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4.11.2002 - BELARUS: Repressive Religion Law Enters Force on Saturday. Belarus' repressive new religion law enters into legal force on Saturday 16 November. From then, all unregistered religious activity will be illegal; all communities with fewer than 20 members will become illegal; any religious activity in private homes – apart from occasional, small scale meetings – will be illegal; religious communities that do not have a registered umbrella body will not be able to invite foreign citizens for religious work; and all religious literature will be subject to compulsory prior censorship. In addition, all religious organisations will have to be compulsorily re-registered within two years. Evidence is already mounting that the new law is beginning to restrict religious activity. The authorities have already used "public opinion" – often stirred up by local Orthodox priests – to prevent non-Orthodox religious communities gaining registration or receiving building permission.
In a last-ditch protest against the law, two people – among them a Catholic, Igor Zakrevsky from the town of Borisov, staged a demonstration on Independence Square in Minsk on 8 November. They were detained by police

13.11.2002 - GEORGIA: True Orthodox Lodge Constitutional Challenge to Concordat. Georgia’s Constitutional Court is to rule on 19 November whether it will consider a complaint lodged by a leading priest of the True Orthodox Church against the constitutionality of the recently-adopted concordat between the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate and the state. “The concordat is against our Church and was designed to deprive us of our constitutional rights,” Father Gela Aroshvili told Keston News Service from Tbilisi on 12 November. “We can’t serve the liturgy, preach, build churches or publish without getting permission each time from the Patriarchate. We can do nothing.”

12.11.2002 - AZERBAIJAN: Third Refusal for Baptist Book Imports. The Baptist church in the Azerbaijani capital Baku has for the third time been refused permission to import 3,000 copies of the Book of Proverbs in Azeri which are currently being held in customs. Pastor Ilya Zenchenko, head of the Baptist Union in Azerbaijan, told Keston News Service on 11 November that Rafik Aliev, chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, was responsible for the latest refusal. Pastor Zenchenko fears that the State Committee may use the incident as a pretext to close down the Baptist Church on grounds of "infringement of the law about the reception of religious literature".

12.11.2002 - UZBEKISTAN: Lawyer Fails to Gain Freedom for Jehovah's Witness. Keston News Service has learnt that the lawyer for Jehovah’s Witness Marat Mudarisov, who is on trial in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on charges of inciting national, racial or religious hatred under Article 156 of the Criminal Code, has failed in his bid to have the case dismissed. The district Interior Ministry investigator, stating the case against Mudarisov, claimed that Jehovah’s Witnesses incite national hatred by “preaching only from the Bible and not from the Koran”. Mudarisov has now been held in detention for almost four months.

11.11.2002 - UKRAINE: Christian University 'Under Threat'. Despite the withdrawal of a legal suit to suspend the Odessa-based Christian Open University of Economy and Humanitarian Sciences, staff still fear that the local justice department will try to close the university. The justice department wanted to have the university fined and its activity halted for three months because internal university documentation was in Russian not Ukrainian, and that the legal address of the university was not where lessons take place. The university claims that it is registered as a social and not a state organisation, so it does not need to maintain documents in Ukrainian and that it can still be reached at the legal address. The justice department has refused to answer queries by phone or fax and claimed that it does not have e-mail. The dean of the theological faculty, Pyotr Pavlyuk, stated "The most important thing is that it is Christian, not Orthodox. If it was Orthodox, there wouldn't be such problems." He added that the university's refusal to pay bribes has complicated the situation. "If we paid bribes we would be OK. Ukraine is a very corrupt country."

11.11.2002 - KAZAKHSTAN: Home Bible Study Ends in Police Raid. On 8 September police and officers of the National Security Committee (KNB, former KGB) raided the apartment of a Baptist church leader Kormangazy Abdumuratov, where Baptists were studying the Bible. After taking details, searching and videoing the flat and those present, the Baptists were taken to police headquarters, where all were interrogated. After between one and two hours of interrogation, everyone was released except Abdumuratov. The police told him to write a statement declaring that he would stop holding religious meetings in his home. He refused and was threatened with imprisonment because he had been caught three times taking part in unregistered religious meetings. One policeman even hit him, but after six hours he was released. Subsequently, hostile TV footage was shown on the Baptists and Abdumuratov was expelled from the Institute where he was a student, as he was said to be a traitor to the Kazakhs and to have been bought off by foreigners.

