KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 9 April 2001

I. UZBEKISTAN: `CATCH-22' FOR TASHKENT PROTESTANT
CHURCH. An independent Baptist church in the Uzbek capital Tashkent has
had its application for registration repeatedly rejected over the last five years
because the house where it meets is in a housing zone. `We're in a Catch-22
situation,' the pastor told Keston News Service. `The justice department can't
register us because we have no legal address, and we can't get a legal address
because the house is listed only for domestic use.' The Uzbek presidential
council is due to rule on the matter soon.

II. UZBEKISTAN: NO PROGRESS ON REOPENING ADVENTIST
SEMINARY. There has been no progress on reopening a facility to train
Adventist clergy in Uzbekistan closed down by the authorities at the end of
last year, a leading Adventist pastor told Keston News Service. Under the
controversial 1998 religion law the Adventist Church does not have the right
to train religious personnel because it does not have a registered religious
centre. Registering is likely to become increasingly difficult for groups
whose leaders do not have ´┐Żappropriate religious education´┐Ż.

I. UZBEKISTAN: `CATCH-22' FOR TASHKENT PROTESTANT
CHURCH

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Five years after first applying for registration, an independent Baptist church
in the Uzbek capital Tashkent has been repeatedly rejected, with officials of
the district khokimiyat (administration) withholding permission because the
house where the church meets is in a housing zone. `We're in a Catch-22
situation,' the pastor of Bethany Church, Nikolai Shevchenko, told Keston
News Service. `The justice department can't register us because we have no
legal address, and we can't get a legal address because the house is listed
only for domestic use.'

Speaking on 10 March at the church building in Tashkent, Pastor
Shevchenko reported that the previous day he had passed documents about
the denial of registration to an aide to a presidential advisor and was told the
presidential council would rule on the matter within one month. Pastor
Shevchenko - who insists the problems have been caused by local, not
national officials - was fined last year for continuing to lead services at the
church despite the lack of registration.

In the early 1990s, the then owner of the house allowed Bible studies to
begin, with full-scale services beginning in 1996. That same year Pastor
Shevchenko applied to the government's Committee for Religious Affairs
(CRA) for registration (at that time registration was not compulsory), but
was told orally that `we're against the building of a Baptist church'. The
owner of the house died soon after, then came the change in the religion law
in May 1998 that made registration compulsory and which drastically
increased the documentation required to submit a registration application,
including written approval from the local khokimiyat, the fire service, the
sanitary inspectorate and the epidemiological service.

`In 1998 we began to apply again but they refused to accept the documents,'
Pastor Shevchenko reported. `They told us they would complete the re-
registration process for those with registration before accepting new
applications.' The church applied to found a new religious organisation to the
city khokimiyat in September 1999, which gave its permission. The church
then applied to the CRA, which said it needed the approval of the khokim of
Tashkent's Mirzo-Ulugbek district. The church wrote to him in January 2000
but he refused, citing the fact that the house where the church meets is
located in a domestic zone. The church then applied to the city khokimiyat
for the house to be reassigned from domestic to non-domestic use. They
refused, but declined to give the response in writing despite the church's
repeated requests.

The church wrote again to the city khokim later last year to try to have the
house use reassigned. A khokimiyat commission examined the issue and
although the fire service, epidemiological service and other bodies were
happy, the architectural administration refused to give permission. `They
said that as the church is not a juridical entity the transfer cannot take place -
transfers can only be made to juridical entities,' Pastor Shevchenko reported.

Pastor Shevchenko insisted the church met all the requirements for
registration, having presented the list of 100 adult citizen founders, the
record of the founding meeting, and the certificate of religious education for
the church leaders.

On 14 May last year the district police raided a Sunday service at the house.
`Nine police officers and the deputy head of the local police arrived, sealed
the gates and recorded the names and details of all those present. They drew
up a report on an unsanctioned religious meeting.' The following day Pastor
Shevchenko was summoned to an administrative hearing, where he was
fined 8,750 sums, five times the minimum monthly wage, for leading the
unsanctioned meeting. `Of course I paid the fine,' he told Keston. `They
threatened to confiscate the house otherwise.' The police warned Pastor
Shevchenko that if the church meets again he would be sent to prison. After
that the church had to cancel its services later on Sunday morning, having to
hold the service early in the morning before the police are active. `Since last
May we have not been touched, though they have rung up to ask if we still
meet. I tell them we do nothing against the law.'

Pastor Shevchenko was the founder of an Association of Independent
Churches, which unites a dozen Protestant Churches in various towns across
the country. He noted that their church in the town of Almalyk south east of
Tashkent, which is led by Pastor Aleksandr Bondar, has had similar
problems applying for registration as it too meets in a private home. Other
congregations too - including those in Nukus and Takhiatash in the
Karakalpakstan autonomous republic of western Uzbekistan - languish
without registration. (END)

II. UZBEKISTAN: NO PROGRESS ON REOPENING ADVENTIST
SEMINARY

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

There has been no progress on reopening a facility to train Adventist clergy
in Uzbekistan closed down by the authorities at the end of last year, a
leading Adventist pastor told Keston News Service. The Adventist college in
the town of Navoi in central Uzbekistan was ordered to close by the local
police and justice department officials last December when they raided the
premises. `They said that as we had no registration as a religious centre we
can't have a religious school,' Pastor Yakov Fries told Keston in the Uzbek
capital Tashkent on 12 March. He said that the school was forced to relocate
out of the country.

Pastor Fries reported that the college opened in 1999, offering one-year
courses to train pastors and other church workers. There were twelve
students in its first year of operation who studied full-time. The students
received free board and lodging, but were not given a grant.

Pastor Fries declared that his Church would like to be able to educate its
pastors within Uzbekistan.

The country's controversial 1998 religion law specifies in Article 9 that
`central organs of administration of religious organisations have the right to
found religious educational establishments to prepare clergy and religious
personnel that they need'. Such educational establishments can only function
once they are registered with the Ministry of Justice and receive a licence.
Only citizens who have completed secondary education can study in such
institutions. `Teaching religious beliefs on a private basis is banned,' Article
9 declares.

The restriction of the right to train religious personnel to groups which have
a registered religious centre - in violation of Uzbekistan's international
human rights commitments - means that only six religious communities have
the right to educate their own personnel within Uzbekistan. These are the
Muslim Board, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Full Gospel Pentecostal
Church, the Baptist Union, the Roman Catholic Church and the Bible
Society. All other religious bodies - including the Adventists - are denied
this right.

Having a facility to educate clergy and other religious personnel is vital,
because the religion law also requires communities applying for registration
to have religious leaders with `appropriate religious education'. Without
facilities to train such leaders, groups could have increasing difficulty
gaining registration if the state refuses to recognise religious education
gained informally or outside the country. (END)