KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 1 March 2001

TURKMENISTAN: PENTECOSTAL CHURCH CONFISCATION CASE
POSTPONED. The hearing due to have taken place today (1 March) in
Kopetdag district court of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad in the local
authorities' suit to confiscate the Pentecostal church has been postponed until
14 March, Judge Redjep Ilyasov told Keston News Service by telephone
from Ashgabad. He declined to confirm reports that the postponement was to
allow time to consider new materials presented in the case.

TURKMENISTAN: PENTECOSTAL CHURCH CONFISCATION CASE
POSTPONED

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The hearing due to have taken place today (1 March) in Kopetdag district
court of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad in the local authorities' suit to
confiscate the Pentecostal church has been postponed until 2pm on 14
March, the judge handling the case, Redjep Ilyasov, told Keston News
Service by telephone from Ashgabad (see KNS 28 February 2001). He
declined to confirm reports from other sources that the hearing was
postponed to allow time to consider new materials presented in the case.
`You understand I cannot discuss the case until it has been considered in
court.'

It is believed the prosecutor's office of Kopetdag district is now claiming that
the house where the church meets and which is owned by the church's pastor
Viktor Makrousov is not being used for the purpose for which it was
supposedly bought and that the contract to buy it was therefore illegal.
Contacted by telephone on 1 March, district prosecutor Orunbai Rovshenov
told Keston he could not confirm this as he was not familiar with the details
of the case. He said he has `many cases' to handle, and that his assistant who
had attended court earlier in the day had not returned.

The deputy khyakim (administration head) of Kopetdag district, Veronika
Annaklycheva, denies suggestions that the suit to confiscate the house is an
attempt to suppress religious activity. `There is no persecution of religious
believers here, but everyone must obey the law,' she told Keston on 1 March,
adding that she had no involvement in the case. `The khyakimlik has no right
to confiscate property - that is a decision for the courts.' She repeated claims
by numerous other officials that religious activity without registration is
illegal, something Keston has been unable to find in any published law.

The Kopetdag district court ruled on 4 January that the church was to be
confiscated without compensation, but this decision was overturned on 31
January by the Ashgabad city court on appeal, to the surprise of Pastor
Makrousov and the foreign diplomats who attended the hearing. The city
court judge ruled that the case should be sent back to the lower court as its
earlier ruling had been flawed.

The case has attracted a high international profile, as evidenced by the
presence of diplomats at both the court hearings. 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 threatened confiscation. (END)