FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway
http://www.forum18.org/

The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one's belief or religion
The right to join together and express one's belief

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24 May 2006
BELARUS: CASE AGAINST MINSK CHURCH STALLED
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article _id=788
The court case brought by Belarusian authorities to force the sale of the
charismatic New Life church's worship building - a disused cowshed - has
been halted, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Judge Aleksandr Karamyshev
"promised to investigate our situation after he saw that the city
authorities' arguments just don't stand up," New Life church administrator
Vasily Yurevich told Forum 18. "We feel that people's prayers are making a
difference - we have reached a turning-point." During the court hearing,
Aleksei Vaga of Minsk's Architecture Committee insisted under oath that
city religious affairs officials have no influence over his committee. But
in a letter which Forum 18 has a copy of, the Architecture Committee
withdraws permission for the church to change the designated usage of its
building, "taking into account a 24 November 2003 written conclusion from
the Religious Affairs Department." In a separate development, New Life is
also "very pleased" about the acceptance of their appeal against a refusal
to review a decision upholding curtailment of the church's land rights. No
date has yet been set for this hearing.


26 May 2006
BELARUS: "DIVINE FREEDOM IS GIVEN BY GOD, BUT STATE FREEDOM YOU HAVE TO
PAY FOR"
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id =789
In what seems to be an increasing trend, a Belarusian Pentecostal pastor
has been fined for leading worship without state sanction. "Divine freedom
is given to us by God," Pastor Ilya Radkevich remarked to Forum 18 News
Service, "but state freedom you have to pay for." Natalya Lutsenko, head
of the administrative commission which fined Pastor Radkevich, totally
refused to say why an individual had been punished for holding a peaceful
religious service. Radkevich's fine is the latest to be imposed on some
Baptist, Pentecostal and independent Orthodox groups, under a legal
provision punishing violation of legislation on religion or the foundation
and leadership of an unregistered religious congregation. The 2002 Religion
Law bans unregistered religious activity, thus violating Belarus'
international human rights commitments. A regional assistant bishop of a
separate registered Pentecostal Union has told Forum 18 that the number of
fines for worship by groups in private homes - which is illegal without
state sanction even for registered communities - would be much greater if
such worship did not take place discreetly.


23 May 2006
SERBIA: NO CHANGES TO CONTROVERSIAL RELIGION LAW
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id= 785
Despite Serbian President Boris Tadic requesting amendments to the new
Religion Law as it breaks the European Convention on Human Rights, and
strong criticism from the OSCE and Council of Europe, the Religion
Ministry "is not preparing any amendments and no-one has sent any
amendments to the Ministry," it told Forum 18 News Service. Religion
Minister Milan Radulovic refused to comment on either the President's
request, or the strong criticism of the Law. Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki
Committee for Human Rights told Forum 18 that "I believe that the pressure
of international organisations - including the OSCE, the Council of Europe
and the US Congress - is needed." Vidan Hadzi-Vidanovic of the Belgrade
Centre for Human Rights states that they will challenge the Law in the
Constitutional Court. But, "we will need help to ensure that an appeal to
the Constitutional Court does not end up in some file," Zarko Djordjevic
of the Serbian Baptist Union told Forum 18.


23 May 2006
TURKMENISTAN: DEMOLITION OF PLACES OF WORSHIP CONTINUES
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?artic le_id=786
In large-scale demolition projects in Turkmenistan, those expelled from
their home get no compensation and often nowhere to live. Amongst the
buildings demolished are religious communities' places of worship. The
last surviving pre-revolutionary Armenian Apostolic church and a
family-owned Sunni mosque in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi have been
destroyed, Forum 18 News Service has been told. Exiled human rights
activist Vyacheslav Mamedov told Forum 18 that the mosque "was used on
Muslim festivals and for family events like weddings, funerals and sadakas
[commemorations of the dead]." The former Armenian church "was a very
beautiful building," Mamedov recalled. He told Forum 18 that there is
widespread anger and fear over the destruction of the town's historic
centre. Amongst places of worship in Turkmenistan, known to Forum 18 to
have been demolished in the past, are mosques, an Adventist church, and a
Hare Krishna temple.


