Keston News Service Summary: Georgia & Turkmenistan


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Subject: Keston News Service Summary: Georgia & Turkmenistan

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Keston News Service Summary: Georgia & Turkmenistan



KESTON INSTITUTE, OXFORD, UK
______________________________________
 
KESTON NEWS SERVICE – SUMMARY              7-11 January 2002

Summaries of recent reporting on violations of religious liberty and
on religion in communist and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

GEORGIA: "NO ACTION" IN WAKE OF ATTACK ON PENTECOSTALS. (11 Jan)
Members of the Word of Life Pentecostal Church, human rights activists
and some politicians have complained about the failure of the police
or prosecutor's office to take any action so far in the wake of last
month's attack on a Word of Life service in a cinema in the centre of
the Georgian capital Tbilisi. The mob raid - the latest in a long
series of attacks on minority religious communities dating back to
1999 - was led by Basil Mkalavishvili, a defrocked priest of the
Orthodox Church who enjoys de facto immunity from prosecution for his
violent raids. "They must be arrested," the church's pastor insisted
to Keston. "It's not a question of religious freedom but of
hooliganism. Such hooligan gangs should not be allowed to exist." (see
full article below)

GEORGIA: "MKALAVISHVILI SHOULD BE ARRESTED AT ONCE," SAYS SENIOR
POLITICIAN. (11 Jan) "Basil Mkalavishvili should be arrested
immediately for violating the law and citizens' rights," Elena
Tevdoradze, chair of the Georgian parliament's human rights committee
told Keston News Service from Tbilisi on 11 January, three weeks after
Mkalavishvili led a violent raid on a Protestant service (see separate
KNS article). "It is very strange that he has not been arrested
already."  Tbilisi's chief prosecutor told Keston on 11 January that
the case against Mkalavishvili and one of his closest associates was
completed last October and has been sent to the court of Tbilisi's
Didube-Chugureti district. No date has yet been named for a trial.

TURKMENISTAN: ATAKOV FREED FROM PRISON, BUT PRESSURE CONTINUES (10
Jan). Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov has been freed before the end
of his four-year sentence, Keston News Service has learnt. He was
released from prison in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi early on
8 January and has been reunited with his wife Artygul and five
children. "Jesus has given me a Christmas gift," Atakov was quoted as
saying. The terms of release have not been made clear, however, and
Atakov has received neither a release certificate nor his identity
papers. The Turkmen authorities continue to put pressure on Baptist
congregations, whose activity the government regards as illegal. The
church in Balkanabad was raided on 23 December and a leading member of
the Ashgabad congregation died in mysterious circumstances on 22
December. 

Friday 11 January
GEORGIA: "NO ACTION" IN WAKE OF ATTACK ON 
PENTECOSTALS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Members of the Word of Life Pentecostal Church, human rights activists
and some politicians have complained about the failure of the police
or prosecutor's office to take any action so far in the wake of last
month's attack on a Word of Life service in a cinema in the centre of
the Georgian capital Tbilisi. The mob raid - the latest in a long
series of attacks on minority religious communities dating back to
1999 - was led by Basil Mkalavishvili, a defrocked priest of the
Orthodox Church who enjoys de facto immunity from prosecution for his
violent raids. (see KNS 26 September 2001) "We have not arrested
Mkalavishvili," the duty police officer at the Mtatsminda-Krtsanisi
district police told Keston News Service on 11 January. "Why should
we?" His boss, district police chief Togo Gogua, confirmed later in
the day that his officers had not arrested anyone in the wake of the
latest attack. "I'm not the procurator and I'm not the judge. An
investigation is underway," Gogua declared. "They must be arrested,"
the church's pastor insisted to Keston. "It's not a question of
religious freedom but of hooliganism. Such hooligan gangs should not
be allowed to exist."

The 150-strong Word of Life congregation - one of ten congregations in
Georgia linked to the Swedish-based Word of Life Church led by Ulf
Ekman - does not have its own church building and rents the Iveria
cinema on Tbilisi 's central Rustaveli avenue.

Mkalavishvili and some fifty supporters descended on the cinema as the
23 December morning service was ending, the church's pastor Mamuka
Jebisashvili told Keston from Tbilisi on 10 January. "They came in,
ringing bells, and proceeded to beat, break and steal during the
25-minute attack." The mob severely beat two church members - Kakha
Chkhaidze and Badri Machitashvili, though several other men -
including Ramaz Jeladze, Georgi Machitadze, Jemal Sakuashvili and
Vazha Jabanishvili - and women - including Endi Mamatelashvili - were
also beaten. The attackers broke the sound system, stole church money,
a Yamaha synthesiser and personal handbags, and seized and tore up
religious books, including copies of the Bible.

Jebisashvili told Keston that the police were summoned by the cinema
security staff - one of whom was also severely beaten by the attackers
– and that they prevented the attackers reaching a smaller room where
the church's Sunday school was being held. However, he said they had
not come into the main hall.

Emil Adelkhanov of the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Development and
Democracy told Keston that the attackers also broke the camera of a
reporter from the Ajaria television company who was filming the
attacks. Nevertheless, both Ajaria and another TV station Rustavi-2
showed film of the attacks later in the day.

Jebisashvili was adamant that Mkalavishvili had planned and directed
the raid, although he said he had not himself entered the cinema.
"Mkalavishvili stood outside above the cinema on the street and
directed the raid from outside the whole time," Jebisashvili told
Keston. "After it was over he went up onto Rustaveli where he prayed
and held a demonstration."

Two church members had to seek treatment at the Aramyan hospital for
their wounds. "When they found out the two were members of our church
the doctors said their wounds were not serious," Jebisashvili
reported. "They said it was just a nervous manifestation. We had to
treat them at home."

Jebisashvili said the police took statements from some church members
and that Major Vazha Nachkebia of the local police had told him that
they had started a case. Gogua of the district police told Keston that
the investigation had been handed to an investigator at the city
level, but he did not know his name or his phone number although he
promised to find out.

Manuchar Tsimintia, a Tbilisi-based lawyer who represents the
Jehovah's Witnesses and has had contact with Word of Life since the
December attacks, believes Mkalavishvili's participation in the latest
raid violates the terms of his police surveillance ordered by a court
last summer as part of a separate criminal case against him (see
separate KNS article). "He was put under supervision and pledged to
behave himself. He has clearly violated this by carrying on organising
these attacks," Tsimintia told Keston from Tbilisi on 11 January. He
would like Word of Life to join a legal complaint he intends to lodge
on behalf of the Jehovah's Witnesses next week to have Mkalavishvili
arrested immediately.

Although Mkalavishvili has been defrocked by the Orthodox Patriarchate
and is now a priest of a different Orthodox jurisdiction, there are
many who believe his actions have strong support within the
Patriarchate.
"Be it known that some sectarians, Pentecostals, Charismatics and
Disciples of Christ, hold their meetings at the Iveria cinema," the
Patriarchate's press centre warned on 12 August last year. "Be it
known that everyone who attends them destroys his own soul and is
doomed to eternal torments." 
(END)

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