An evangelical church in Chkalovsk near the northern Tajik town of Khodjent has just begun its fourth attempt this year to gain official registration. Three attempts to register earlier this year have all been rejected on various pretexts, Keston News Service has learnt from evangelical sources in the Central Asian state. The town's mayor told Keston that the church cannot register until it halts services in a private home and rents a suitable venue for such services. Article 12 of Tajikistan's law on religion requires a religious organization to specify its `location' in the statute it submits for registration, but does not link registration itself with having a suitable place to hold services and meetings, while Article 21 allows religious organizations to hold services in private homes.

Evangelical sources told Keston November 6 that the Chkalovsk church lodged its fourth registration application on 3 November. `We are trying to gain registration by peaceful means. This is our last time,' one source declared. `If we are not registered we will be forced to address international organizations that would defend our religious rights.' The church first applied for registration in the spring, but was refused three times `on various pretexts'. On one occasion officials claimed that registration was not possible because it would cause `social unrest'. On another they said that as it was the first church of that denomination to apply for registration there they did not know who they were, despite the fact that church members had presented registration documentation from other evangelical churches elsewhere in the country.

The source recounted that the church meets in a private home and that the local authorities are insisting that the neighbors give their permission before considering the registration application. "They claim the services are disturbing the neighbors. One of them has signed a declaration allowing services to go ahead but the other neighbour works for the procuracy [local government] and he has not signed such a declaration."

Chkalovsk's mayor, Ibragim Ibragimov, told Keston by telephone on November 8 that it was "not allowed" for the church to meet in a private home. "This is a residential area and according to the law religious rites are banned in areas where there are a lot of people. This is a very small town, with Muslims and Christians, and if each group conducted religious services in homes this would bring about the destruction of the whole society." Asked to specify which law bans religious services in residential areas he named the religion law, although he could not specify which article of the law he had in mind. This is despite the fact that Article 21 of the law expressly allows religious organizations to hold services "in flats and in the homes of citizens."

Ibragimov claimed that his office had received written complaints about the level of noise during services at the church.

"A choir sings during services and they are very noisy," he claimed. "They were told to find some other premises to meet."

Ibragimov cited the case of a Presbyterian church in Chkalovsk which had also been meeting in a private home. "The church drew up a rental agreement with the town's palace of culture two months ago and my office therefore gave its permission for the church to be registered. The decision on registration is now with the local religious affairs chief, Mirkamulov"

However, he declined to give Keston Mirkamulov's telephone number. Ibragimov added though that the Presbyterian church cannot begin to use the palace of culture under the rental agreement until the church gains registration.

Ibragimov insists that the local authorities are not banning the evangelical church. "We're not banning their activity, only where they are now. We're banning them from meeting in the private house. We told them there is a palace of culture in the town. Let them rent that or build their own church."

Copyright © 2000 Keston News Service

Related Elsewhere

Previous Christianity Today stories about Tajikistan include:

Christians Arrested After Tajik Church Bombing Freed | Three Islamic students have been detained over bombing of church in Dushanbe. (Oct. 26, 2000)

Tajik Authorities Detain Church Members after Fatal Bombing | Bomb kills 10 Christians and hospitalizes 39 Dushanbe church members. (Oct. 12, 2000)

Other media coverage includes:

Tajik president calls for boosted ties with Iran—Irna (Nov. 9, 2000)

Rahmonov hails Iran's role in Tajik peace—Irna (Nov. 8, 2000)

Tajik president visits Iran—BBC (Nov. 7, 2000)

2 killed on Tajik-Uzbek borderDawn (Nov. 7, 2000)