Keston News Service Summary: Macedonia, Russia & Uzbekistan


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Subject: Keston News Service Summary: Macedonia, Russia & Uzbekistan

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Keston News Service Summary: Macedonia, Russia & Uzbekistan

 
KESTON INSTITUTE, OXFORD, UK
______________________________________
 
KESTON NEWS SERVICE SUMMARY             17-23 August 2001
 
Summaries of recent reporting on violations of religious liberty and
on religion in communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________
 
MACEDONIA: CHURCH IN LESEK BLOWN UP. (22 August) The Church of St.
Athanasius, in the Macedonian Orthodox Church Monastery at Lesok
(Leshok) village, 8 km from the city of Tetovo, was destroyed by a
large amount of explosives at 03.10 am on 21 August 2001. Talking to
Keston, Macedonian officials blame Albanian extremists for this
incident, but representatives of the rebel forces deny any
responsibility. The OSCE mission and the NATO Secretary-General have
both condemned the destruction of this religious site. It is possible
that the perpetrators selected for destruction the most recently built
church in the Monastery complex in an attempt to draw the
international communities attention, and to stress that other, much
older and more valuable buildings nearby are also a possible target.
 
RUSSIA: BAPTIST EVANGELISTIC CAMPAIGNS BROKEN UP BY POLICE. (17
August). Baptists taking advantage of the brief Russian summer to
stage open-air evangelistic campaigns have had their meetings broken
up by police in several different regions. These events broadly
resemble those reported by Keston in previous summers.
 
UZBEKISTAN: SIX ARRESTED FOR ALLEGED 'WAHABISM'. (21 August). Six men
have recently been arrested as part of a campaign by the Uzbek secret
police to root out Wahhabism from the Fergana valley. Despite the
official reason given for the arrests being that the men are
Wahhabites, an official of the state's Committee on Religious Affairs
has categorically denied to Keston News Service that there are any
prisoners of conscience in Uzbekistan.
 
UZBEKISTAN: 'THE FEWER CHURCHES WE HAVE, THE FEWER THE PROBLEMS'? (23
August) For almost two years the authorities have refused to register
the Bethany Evangelical Christian-Baptist congregation. Members of the
congregation have been penalised for conducting worship in an
unregistered church building and the pastor faced criminal charges.
'Thanks to the support of international organizations, primarily
Keston, the criminal case against me was dropped, but our situation
remains uncertain. For example, our church has still not been
registered' Pastor Nikolai Shevchenko said. Pavel Peychev, president
of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists has told Keston that
this is not an isolated incident. (See full article below)
 
UZBEKISTAN: 'THE FEWER CHURCHES WE HAVE, THE FEWER THE PROBLEMS'?
 
by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service
 
For almost two years the authorities of the Mirza-Ulugbeksky district
of Tashkent in Uzbekistan have refused to register the Bethany
Evangelical Christian-Baptist congregation. As Keston News Service has
reported (see KNS 27 September 2000, 26 March, 9 April, 27 June & 29
June 2001), members of the congregation have been penalised for
conducting worship in an unregistered church building and the pastor
faced criminal charges. 'Thanks to the support of international
organizations, primarily Keston, the criminal case against me was
dropped, but our situation remains uncertain. For example, our church
has still not been registered' Bethany church Pastor Nikolai
Shevchenko told Keston on 21 August.
 
The background to the conflict is that according to the Uzbek law on
religion 'religious organisations acquire legal status and may carry
on their activity after registration with the Ministry of Justice or
with the local authorities following the procedures laid down by the
legislation.' Since members of the Bethany church were meeting in an
unregistered prayer house, the Mirzo-Ulugbeksky district authorities
considered that the Baptists' activities were illegal.
 
Such an interpretation of the Law is debatable. 'Believers have the
right to assemble in unregistered prayer houses. The registration of a
religious congregation is necessary only for it to be able to act as a
public organisation. However, unfortunately, local officials lacking
in competence sometimes interpret the law to the effect that if a
prayer house is unregistered then the believers have no right to
gather there,' Keston was told on 22 August by Shoazim Minovarov, the
first deputy chairman of the state Committee for Religious Affairs
(CRA). A slightly different interpretation of the law is held by
Begzot Kadyrov, the chief specialist of the department for non-Islamic
confessions of the CRA, who told Keston on 23 August: 'We indeed
cannot ban believers from meeting for prayer in an unregistered
church. But, if such a group of people has a leader and he preaches in
an unregistered church building, then in this instance we can speak of
a violation of the law. Otherwise a dangerous precedent is set: the
representatives of some confessions do not want to register and if the
authorities do not react to their meetings at all, then the number of
religious associations whose members consider that they don't need to
register will grow considerably.'
 
Regardless of the interpretation of Uzbekistan's religion law, it
should be noted that it states: 'A religious organisation may be
refused registration if the provisions of its statutes and other
documents contradict the requirements of the present Law and other
legislative acts of the republic of Uzbekistan.' The khakimiat (local
authority) of the Mirzo-Ulugbeksky district refused Bethany church
registration on the grounds of a resolution of the committee of the
makhalla (the sub-district authority) on the inadmissibility of a
Christian prayer house functioning on the territory of the makhalla.
However, according to the law the consent of the makhalla committee is
not required for the registration of a prayer house. 'It is noteworthy
that on 9 December 1999 the makhalla committee voted for the activity
of our church. However, under pressure from the district authorities
on 9 January this year it unexpectedly voted against the functioning
of our prayer house on the territory of the makhalla. I believe that
such an attitude to Baptists is not the policy of the authorities of
our republic. This is the arbitrary action of local officials lacking
in competence. We have lodged a declaration with the civil court of
the Mirzo-Ulugbeksky district of Tashkent demanding that the
resolution of the makhalla committee should be appealed against. Our
case should be heard on 5 September,' Nikolai Shevchenko told Keston
on 21 August.
 
On 22 August the president of the Union of Evangelical Christians-
Baptists, Pavel Peychev, told Keston that this is not an isolated
incident. 'The authorities have refused registration to five of our
churches. Over the last year we have not managed to register a single
one of our churches. Officially it is considered that the local
(district) authorities are refusing registration, but in reality it is
happening on instructions from above. The pressure on Baptists in
Uzbekistan is growing. I believe that the authorities at republic
level have no interest at all in religious associations being refused
registration,' Begzot Kadyrov of the CRA told Keston on 23 August.
'It's another matter if local officials really do sometimes think 'the
fewer churches we have, the fewer the problems'.'

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