KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 28 February 2001

CHURCH CONFISCATION CASE. Following the 31 January appeal
against the confiscation of the Pentecostal church in the Turkmen capital
Ashgabad, in which the city court found the original decision of the
Kopetdag district court flawed, the case returns to Kopetdag district court
and begins again at noon tomorrow (Thursday 1 March), the church�s pastor
Viktor Makrousov told Keston News Service by telephone on 27 February.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The new hearing ordered by the city court in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad
on 31 January in the case brought by the authorities of Ashgabad's Kopetdag
district to confiscate the city's Pentecostal church (see KNS 31 January
2001) will now begin at noon tomorrow (Thursday 1 March) in Kopetdag
district court with judge Redjep Ilyasov presiding. `In the wake of the appeal
hearing the whole case will begin all over again in the district court,' the
church's pastor Viktor Makrousov told Keston News Service by telephone
on 27 February.

The Kopetdag district court ruled on 4 January that the church building -
which is owned as a private house by Pastor Makrousov � was to be
confiscated without compensation, but this decision was overturned on
appeal, to the surprise of Pastor Makrousov and the foreign diplomats who
attended the 31 January 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.

One Adventist church, two Hare Krishna temples and two mosques are
already known to have been destroyed in Turkmenistan on government
orders to halt the religious activity taking place in them. The acting khyakim
(head of administration) of Kopetdag district, Aleksei Razmakhov, originally
called for the Pentecostal church to be demolished, but the 4 January ruling
made no mention of demolition.

Acting khyakim Razmakhov was out on 28 February when Keston tried to
contact him, as was deputy khyakim Veronika Annaklycheva. Khakimlik.
Officials told Keston that only they could discuss the case to confiscate the
Pentecostal church.

Meanwhile, in a separate case, Pastor Makrousov has been challenging in
court two fines levied on him late last year for religious activity the
government claimed was illegal (see KNS 30 January 2001). After several
postponements, the case was eventually heard on 21 and 26 February. `The
verdict in written form will not be released until 1 March,' Pastor Makrousov
told Keston.

At the first hearing on 21 February, a representative of the Niyazov district
khyakimlik and the district prosecutor argued that his activity had been
illegal and that the fines imposed on him under Article 205 of the
Administrative Code (which punishes minor offences)had therefore been
legal. Both insisted Pastor Makrousov should find the 500 adult members
required under the 1996 religion law and apply for registration, halting all
religious activity until registration had been obtained. `It is obvious Pastor
Makrousov cannot find 500 people,' they reportedly declared. (Average
attendance at Sunday services at the Ashgabad Pentecostal church is fewer
than 30 people, with a total of about 100 in the congregation as a whole.)
However, Pastor Makrousov told the hearing that the provisions of the
religion law do not apply to meetings held in private homes and that the law
on public gatherings excludes religious gatherings in private homes from its

Pastor Makrousov has already paid the two fines each of 250,000 manats
(one month's average wages). Also fined the same sum on the second
occasion were his wife, his daughter and another member of the church.