24 May 2006
TURKMENISTAN: "WHAT WILL REGISTRATION GIVE US?"
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id =787
Despite making several registration applications, the Armenian Apostolic
Church community in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad has still not been
given state registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Some religious
communities have considered registration - including Protestants, Catholics
and the Jehovah's Witnesses - but have not yet applied. Protestant
congregations are sceptical about their chances of gaining registration.
Forum 18 has been told that during interrogations of ethnic Turkmen
Protestants, they are told to report everything that happens in their
churches to the authorities. "You have to do this if you're registered,"
they are told. A Catholic parish has not applied for registration, as they
are not allowed to have a foreign priest leading the parish. Jehovah's
Witnesses told Forum 18 that "there's still the very important question:
what will registration give us? Others have got registration and it hasn't
helped them."
* See full article below. *


24 May 2006
TURKMENISTAN: "WHAT WILL REGISTRATION GIVE US?"

http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_i d=787
By Felix Corley, Editor, Forum 18 News Service <http://www.forum18.org>

Back in February, the Armenian Apostolic Church community in
Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] lodged an application for state
registration. "Although three months have gone by the Justice Ministry has
made no response," an Armenian who preferred not to be identified told
Forum 18 News Service from Ashgabad on 22 May. "This is the third or
fourth application the community has lodged."

No-one at the Registration Department of the Adalat (Fairness or Justice)
Ministry was available to explain to Forum 18 why the application by
Ashgabad's Armenian community has not been processed. Reached on 22 May,
Maysa Sariyeva, who is head of the International Legal Affairs and
Registration of Public and Religious Organisations Department, put the
phone down as soon as Forum 18 explained who was calling. Subsequent calls
went unanswered. Also not answering his telephone on 22 and 23 May was
Serdar Valiev, who reports to Sariyeva and has responsibility for
registering religious communities.

The Armenian ambassador, Aram Grigoryan, was out of the country on 22 May
and no-one at the Embassy was able to comment on the stalled registration
application from the Ashgabad Armenian community. Nor was anyone available
for comment at the Armenian Foreign Ministry in Yerevan on 22 May, or at
the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Echmiadzin near the
Armenian capital.

The registration application was lodged exactly one year after the
authorities destroyed the last surviving pre-revolutionary Armenian
Apostolic church in the country, in the Caspian port town of Turkmenbashi
[Türkmenbashy, formerly Krasnovodsk], on the orders of President
Saparmurat Niyazov. The authorities had previously refused to hand it back
to the local Armenian community for worship (see F18News 23 May 2006
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?articl e_id=786>).

In the absence of any Armenian Apostolic church in Turkmenistan, Armenian
Christians who wished to worship have had to attend Russian Orthodox
churches (although the Armenian Church is of the Oriental, not the
Orthodox family of Churches). An estimated one sixth of parishioners at
Turkmenistan's Russian Orthodox churches are ethnic Armenians.

Meanwhile, other religious communities which have been considering lodging
registration applications - including Protestant Christians, the Catholic
parish in Ashgabad and the Jehovah's Witnesses - have not yet done so.

Forum 18 has learnt that several Protestant congregations are preparing
registration applications, but many are sceptical that the Adalat Ministry
will grant it. "All the churches wanting to get registration are made up of
ethnic Turkmens and it is not so easy," one Protestant told Forum 18 on 22
May. "The authorities don't like this." The Protestant said that the
Protestant congregations the Adalat Ministry was forced to register under
international pressure from 2004 - including the Adventists, Baptists,
Pentecostals, Greater Grace, Light of the East and the Church of Christ -
were all made up of ethnic Russians. "When the persecution was at its
worst five or six years ago, ethnic Russian churches suffered, but Turkmen
believers suffered the worst."

Even today, the Protestant added, every time officials interrogate any
ethnic Turkmen Protestants they tell them they should report everything
that happens in their churches to the authorities. "You have to do this if
you're registered."

The Jehovah's Witnesses remain cautious. "Nothing has moved on the
registration issue," one Jehovah's Witness told Forum 18 on 22 May. "The
authorities show no real desire to register us. There's still the very
important question: what will registration give us? Others have got
registration and it hasn't helped them." Contacts in 2005 with the Adalat
Ministry were "not very encouraging", the source added. However, the
Jehovah's Witnesses have not ruled out trying to get registration and are
still working on preparing the necessary documentation.

