIEST/BUREAUCRAT JUSTIFIES ORTHODOX
AWARD

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Turkmenistan's senior Russian Orthodox priest has defended the granting by
his Church of an award to President SAPARMURAT NIYAZOV. In a
telephone interview from Ashgabad on 20 October, Father ANDREI
SAPUNOV, the `blagochinny' (dean) of Turkmenistan who is also a
government official, stressed that the Order of St Prince Daniil of the first
degree was the highest Church award given to heads of state. Father Andrei
vigorously denied suggestions that President Niyazov was unsuitable as a
recipient of the award from the Russian Orthodox Church in view of his
government's anti-religious policies. `The award was given for President
Niyazov's peace-loving activity,' Father Andrei told Keston News Service.

The award was granted on the instruction of Patriarch ALEKSI and conferred
on President Niyazov on 10 October during a conference in Ashgabad by
Archbishop VLADIMIR of Tashkent and Central Asia, whose diocese includes
Turkmenistan. `Similar awards have been given to President NURSULTAN
NAZARBAYEV of Kazakhstan and President ASKAR AKAYEV of
Kyrgyzstan,' Father Andrei pointed out. `It is one of the Russian Orthodox
Church's highest awards and was even given out during the Soviet period.'

Asked why President Niyazov merited the award given the persecution of
religious believers of many denominations in Turkmenistan, Father Andrei
responded: `You are mistaken. There is no persecution. No-one is persecuted.'
Asked whether he and the Russian patriarch were happy that an Adventist
church was demolished in 1999, leaders of various religious groups including
Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses were deported, and Muslim, Baptist and other
religious leaders have been sent into internal exile or detained, he agreed that
they had taken place but said: `There are a lot of things that you don't know
about these events, a lot of nuances.'

He denied that the Adventist church demolished in Ashgabad in November
1999 had been a church. `The Adventists never had a church here. It wasn't
registered as a church.' Told that a registered congregation of Adventists had
built the church with official permission he declared of the demolition: `It
wasn't done deliberately against them. It was done by the mayor's office as part
of a road building scheme.' Told that there has been no evidence of
construction of a new road on the site he declared: `There is construction going
on there.' Keston has a copy of a video taken of the church�s destruction which shows a
plaque on the outside of the building with the word �Church� in gold lettering.

Asked again whether Patriarch Aleksi was pleased that an Adventist church
had been destroyed by the government of President Niyazov whom the Church
has just honoured he responded: `You had better ask the patriarch.' Asked what
his response would be if the president issued an order for Ashgabad's
Voskresensky cathedral (where he serves) to be demolished with bulldozers,
Father Andrei responded: `Our cathedral is registered as a church. That is the
major difference.'

Asked whether the Russian Orthodox Church would be allowed by the Justice
Ministry to register new parishes if it wanted to, Father Andrei said: `Of
course.' He claimed that all 12 of the parishes in the country had at least the
500 founder members required by law when they applied for and received
registration from the Ministry of Justice.

Father Andrei admitted that only the Sunni Muslims and the Russian Orthodox
have state registration in Turkmenistan but denied that any religious groups had
been `banned', claiming that failing to achieve registration (which, he argued,
makes any communal activity illegal) was not the same thing. `There are laws
under which the state operates,' he declared. `There is a law on religion. The
Baptists, Adventists and others were offered registration. For various reasons
that have failed to attain it.' He declined to specify the `various reasons',
pleading lack of time.

Father Andrei denied that his simultaneous duty as a Russian Orthodox priest
and a deputy chairman of the government's Council for Religious Affairs meant
that the Orthodox Church was participating in the repression of other religious
groups. `The Ministry of Justice decides on registration,' he declared. `We are
just a consultative body.' (END)


Friday 20 October 2000
TURKMENISTAN: RELIGION LAW INTRODUCED `TO CUT NUMBER
OF MOSQUES'

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

In a frank admission, one of the deputy chairmen of the Turkmen government's
Council for Religious Affairs has told Keston News Service from Ashgabad
that the restrictive amendments to the law on religion introduced in 1996
deliberately set a high membership threshold `because there were too many
mosques'. Father ANDREI SAPUNOV declared in a telephone interview on 20
October that the minimum of 500 members introduced in 1996 (it had
previously been 20 for non-Muslims and 300 for Muslims) was designed not to
prevent Christian or other non-Muslim communities from registering but to
`restrict' the number of mosques.

Father Andrei - who is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in
Turkmenistan as well as being a state functionary - claimed that the
government was unhappy about the mushrooming numbers of mosques. `In one
village of 1000 inhabitants, for example, if there was already one mosque
people were opening a second.' Asked whether this was not what freedom of
conscience was about he replied: `Freedom of conscience is different here. The
government wants only enough mosques as people need.' He rejected
suggestions that it should be the role of believers to decide how many religious
communities and premises they should have.

More than half the mosques and most religious schools lost registration in 1997
in the compulsory re-registration drive that followed the adoption of the revised
religion law (see KNS 3 August 2000). Most mosques in Turkmenistan
function without registration. Last July Council for Religious Affairs official
MERED CHARIYAROV confirmed to Keston that the government exercises
direct control over the hiring, promotion and sacking of both Sunni Muslim
and Russian Orthodox clergy (see KNS 13 July 2000). (END)