TURKMENISTAN: Kindergarten teacher threatened with dismissal
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.
Syraeva reported that the authorities began trying to dismiss her after she and four fellow church members were fined in court on 4 June for unlawful religious activity (see F18News 6 June 2003). She said that soon after the court case, staff from the Abadan procuracy came to the kindergarten and threatened the kindergarten's director, Tazegyul Nurieva, with being sacked herself if she did not dismiss Syraeva.
Syraeva and Nurieva were also both summoned to the town's education department, where another attempt was made to persuade the teacher to write a statement submitting her voluntary resignation. "I do not preach to the children, because I know it is against the law," Syraeva insisted to Forum 18. "They are trying to sack me simply because of my religious beliefs."
Syraeva fears that if she herself does not resign voluntarily, the authorities will find some other way to sack her. "I am a Tatar by birth and I cannot write fluently in Turkmen," she said. "The authorities may take advantage of that and sack me for not knowing the state language."
But reached by telephone at the kindergarten, director Nurieva denied that anyone wanted to dismiss Syraeva. "She is still working and I can call her to the telephone," Nurieva told Forum 18 on 10 June. However, asked whether the authorities had made attempts to get Syraeva dismissed, Nurieva said she "would not discuss that subject".
The head of the personnel department at Abadan's education department, Sakhra Kurbangeldieva, also denied that attempts were being made to sack Syraeva. "She is still working and no-one is forcing her to resign," Kurbangeldieva told Forum 18 from Abadan on 10 June.
Despite several attempts to reach the procurator of Ahal region, in which Abadan lies, Forum 18 was unable to speak to him or his deputy. Officials said each time that neither was present. On 12 June Forum 18 did manage to speak to the procurator of Abadan. "I won't give out any information by telephone," he declared, refusing even to give his name. "Come here to the town and I will speak to you then." However, he denied absolutely that he had been involved in Syraeva's case. "I know nothing about any Protestants at all," he told Forum 18. "No Protestant has come to me."
The attempts to dismiss Syraeva have come during a new crackdown on religious minorities. At least seven Protestant congregations and two Hare Krishna communities have been raided since early May (see F18News 10 June 2003).
Turkmenistan has the harshest religious policy of all the former Soviet republics. No faiths except for the officially-approved Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church have been allowed to register any communities. The government treats all unregistered religious activity as illegal. Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists and other Protestants, as well as the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Lutherans, the Jews, Hare Krishna communities, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'is and others are thus denied the opportunity of worshipping legally.
As part of its campaign against religious minorities, a number of Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses have been sacked from their jobs in a variety of institutions, including schools and hospitals.
10 June 2003
The crackdown against Protestant congregations in Turkmenistan has now widened to include the Hare Krishna community. Within a two day period in late May, two Hare Krishna meetings were raided by the authorities. During the raid in a village near Mari, officials confined themselves to filming the devotees, but in the capital Ashgabad, the raid was more severe. Hare Krishna sources told Forum 18 News Service that three devotees were detained, one was badly beaten and two were fined. One was threatened with a criminal case, while another was threatened with deportation from the capital. But the policeman who led the raid, Colonel Byashim Taganov, denied all involvement. "I know nothing about the incident," he told Forum 18.
6 June 2003
Five members of a non-denominational Protestant church in Abadan fined on 4 June for meeting as an unregistered community have vowed they will continue to practise their faith. "The authorities found us guilty of meeting without permission, but we are still going to meet, and they know this," one church member told Forum 18 News Service. The fines followed a raid on a private flat four days earlier where they were meeting. OSCE officials have been too busy to meet the Protestants so far. At least seven Protestant churches across Turkmenistan were raided in May in a new crackdown. One Protestant has written an open letter to President Saparmurat Niyazov, calling for sweeping changes to Turkmenistan's religious policy, an end to the repression of believers and an end to the system whereby an Orthodox clergyman can restrict the rights of other faiths and denominations.
3 June 2003
Amid a new crackdown on Protestant churches across Turkmenistan, five members of a church in Abadan have been warned not to meet together. Church members told Forum 18 News Service they were subjected to hours of questioning at the police station and town administration in the wake of a 31 May raid on the flat of two church members. Officials threatened to confiscate the flat. The crackdown has seen at least six other Protestant churches raided during services since the beginning of May. Forum 18 has learnt that chief mufti Kakageldy Vepaev took part in at least four of the raids. OSCE officials in the capital Ashgabad refused to comment on the raids or on Turkmenistan's violation of religious freedom.