TURKMENISTAN: Secret police break up Muslim commemoration of dead Azeri president
Turkmen secret police have raided a mosque to break up a Shia Muslim commemoration for the dead former Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev. Forum 18 notes that the government has de facto banned Shia Islamic practice, although some Shias continue to practise their faith in defiance of the authorities.
Officers of the National Security Ministry, led by the city chief Muradov, arrived at the Shia mosque at about 3pm, Memorial reported. Muradov ordered the Muslims to disperse to their homes, threatening that force would be used. When those present refused to disperse, police units arrived. The mosque's imam, fearing violence from the authorities, begged the Muslims to fulfil the secret police orders.
Memorial quoted one participant as declaring that the Muslims had spent days collecting money and buying the necessary food for the meal. "He said that no-one had expected that the authorities would not allow them to hold the sadak to commemorate Aliyev's passing." Memorial added that in the wake of the raid on and dispersal of the commemoration, more and more local Azerbaijanis are deciding to leave Turkmenistan, believing they are regarded as "unwelcome guests".
Forum 18 notes that Shia Muslims, who are mainly from Turkmenistan's Azeri and Iranian minorities living in the west of the country, are traditionally more devout than ethnic Turkmens. The government has de facto banned Shia Islamic practice. Shia mosques failed to gain re-registration during the compulsory round of re-registration in 1997 after the adoption of the much harsher law on religion and this policy has remained unchanged. However, some Shias continue to practise their faith in defiance of the authorities.
For more background see Forum 18's report on the new religion law at
and Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at
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20 January 2004
Not even the government's Council for Religious Affairs knows how religious organisations gain state registration under new regulations, Forum 18 News Service has found. Only Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox communities have so far gained registration; all other religious communities are de facto barred from registering and so are illegal, thus breaching international human rights agreements. However, Forum 18 has been able to establish that, in the unlikely event of other religious communities being registered, they will have to pay a fee of about 10 times the basic monthly wage unlike the previous fee of 1-3 times the basic wage. Forum 18 knows of believers having been very harshly punished for unregistered religious activity. Despite this, a government official insisted to Forum 18 that "Believers have complete freedom of conscience in Turkmenistan. You can pray at home, whether to God or the devil. But if you meet for services, then you must register as a religious organisation."
9 January 2004
In the first case known to Forum 18 News Service of penalties imposed on believers for meeting for worship since Turkmenistan's harsh new law on religion came into force last November, twelve members of a Baptist church in the western town of Balkanabad were given fines of 75 US dollars each, more than one month's wages. The fines followed a police raid on the unregistered church during Sunday worship in late November and came on top of earlier fines last year. A 7 January statement from the Baptists reaching Forum 18 reported that officials "also warned the brothers and sisters that in the event of a repeated violation, the size of the fine would be much higher, while for a third violation they would be responsible under the criminal code".
22 December 2003
Baptist Geldy Khudaikuliev was freed on 20 December from the secret police headquarters in Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabad, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Sources who did not wish to be named have told Forum 18 that he has now returned to his family and is very grateful to everyone who helped to secure his release, which they attribute to Forum 18's coverage of his case. However, as unregistered religious activity is seen as criminal activity by the Turkmen authorities, the situation of Baptists and of other religious communities continues to cause international concern.