TURKMENISTAN: "Same repressive measures" include bans on worship
Annamurad Meredov, the religious affairs official who led a ten-strong raiding party on a Baptist service in the town of Mary on 9 June has insisted to Forum 18 News Service that the service was "illegal", although the Church has registration at the national level. "The church's pastor asked them to explain the legal basis for the visit and to identify themselves, but this was ignored," local Baptists told Forum 18. "All those present were subjected to interrogation one by one and were recorded on video-camera." Meredov denied Baptist claims that he banned the church from meeting but refused to say what will happen the next time the Mary congregation meets for worship. "As before, the authorities continue to use the same methods against Christians, including recording personal details and places of work, demanding that they show their identity papers and banning them from meeting," Baptists complain.
During the 9 June raid, the pastor showed the Baptist Church's registration certificate issued by the Adalat (Fairness or Justice) ministry in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] – which describes the Church as working in the whole country. However, the officials dismissed this as "invalid", claiming it had no legal force in the town of Mary. They then warned church members verbally that "all forms of religious service are banned" until the church gets "extra permission" to hold services in the Mary region or individual registration of the Mary congregation. Officers drew up an official report on the violation of the law, but the Baptists present refused to sign it. Officers then pressured them to write statements about their presence at the service. "Among those present were some attending a service for the first time and pressure was put on them which will certainly impact on whether they attend in future," local Baptists told Forum 18.
Reached at the Mary administration, Meredov denied that he and the other officials had "raided" the Baptist church. "I simply got a call from the passport desk at the police station – they didn't know what sort of meeting was going on and what its purpose was, so we went round," he told Forum 18 from Mary on 10 June. "We didn't hurt them." He failed to explain why it is necessary for the authorities to know what private meetings are about. "We didn't ban them from meeting, just advised them to act in accordance with the law." He insisted that registration at national level is not enough and that the church needs registration in the town for the congregation to be able to meet.
Meredov was vague about what will happen when the church next meets for worship. "As long as they don't do anything against the law we won't interfere," he told Forum 18. But he refused to say whether meeting for worship in private will lead to punishment.
"As before, the authorities continue to use the same methods against Christians, including recording personal details and places of work, demanding that they show their identity papers and banning them from meeting," Baptists complain.
The raid on the Mary Baptist congregation and ban on any further services follows a similar raid on another Baptist congregation in the eastern city of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou) in March. Officials claimed their service was "illegal" and five church members were given heavy fines in punishment (see F18News 31 March 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=535).
During the spring, the Hare Krishna community in Ashgabad was banned from holding further meetings, despite the fact that it likewise has registration. Officials told the community it could not meet in a house that was designated for business, not religious purposes (see F18News 25 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=550). Religious services in private homes are banned and public bodies are reluctant to rent premises to religious communities, even if they are registered.
By contrast, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ashgabad, whose church was bulldozed by the authorities without compensation in 1999, could not meet for half a year after gaining registration again last summer, but is now allowed to rent premises regularly for worship (see F18News 28 February 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=521).
In early April, shortly before the Pentecostal Church regained official registration after eight years, several Pentecostals were summoned and threatened in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) (see F18News 22 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=548).
In her 15 March report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2005/61/Add.1), the UN special rapporteur on religious freedom Asma Jahangir detailed the failure of the Turkmen authorities to address her numerous enquiries about violations of religious freedom in individual cases. In one letter to her of 20 December 2004, the Turkmen government complained that "sometimes some unreliable sources gave non-objective information" on individual cases, but Jahangir stressed she was still waiting for observations from the government on cases she raised. She said she is still waiting for a response to her repeated requests to visit Turkmenistan to investigate for herself the religious freedom situation on the ground.
For more background, see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=296
A printer-friendly map of Turkmenistan is available at
1 June 2005
As participants prepare for the forthcoming OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance, Forum 18 News Service notes that religious believers face intolerance in the form of attacks on their internationally agreed rights to religious freedom – mainly from their governments – in many countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states religious communities are still being vilified, fined and imprisoned for peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are being broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied state registration and hence the domestic legal right to exist. Events in Uzbekistan offer one warning of what the persistent intolerance of religious freedom and other internationally agreed human rights can lead to.
13 May 2005
"The ban on the activity of unregistered religious associations and the draconian amendments to the administrative code significantly limit believers' rights," Aleksandr Klyushev, of the Association of Religious Organisations of Kazakhstan (AROK) told Forum 18 News Service after 12 May Majilis parliamentary approval of sweeping "national security" amendments to eleven laws. The parliamentary debate had been expected on 18 May, but was suddenly brought forward. Klyushev said to Forum 18 that "deputies discovered that the discussion of the draft would take place on 11 May only on the day of the session. I believe this was done deliberately to prevent deputies from preparing for the consideration of the draft and from submitting amendments." Communist party deputy Yerasyl Abylkasymov told Forum 18 that "in the time of Genghis Khan such ideological saboteurs were hung, drawn and quartered. Alas it is now unfortunately not possible to do this and so we have to defend ourselves by means of laws." Having been approved by the Majilis, the lower house of parliament, the amendments now go to the upper house, the Senate, for approval.
25 April 2005
Banned since the spring from meeting in the house it rented for use as a temple in the wake of February and March police and secret police raids, the Hare Krishna community in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] was warned by officials not to hold celebrations on 17 and 18 April for Rama Navami, one of the most important Hare Krishna festivals of the year. "Our community can't meet at all now," Hare Krishna sources complained to Forum 18 News Service, "neither in the house, nor at the legal address. This is critical as religious communities can't meet in private homes and local authorities are afraid of renting property they own to religious communities as they don't want problems. So what can the community do?"