KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 17 January 2001

TURKMENISTAN: APPEAL DATE SET OVER PENTECOSTAL CHURCH
CONFISCATION. The city court of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad is to
consider on 24 January the appeal against the confiscation of the city's
Pentecostal church. Pastor Viktor Makrousov lodged the appeal against the
ruling to confiscate the building, which he owns, on 11 January. If he loses his
appeal, the confiscation order will then take effect.

TURKMENISTAN: APPEAL DATE SET OVER PENTECOSTAL CHURCH
CONFISCATION

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The city court of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad is to consider Pentecostal
pastor Viktor Makrousov's appeal against the confiscation of the city's
Pentecostal church on 24 January. The hearing is due to begin at 10 am. Pastor
Makrousov told Keston News Service from Ashgabad on 16 January that he
had lodged his appeal against the ruling to confiscate the building - which he
owns - on 11 January. If Makrousov loses his appeal the confiscation order will
then take effect.

The Pentecostal church - which has faced months of harassment � has had to
stop meeting in the building, though it continues to hold meetings in other
private homes. `We have no alternative,' Pastor Makrousov declared. The
church is preparing an application for registration.

The court of the Kopetdag district of Ashgabad ruled on 4 January that the
church was to be confiscated without compensation (see KNS 4 January 2001).
At the hearing - presided over by Judge Dovlet Sopiev - Pastor Makrousov
defended his right to use the house that he owns for worship services, but this
was ruled illegal by the court. Despite the original suit, by the Kopetdag acting
khyakim (head of administration) Aleksei Razmakhov, that the building also be
demolished, the two-page court ruling - of which Keston has received a copy -
made no mention of demolition.

The confiscation ruling was criticised by a number of the diplomats who
attended the 4 January hearing among them Bess Brown of the Organisation for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Ashgabad, . `The ruling
appears to have very little legal foundation in Turkmenistan's own law,' she told
Keston in the aftermath of the hearing. `This case seems to be motivated by an
intent to stop Pastor Makrousov's religious activities, which certainly is not in
accord with Turkmenistan's OSCE commitments and violates its own law on
freedom of conscience.'

Makrousov stresses that Turkmenistan's religious law specifically guarantees
the right to conduct religious rites in private homes.

The case has attracted a high international profile. 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 court case. The original hearing was attended by diplomats from the
OSCE mission and the British, US and German embassies.

Turkmenistan is the most religiously repressive of the former Soviet republics.
Only communities of the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox
Church have been able to gain official registration since the law on religion was
amended in 1996, while officials at all levels have spontaneously and
repeatedly told both local believers and Keston that these are the only two
religions allowed in the country (although this is nowhere stated in law).
Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees have
been deported from the country or harassed. An Adventist church and two Hare
Krishna temples (as well as two mosques) have been demolished to prevent the
communities from meeting. The Bahais, Jews and Armenian Apostolic
Christians are among other communities banned from meeting. (END)


Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.