TURKMENISTAN: Police "angry" at Forum 18 report of Hare Krishna raid
Two Hare Krishna devotees suspected by a policeman in the capital Ashgabad of passing information out of Turkmenistan about a 27 May raid and subsequent fines are being hunted, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Colonel Byashim Taganov, who led the raid, has expressed his anger that news of the incident reached the outside world through Forum 18's report of 10 June and blames Varshana prabhu (Vitali Yefremovtsev) and Mishra Bhagavan prabhu (Marat Urayev). Although Colonel Taganov flatly denied to Forum 18 on 9 June that he had led the raid, after speaking to Forum 18 he launched an investigation into who had reported the raid and subsequent fines.
On 27 May, a 15-strong operative group from the Ashgabad city division of the Internal Affairs Ministry raided the home of female devotee Gaurabhakta devi dasi. The house used to be the Hare Krishna temple in Ashgabad until it was closed down by the authorities. During the raid the three residents Varshana prabhu, Mishra Bhagavan prabhu and Gaurabhakta devi dasi were arrested. The entry and subsequent search were conducted without any legal documents.
Police officers filmed everyone and everything in the house and took away all items of worship and all religious books. In attempting to extract information from Mishra Bhagavan, the police beat him so hard that blood flowed. Then Varshana prabhu and Mishra Bhagavan were taken to a holding centre before being fined the following day at Ashgabad's Chindigin district court. After the hearing the police warned Mishra Bhagavan that if he did not stop his religious activity, a criminal case would be brought against him and he would serve "several years" in prison (see F18News 10 June 2003).
Although Colonel Taganov had flatly denied on 9 June that he had led the raid, after speaking to Forum 18 he launched an investigation into who had reported the raid and subsequent fines to Forum 18.
The Turkmen authorities have refused to allow any non-Muslim or non-Russian Orthodox communities to register. Yet the law on religion does not ban meetings of members of unregistered religious associations.
Moreover, the constitutional law of Turkmenistan (no 27-II) signed by President Saparmurat Niyazov on 12 May 2000 bans searches in private homes, regarding these as "a symbol of the sanctity of the domestic hearth, ownership, family authority, and human honour, dignity and pride."
The law makes only limited exceptions. "A search may be allowed in exceptional circumstances in strict accordance with the law, where weapons, ammunition, explosive devices or significant quantities of drugs (over 5 kilograms) are being kept in places of residence. Additionally, a search may be conducted only with the permission of the regional, city or district commission, consisting of representatives of state agencies, public organisations and the law enforcement agencies."
Despite the questionable legal basis the government treats all unregistered religious activity as illegal, periodically raids private homes where religious meetings are taking place and punishes those involved in them. Religious activity is supervised by the 6th department of the National Security Committee (KNB, former KGB), the police and the local authorities.
In addition to two raids on Hare Krishna devotees (a community in a village near Mari was also raided about the same time as the Ashgabad raid), at least eight Protestant congregations have been raided across Turkmenistan since the beginning of May (see F18News 25 June 2003).
25 June 2003
In the wake of a raid on a Baptist church in Turkmenabad, apartment owner Yeldash Roziev has been fined nearly 100 dollars for allowing his home to be used for a religious meeting, local Baptists reported in a statement reaching Forum 18 News Service. Officials also threatened to confiscate his apartment. All the others attending the 13 June prayer meeting, who are signing deaf and speech impaired, were each fined nearly 50 dollars by the city administration on 19 June. Officials declined to explain to Forum 18 why the Baptists had been fined for meeting for worship in a private home. "Why do you keep on telephoning us!?" assistant procurator Mukhamad Tashliev told Forum 18. "We never have and never will give any information over the telephone!"
18 June 2003
A Baptist church in Turkmenabad has become the tenth religious community known to have been raided since the authorities began their latest crackdown on religious minorities in early May. On 13 June, 11 officials raided a prayer meeting in an apartment, local Baptists reported in a statement reaching Forum 18 News Service. All those present were questioned for several hours. "We have been on your tracks for three months now, and we'll put you away for 12 years," officers warned church members Yeldash Roziev and Aleksandr Frolov. Head of the city police Alaverdy Khudoberdiev defended the raid, telling Forum 18 the police had done nothing unlawful.
12 June 2003
Days after being fined for attending meetings of a non-denominational Protestant church in Abadan, Guzelya Syraeva is fighting to keep her job as a teacher in a local kindergarten. Procuracy officials came to the kindergarten and told director Tazegyul Nurieva that her own job would be under threat if she did not sack Syraeva. The two were also pressured at the education department. "I do not preach to the children, because I know it is against the law," Syraeva insisted to Forum 18 News Service. "They are trying to sack me simply because of my religious beliefs." Officials denied to Forum 18 trying to have Syraeva dismissed.