KYRGYZSTAN: Massive tax bill aimed at "crushing" Church?
The appeal to the Ministry of Finance from the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ against what it claimed was an unjust tax demand for 110,000 US dollars was rejected on 15 August. "The taxes are simply a means of crushing the church," senior pastor Vasili Kuzin told Forum 18 News Service. Kyrgyzstan's tax code exempts charitable bodies from tax, while the religion law prescribes taxes only on religious organisations' business activities. "It is true that the activity of religious organisations is not subject to taxation, and if the situation is indeed as you say, then the tax inspectorate is breaking the law," Natalya Shadrova of the Committee for Religious Affairs told Forum 18.
The tax inspectorate in Bishkek's Oktyabr district is demanding that the head office of the Church of Jesus Christ, which is based there, should pay taxes along with penalties and fines for non-payment of taxes totalling 4,822,839 sums (825,000 Norwegian kroner, 100,000 Euros or 110,000 US dollars), missionary Alina Shvidko told Forum 18 on 20 August from Karakol in eastern Kyrgyzstan. She said the Church had appealed to the Finance Ministry against the decision, but on 15 August it upheld the Oktyabr district tax inspectorate's decision. "They don't want to give any explanations for their decision," she added.
Shvidko argued that the tax inspectorate's decision went not only against the constitution and the religion law, but also against Article 112 of the Tax Code, which states: "Non-profit social organisations involved in charitable activity are free from taxation". However, Article 20 of the religion law specifies that "profits from industrial, economic or other income to businesses belonging to religious organisations are subject to taxation in accordance with laws of the Kyrgyz Republic". But Shvidko insists that the Church has not been engaged in economic activity and that the tax inspectorate is insisting that it pay tax on members' donations.
"You need to understand that in Kyrgyzstan laws are written for foreigners to read, while in fact the authorities have no intention of acting on them!" Pastor Kuzin told Forum 18.
"It is true that the activity of religious organisations is not subject to taxation, and if the situation is indeed as you say, then the tax inspectorate is breaking the law," Natalya Shadrova, deputy chair of the Committee for Religious Affairs, told Forum 18 from Bishkek. She agreed that 110,000 US dollars is a "huge sum of money" for Kyrgyzstan. "Let the members of the Church of Jesus Christ appeal to us and we will try to help them. We have already helped to resolve a dispute between the Baptists and the tax inspectorate."
The Church of Jesus Christ claims to be one of the fastest growing Protestant Churches in Kyrgyzstan, with around 9,500 members and some 30 affiliate churches in various parts of the country. Around 30 per cent of the church's members are ethnic Kyrgyz. Pastor Kuzin believes that the high proportion of ethnic Kyrgyz - who are historically Muslims - in the Church's membership is the main reason for the authorities' opposition to the Church's activity.
At the end of June, nearly all the Church's members sent an open letter to President Askar Akayev vowing to seek asylum abroad if pressure on the Church was not ended. They complained of "economic pressure" and the government's use of agents "trying to destroy the church from within". Several of the Church's local congregations have been denied registration and have been ordered to close down (see F18News 17 July 2003).
17 July 2003
Pastor Vasili Kuzin of the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ says his Church's open letter to President Askar Akayev vowing to seek asylum abroad if pressure on the Church is not ended is "a last resort". "We have no other way of attracting international attention to our unfortunate situation," he told Forum 18 News Service. Banned from registering in several towns and with its churches closed down or threatened, the Church now faces a tax demand of more than 100,000 US dollars, although religious groups are tax-exempt. Sharshek Usenov of the government's religious affairs committee rejects the Church's claims. "No-one is persecuting the Church of Jesus Christ and I do not understand what Kuzin aims to achieve with this letter," he told Forum 18.
17 June 2003
With its congregations in Karakol and Osh closed down after failing to gain registration, a senior pastor of the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ has accused the authorities of launching a campaign to close down the Church and its affiliates. "We have not managed to register our affiliates in the provinces and the authorities are taking active advantage of that," Vasili Kuzin told Forum 18 News Service. The religious affairs committee warned Kuzin that if members of the closed Osh church continue to meet in private apartments, his Bishkek congregation will have its registration removed. Murmurzak Mamayusupov, chairman of the religious affairs committee, denied there was any deliberate obstruction. "No-one is putting obstacles in the way of their registration," he told Forum 18.
22 May 2003
The regional Muslim leader has accused Asan Erinbayev, head of Karadarya district in southern Kyrgyzstan, of "blatantly arbitrary" action in closing six out of nine local mosques. "He behaves like a medieval khan," Dilmurat haji Orozov told Forum 18 News Service from Jalal-abad. He said the Muslim community would be campaigning for the return of the mosques to believers. When Forum 18 visited the district on 9 May, Erinbayev arrived by car within ten minutes and forced Forum 18's car to stop. He made no attempt to deny the closures, but claimed the mosques had been built on state-owned land. "Now that the mosques have been closed, I can monitor the activities of the imams on my territory," he told Forum 18.