A church in Kyrgyzstan is appealing against the confiscation of its building by the authorities, who claim that the sales contract signed more than 14 years ago was invalid.
The Church of Jesus Christ bought from the State Property Fund in 1999 a Culture House in the capital, Bishkek, to use as its worship building. In January a court annulled the sales contract, claiming that it violated the law.
An appeal against the ruling is set to take place on Friday (18 April).
Some church members and other Christians in Bishkek think that the seizure of the building may be motivated by the authorities’ hostility to the church’s activities and the spread of the Christian faith. Around 1,000 people attend services at the church every week.
Others think that the incentive could be financial. The area is undergoing rapid development, and property prices have soared. The building now has a market value of around US$1 million, having been bought for just US$46,000. Aysulu Orozbekova, who represented the State Property Fund in court, said it would return to the church “just what it paid 14 years ago”, adding, “The church paid such a ridiculously small amount for it, why should we now pay them such a large sum?”
Church members said:
We cannot afford to lose the place, particularly in view of its central location. It would be hard for us to buy a new place, especially given market prices.
In annulling the sales contract, the judge said that the church had not fulfilled its obligations. It was required to maintain social activity, such as courses for young people, as its main profile. The church insists that it has done this, having arranged dancing and singing lessons, and classes for children preparing to go to school; it also rents space to organisations that support young people.
Other religious and non-religious buildings in Kyrgyzstan are also under investigation by the authorities. Bishkek’s Hope Baptist Church has been visited on several occasions, most recently on 7 April. The pastor said that were ordered to vacate the land, which they are renting.
There are strict restrictions on religious activity in Kyrgyzstan, and all groups are required to register with the state. Unregistered religious activity is banned, as well as worship in homes and in public locations. Churches seen as “non-traditional”, such as Protestant ones, are most likely to face problems and interference from the authorities.