TURKMENISTAN: Secret police interrogate and threaten Baptist children
Raided by the secret police, the police and the procuracy on 16 March, the Baptist church in Balkanabad is facing new pressure. Children have been interrogated in school about "internal church life and their Christian education in their families", a statement from the church reaching Forum 18 News Service complains. They were banned from attending services and the older ones threatened with prison. A church service in a private flat was again raided on 1 April. Forum 18 was unable to reach the secret police (which the church claims organised the interrogations) or the police in Balkanabad to find out why the Baptists are being threatened for attending unregistered religious services, which are not technically illegal in Turkmenistan.
Although Forum 18 was unable to verify the reports of the questions and raids independently, statements issued by the unregistered Baptists have a long track record of reliability. Forum 18 was unable to reach the NSC or the police in Balkanabad on 11 April to find out why the Baptists are being threatened for attending unregistered services, which are not technically illegal in Turkmenistan. No-one at the government's Gengeshi (Committee) for Religious Affairs in the capital Ashgabad would comment on the raids and interrogations to Forum 18 on 11 April.
The church reports that the interrogation of the children was carried out by police officers, who wanted to know how many copies of the Bible their families had at home and what other religious literature they had. The church complains that the interrogations took place without the parents' knowledge and in their absence. They add that in addition several church members were summoned to the police. "There they were banned with threats from attending services."
The interrogations followed a raid by eight NSC, police and procuracy officials on the church's Sunday morning worship service on 16 March (see F18News 21 March 2003). The Baptist congregation belongs to the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejects registration on principle in all the former Soviet republics where it operates.
Even had its congregations wished to register in Turkmenistan that would have been impossible: the highly restrictive religion law requires each individual religious community seeking registration to have 500 adult citizen members who live in one district of a city or one rural district. In addition, there is an unpublished ban on registering congregations of any faiths other than Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox.
Raids on the church have continued. Six officials swooped on an evening service held by the church in a private flat on 1 April. "None of them gave their names, but among them was local police inspector Govher Kurbanova," the church reported. "They again banned them from meeting and threatened to confiscate from the owner the flat where we meet for worship."
21 March 2003
Eight officers raided the Sunday morning worship service on 16 March in the unregistered Baptist church in the city of Balkanabad. A statement from the church reaching Forum 18 News Service reports that the officers were led by Kadyr Meredov, the local officer of the National Security Committee (NSC, the former KGB) responsible for controlling religious groups. "They accused us of holding an unapproved meeting and violating the law on religious cults," the church complained. "They banned us from meeting until we had registered our church with the justice authorities, and warned us that otherwise, a police officer would be present at each of our services." Forum 18 was unable to find out from NSC or procuracy officials why the church had been raided.
17 March 2003
The clampdown launched in the wake of the apparent assassination attempt on President Saparmurad Niyazov last November will make life more difficult still for Turkmenistan's religious believers. As religious minorities – especially Protestant Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses – had already suffered the brunt of government pressure, it is difficult for their position to get any worse. Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna devotees, Baha'is, Jews and even the Armenian Apostolic Church had already been denied any public religious activity. With the Sunni Muslim community and the Russian Orthodox under tight state control, it seems that ordinary Orthodox believers are likely to suffer most from the latest crackdown.