II. NEWS IN BRIEF from BULGARIA
III. TURKMEN AUTHORITIES `DISAPPEAR' TWO HARE KRISHNA DEVOTEES, TWO OTHERS THREATENED WITH DESTRUCTION
CORRECTION: Thursday 23 September
A July 1999 fund-raising letter from Keston said that 'there are reports in
the press that Fr Yan Weiping was found dead in the street in Beijing having
been killed while celebrating Mass. Keston has no means yet of checking the
accuracy of this report but we have plans to set up a Far Eastern Office
which would operate like our Moscow Office in investigating and transmitting
reports on infringements of religious liberty.'
It has since come to Keston's attention that the details of this episode are
even less clear than we had thought. It may be that Fr Yan was dragged away
while celebrating the Mass but killed only later. Keston continues to seek
the resources to enable us to do careful, on-the-spot reporting of our own in
China as we already do in Russia. (END)
Wednesday 22 September
NEWS IN BRIEF from BULGARIA
by Archmandrite Dr. Pavel St. Georgiev, Keston News Service
SCHISMATIC METROPOLITAN ELECTED
The schismatic wing of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has gone ahead with the election of a successor to its late 'Patriarch' PIMEN. On 26 June 1999 in Blagoevgrad a group of priests and laymen elected GAVRIIL to the post. He is a monk from the Rila monastery who was later Bulgarian Othodox Church representative in Moscow and Abbot of the Troyan monastery. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church asked the government to intervene and stop the election but it failed to do so. Meanwhile, most of the other schismatic bishops have returned to the Church and have been appointed as vicars.
NEW CHURCH CONSECRATED
On 27 July 1999 the Bulgarian Orthodox PATRIARCH MAKSIM consecrated the first new church built in Sofia since 1989. It is named after St Kliment of Okhrid, a disciple of SS Cyril and Methodius who established a Bulgarian religious and literary school in what is now Macedonia before he died in 916. The church is situated in the mammoth Lyulin suburb of the Bulgarian capital where until now no churches existed at all. All the money for the construction and decoration were donations.
ORTHODOXY IN GAOL
The Ministry of Law appointed 13 full-pay priests to serve the needs of inmates in the 13 Bulgarian prisons. The 6th congress of the International Association for Christian Prison Support took place in Sofia in September 1999 at the invitation of Fr NIKOLAI GEORGIYEV who is the pioneer of this activity in Bulgaria.
The schismatic Metropolitan INNOKENTI of Sofia and the Sofia Mayor SOFIANSKY inaugurated a monument to the Bulgarian victims of communism on 11 September 1999. It is a 200-year old funeral cross installed in front of a black marble wall with 7526 names on it, including more than 40 clergymen. Hundreds of priests were sent to labour camps in the late 1940s and early 1950s and died later. (END)
Wednesday 22 September
TURKMEN AUTHORITIES `DISAPPEAR' TWO HARE KRISHNA DEVOTEES, TWO OTHERS THREATENED WITH DESTRUCTION
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
Two Hare Krishna devotees have disappeared in Turkmenistan in the wake of their arrest as the crackdown on the group's religious activity continues. Hare Krishna sources in the region told Keston News Service that a car carrying officers of the National Security Committee (KNB, the former KGB) arrived at the former site of the temple in the capital Ashgabad on 5 September and took away two devotees, VALERI ZOLOTNIKOV and MARAT URAYEV. The officers failed to give a reason for taking them. Since then there has been no news of the two men. The KNB and the local authorities in Ashgabad forced the Hare Krishna community in the capital to dismantle the temple there on 12 August. The temple had been under construction for two years on private land belonging to a devotee and was almost complete at the time of the order to destroy it. On 17 August Prinkur, an Uzbek citizen who had led the Ashgabad community since 1995, was forcibly deported from the country. (See KNS 8 September 'Turkmen Authorities Destroy Hare Krishna Temples')
Keston has also received further details of the destruction of the Hare Krishna temple in the village of Budenovsky just outside the town of Mary in mid-August. According to information received from Mary by the exiled leader of the Ashgabad community, ALEKSANDR PRINKUR (ACHARYA DAS), the local authorities summoned two devotees KURBAN UTOMYSHEV and KUAT UTOMYSHEV to the village administration on 12 August. Already present were MURAD KARRYYEV, the deputy chairman of the government's Council for Religious Affairs, and Imam NASRULLAH IBN IBADULLAH, the leader of the officially-sanctioned Muslims and other Muslim clerics, as well as village elders and local militia officers.
As soon as the two devotees arrived, those present began to complain about their activity and insult them. Then Karryyev declared directly that the land on which the temple had been built, which is owned by Kurban Utomyshev, was to be confiscated, as was the adjoining land next to the temple, which is owned by Kuat Utomyshev. `Karryyev also issued an instruction to demolish the temple,' the Hare Krishna sources told Keston. `The Temple was completely destroyed using tractors, despite the devotees' plea to be allowed to dismantle the temple themselves in order to preserve the building material.'
The devotees were also openly threatened during the meeting that if they failed to give up their religious activity they would either be sent to prison or deported from the country, despite the fact that they are both citizens of Turkmenistan. According to local Hare Krishnas, `Karryyev also issued an instruction to the local militia to watch and prevent any meetings of Krishna believers even in homes.' Believers were warned that their homes would be confiscated. `Pointing to Kurban and Kuat Utomyshev, Karryyev said that "we can destroy you", and that "Turkmenistan would not miss two individuals".'
The Hare Krishna community reports that its temple in Budenovsky was 30 metres by 12 metres in size.
Keston believes the August destructions represent the first time since the end of the Soviet period that government authorities in any of the former Soviet republics have deliberately destroyed places of worship with the aim of halting religious activity, although many places of worship have been forcibly closed by the authorities in a number of republics. During the 1994-1995 Russian assault on Chechnya, bombing by the Russian air force destroyed the Russian Orthodox church in Grozny. In 1995 there were state-sponsored attacks that seriously damaged many places of worship belonging to minority faiths in Armenia, but none was destroyed. Earlier this year a village mob destroyed a newly-built Baptist church in a Moldovan village, but this was not a state-sponsored action.
The Hare Krishna community has been unable to gain registration with the Turkmen authorities, despite repeated attempts. Under current Turkmen law, each religious community needs 500 adult citizen members before it can even apply for registration. Only communities of the officially-sanctioned Sunni Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church have official registration. Communities that have been denied registration include Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists and Bahais. This summer the Turkmen authorities have stepped up their harassment of Protestant churches in what many believe is an attempt to halt their activity once and for all.
The Ashgabad Hare Krishna community has existed since 1990, while the Mary community - the bigger of the two - has existed since 1993.Although both communities had been denied registration in the early 1990s, they had been able to function relatively freely until 1996, when campaigns to close them down began. In 1997, under the new regulations in the wake of revisions to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations, the Mary community collected the required 500 signatures, but the application was rejected as some of the signatories lived not in the town of Mary but in Mary region. The same year the Ashgabad community tried again to register. Both the Mary and Ashgabad communities suffered constant harassment and threats from officials.(END)