Since November of last year, the State Property Fund of Kyrgyzstan has been attempting to confiscate the well-located building of a Protestant church. After the church won an appeal in April, the Fund has now taken its case to the Kyrgyz Supreme Court. The entire legal justification for this case – as well as many other instances of discrimination against Kyrgyz Christians – is the Religion Law, which directly contradicts the guarantees of religious freedom found both in Kyrgyzstan’s constitution and international documents to which Kyrgyzstan has acceded. The case will likely go before the Supreme Court in August.
By Mushfig Bayram
7/18/2014 Kyrgyzstan (Forum 18) – The State Property Fund is again seeking – this time through the Supreme Court – to confiscate the building of the Protestant Church of Jesus Christ in Bishkek. The [move] comes after Bishkek City Court in April rejected an earlier Bishkek Inter-District Court decision to annul the Church’s ownership of its property. The Supreme Court may hear the case in the first week of August, Andrey Piankov, the Church’s lawyer, told Forum 18 on 17 July.
Judge I.Gorshkovskaya of Bishkek City Court on 18 April annuled the decision of Judge Zhyrgalbek Nurunbetov that the Church should lose the ownership of its property… However the State Property Fund has brought an appeal against this to the Supreme Court, informing the Church of this in a letter they received on 18 June.
On 24 January a court – following a suit brought by the Fund with the SCRA as an interested party – annulled a 1999 sales contract between the Church and the Fund for the former Culture House of the old Bishkek Machine-Building Plant, claiming the sale violated the law. The Church appealed against the decision and separately to have the whole case thrown out, and Bishkek City Court granted this on 18 April.
Hearings began in the Economic Court in November 2013 with two other hearings in December 2013, in which Church representatives and interested third parties to whom it rents rooms in the building participated. The Church boycotted the fourth and final hearing, held on 24 January 2014. “We and the third parties gave all the evidence for the defence but the Court ignored it totally,” church members complained. “Then in our absence the Judge made the decision.”
Church members learned of the final 24 January hearing only two days earlier, when the Economic Court rejected their separate motion to have the whole case thrown out. Church members told Forum 18 they did not wish to be seen to endorse the case by attending the final hearing.
Church members, and members of other Protestant churches in Bishkek, suggested to Forum 18 that the authorities’ legal moves to seize the building may be motivated by their dislike of the Church’s activity and its members spreading their faith, or by the possibility of selling the property – which is in a sought-after location in Bishkek. The EVOS private construction company told Forum 18 it already has plans for the site. Asked about these comments, [Colonel Azamat] Orozbekova of the State Property Fund refused to answer.
Religious communities also face raids and inspections by a variety of state agencies, as has happened to mosques and churches in Bishkek since early 2014. Among those visited several times was Bishkek’s Hope Baptist Church, most recently on 7 April. Officials inspected the documents of its building. The Church’s Pastor Eduard Pak told Forum 18 on 7 April that the Mayor’s Office has already “ordered us to vacate the land since we are only renting it…”
The Religion Law states that religious organisations can “own only buildings, constructions, ceremonial objects, objects of production, social, and charity functions, monetary funds, and other property necessary for provision of their activities.” However, the Law does not define what is meant by “necessary” or who decides on necessity. Religious events outside a community’s own premises can, under the Law, “be performed in the procedure stipulated by the legislation of Kyrgyz Republic.” However, no such procedure is specified in the Religion Law.