Ashgabad's Catholic parish has not yet applied for registration, as it
remains unhappy with the terms of the Religion Law and has not been able
to meet Adalat Ministry officials to discuss the wording of the statute.
"We want to explain to the Ministry the absolute impossibility for the
parish to be led by a local citizen," one Catholic familiar with the
process told Forum 18 on 23 May. "The authorities have to allow us to
build up a community and only with time will there perhaps be a local
priest who could lead the community. We want to discuss this point with
the Ministry and we hope they'll understand it."

The Catholic said the community is grateful that the Turkmen authorities
have allowed two Polish priests to serve the community. Mass is currently
held on Vatican diplomatic territory in the Nunciature in Ashgabad.
Eventually the Catholics would like to build a church to replace the one
destroyed by an earthquake in Soviet times. "But the church is the
community, not the building," the Catholic stressed to Forum 18.

Other religious communities registered since May 2004 are the Baha'is, the
Hare Krishna community and the New Apostolic Church. Already registered
were about a hundred Sunni Muslim mosques. Shia Muslim mosques are
unofficially barred from registering. Most of the country's 12 Russian
Orthodox churches were finally re-registered in November 2005, though the
Dashoguz [Dashhowuz] parish was stripped of registration in 2003 and has
been unable to regain it. The parish has also been prevented from
completing building work on its church (see F18News 3 April 2006
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?articl e_id=754>).

Conditions that have been imposed on registered communities are highly
restrictive, including bans on meeting for worship, including in private
homes, and on printing and importing religious literature (see F18News 28
February 2005 <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id= 521>), tight
financial restrictions and a ban on foreign citizens leading religious
communities (see F18News 13 May 2004
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?articl e_id=320>). Many religious
believers in Turkmenistan strongly object to these conditions, describing
religious freedom in the country as "fictitious" (see F18News 16 February
2006 <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id= 728>).

Among the problems communities have experienced since registering are that
nationally registered communities have had their regional communities'
registration denied by officials in police raids (see F18News 19 December
2005 <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id= 707>); and unwritten
extra-legal obstacles have been placed in the way of unregistered
communities registering, or registered communities meeting (see F18 News 9
December 2005 <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id= 702>).
Registered congregations are also pressured to subscribe to the cult of
personality around President Niyazov, and the Ruhnama, his alleged
"spiritual writings" (see F18News 1 March 2005
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?articl e_id=522>).

Unregistered religious activity remains illegal (see F18Nerws 24 May 2004
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?articl e_id=326>).

Although extreme harassment of religious communities has eased off
recently, official intimidation still occurs. This was described to Forum
18 by one Protestant as officials "inciting interreligious hatred" (see
eg. F18News 19 January 2006
<http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?articl e_id=717>).

Among recent incidents, two teachers of the Koran in the village of Kongur
near the south-eastern town of Mary were summoned by the Ministry of State
Security (MSS) secret police early in the year and banned from teaching
the Koran, Jumadurdy Ovezov, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe's
Turkmen Service told Forum 18 from Mary on 15 May.

Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 that in March, one of their members was
detained in Ashgabad while he was on his way to visit a fellow-believer. A
police officer hit him on the head several times, forced him to get into a
car and took him to the police station. There he was interrogated and had
his Bible and other religious books confiscated, but was released later
that day. In April, two female Jehovah's Witnesses were coming out of a
block of flats in Turkmenbashi when they were detained by police. They
were taken by car to the local police station where they were searched and
interrogated. "Officers used the usual crude words during the
interrogation," one Jehovah's Witness told Forum 18. The two were forced
to write statements before being freed.

Protestants have complained that some are still being prevented from
travelling abroad for religious purposes, including a group who had visas
but were not handed their pre-paid tickets ahead of their planned
departure from Ashgabad airport in April. "We don't know why this
happened," one Protestant told Forum 18. "The travel company and all the
other people at the airport kept putting the blame on each other."

Hare Krishna devotee Cheper Annaniyazova is still in jail, on a seven year
jail term believed within Turkmenistan to have been inspired by the MSS
secret police to intimidate the Hare Krishna community (see F18News 3
April 2006 <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id= 754>). (END)

For a personal commentary by a Protestant within Turkmenistan, on the
fiction - despite government claims - of religious freedom in the country,
and how religious communities and the international community should
respond to this, see <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id= 728>

For more background, see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey
at <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id= 672>

A printer-friendly map of Turkmenistan is available at
<http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpedition s/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=turkme& gt;
(END)

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