08.11.2002 - AZERBAIJAN: Baptist Church Threatened with Demolition. An Interior Ministry colonel has threatened an unregistered Baptist church in Baku with demolition if the church refuses to register with the authorities, Keston News Service has learnt. "If you don't register we'll close the church and knock it down," Pastor Ivan Orlov, leader of the Baku church, quoted Colonel Aliev as having said when he came to the church last month. He also threatened to have church members sacked from their work. Azerbaijani law does not require religious groups to register in order to be allowed to function, and nor do international human rights standards or OSCE commitments. A statement from the church expresses concern about pressure on believers and the demolition threat, and calls for support in prayer and appeals to the authorities.

08.11.2002 - UZBEKISTAN: Police Beat Up Teenage Jehovah's Witness. A 17-year-old Jehovah's Witness from western Uzbekistan, was detained by police officers on 30 October on suspicion of distributing religious literature. Aleksei Rajabov was taken to the police station, where he claims he endured torture and insults for nearly twelve hours. The reason given for his arrest was the fact that he was found to have copies of Jehovah's Witness magazines. Rajabov told Keston that although he was legally a minor, the police did not tell his parents about his arrest although they were obliged to do so by law. The literature found on him is not banned in Uzbekistan. The current trial of Jehovah's Witness Marat Mudarisov is being used as a signal for a campaign against members of the religion. The National Security Service (ex-KGB) and police have warned Jehovah's Witnesses that "the Wahhabis [a local term for fundamentalist Muslims] are after you now. So far, just one of your fellow-believers is serving time, but soon you'll all be doing time."

05.11.2002 - BELARUS: Full Gospel Church To Defy Religion Law. The Full Gospel Union of Pentecostal churches in Belarus has declared publicly that it will defy the repressive new religion law signed by President Aleksandr Lukashenko on 31 October. “The entry of this law into force will be a blow to freedom of conscience, one of the fundamental freedoms given to individuals by God and on which basic democratic institutions are founded,” the head of the Union declared in a 1 November statement received by Keston News Service. Other Belarusian religious and human rights organisations, together with the US State Department, have similarly condemned the new law.

04.11.2002 - GEORGIA: Violent Priest's Trial A 'Charade'. Mikhail Saralishvili, officer manager of the Georgian Bible Society who was attacked by a mob led by violent True Orthodox priest Vasili Mkalavishvili in March 2001, has withdrawn in disgust from the criminal trial of the priest now underway in the capital Tbilisi. Saralishvili is angered by the attitude of the authorities who have, he believes, deliberately failed to take Mkalavishvili's crimes seriously. As well as the Georgian Bible Society, the Jehovah's Witnesses are also dissatisfied, stating that the authorities have deliberately chosen cases where the victims suffered minor injuries. Whatever the outcome of the trial, violence against religious minorities has continued in recent months and shows no sign of declining.

04.11.2002 - RUSSIA: Latest Destruction of Orthodox Church 'The First Times the Authorities Took Any Notice'. Though not the first such incident in Naberezhnyye Chelny, the destruction of the Orthodox Church of St Tatyana on 1 October "was the first time the authorities took any notice," Keston News Service has been told. Naberezhnyye Chelny is the second largest city in the republic of Tatarstan, one of the strongest Islamic areas of Russia. A preliminary wooden chapel was burnt down in May 1999, but no one was arrested. Neither did police officers arrest those who attempted to remove masonry at the site of a subsequent, stone church building on 17 July 2002. In 1996 no one was detained for acts of arson against wooden crosses at the building sites of Churches of St George and St Serafim of Sarov, even though the latter is only 200 metres (yards) from a police station.

01.11.2002 - UZBEKISTAN: Contradictory Evidence At Jehovah's Witness Trial. At the latest court hearing in the trial of Jehovah's Witness Marat Mudarisov the local head of Uzbekistan's secret police gave confusing and contradictory testimony, which some state confirm suspicions that the case had been trumped up by the authorities. Also, in the wake of a police raid on a Jehovah's Witness meeting in a private home in the town of Navoi, the authorities are continuing to pressure those who attended. A student at the Navoi pedagogical institute, Nuriya Fahridinova, was summoned to the dean's office where an official from the city department of internal affairs was present. Fahridinova, who attended the meeting on 29 October, was warned that she would be thrown out of the institute if she did not stop attending Jehovah's Witness meetings.

31.10.2002 - BELARUS: Resignation and Defiance Greet Repressive Religion Law. Minority religious communities and human rights groups, along with a few parliamentary deputies, have greeted the president's signature on the repressive new religion law with a mixture of resignation and defiance, Keston News Service has learnt in a survey of opinion. The Russian Orthodox Church leadership has strongly backed the new law, but there are many priests and laypeople in the Church who do not support its restrictive provisions. Keston has learnt of one Orthodox priest who opposed the new law who was told during the summer by a more senior clergyman not to voice his dissatisfaction publicly as the Orthodox Church had put great efforts into having the law adopted.


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