TURKMENISTAN: Hare Krishna prisoner of conscience freed with restrictions
Hare Krishna devotee Cheper Annaniyazova – who has served one year of a seven year jail term – has been allowed to return to her home as part of the annual prisoner amnesty, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. She was jailed on three charges, two of which related to leaving Turkmenistan illegally. The third charge has never been made public, and sources within Turkmenistan think she was jailed for her religious beliefs. Others who did the same thing as her have not been punished, she has stated. Cheper Annaniyazova, who has the religious name Caitanya Rupini, has to report daily to the police, and it appears unlikely that she will be allowed to travel abroad for at least four years. These are the usual restrictions applied to amnestied prisoners. No recent news is known of former chief mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment in March 2004.
Sources told Forum 18 that Annaniyazova has to report daily to the local police in Ashgabad and is unlikely to be allowed to travel abroad again for at least four more years. These restrictions are the usual restrictions applied to former prisoners. "But this is less important – the main thing is that she is now back at home," sources told Forum 18.
Her release came as part of the amnesty declared by President Saparmurat Niyazov at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Official sources say that 10,056 prisoners were due to be freed, including "almost all" female prisoners. Hare Krishna sources say that Annaniyazova was not required - as is usual for prisoners freed under an amnesty - to swear the oath of loyalty on a copy of the Koran. This was because she was one of the last of many women freed from her labour camp, and there was not time to administer the oath to all of them.
The oath of loyalty reads in translation: "Turkmenistan, you are always with me in my thoughts and in my heart. For the slightest evil against you let my hand be cut off. For the slightest slander about you let my tongue be cut off. At the moment of my betrayal of my motherland, of her sacred banner, of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi [Father of the Turkmens] the Great [i.e. President Saparmurat Niyazov], let my breath stop."
Annaniyazova, who was born in 1968, was one of the first people in Turkmenistan to become a Hare Krishna devotee. In 2002 she sought an exit visa to be allowed to leave to travel to Kazakhstan to live at the Hare Krishna temple in Almaty, but was refused. However, she went anyway. It was after her return to Turkmenistan in May 2005 that she was arrested for illegally crossing the border, although exit visas had by then formally been abolished. However, the exit blacklist was not and has not been abolished (see F18News 31 May 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=790).
Cheper Annaniyazova (who has the religious name Caitanya Rupini) had served a year of a seven-year sentence imposed under three charges, two of which related to illegally crossing the border three years ago when she went to Kazakhstan to live at the Hare Krishna temple in Almaty (see F18News 17 November 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=690). The third charge was not made public and the extra sentence imposed in the wake of the accusation was likewise not made public, though the sentence she received exceeds the maximum penalty possible under the known accusations.
It is thought within Turkmenistan that the heavy sentence was imposed at the behest of the MSS (Ministry of State Security) secret police, in order to intimidate the Hare Krishna community (see F18News 5 December 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=699). Many others who did what Annaniyazova did were not charged, she stated (see F18News 17 November 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=690).
No recent news has been heard of former chief mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment in March 2004 at a closed trial in Ashgabad. The Turkmen government has refused repeated international requests to make the verdict public (see F18News 8 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=271).
The Hare Krishna community is one of the registered religious communities within Turkmenistan. However, many within religious communities doubt whether registration makes any real improvement to their situation in practice (see F18News 24 May 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=787). Unregistered religious activity remains - against international human rights standards – illegal. (END)
For a personal commentary by a Protestant within Turkmenistan, on the fiction - despite government claims - of religious freedom in the country, and how religious communities and the international community should respond to this, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=728
For more background, see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=672
A survey of the religious freedom decline in the eastern part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) area is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=806, and of religious intolerance in Central Asia is at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=815.
A printer-friendly map of Turkmenistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=turkme
5 September 2006
The regional Justice Department's stripping of registration in late August from the Fergana Jehovah's Witness community has left only one registered Jehovah's Witness community in the whole of Uzbekistan. "Under Uzbek law unregistered religious communities are not allowed to function and now our brothers in Fergana will not be free to preach their religious beliefs in peace," one Jehovah's Witness complained to Forum 18 News Service. The source added that were it not for official discrimination, the Jehovah's Witnesses could have registered "dozens" of congregations. Any activity by Jehovah's Witnesses outside the remaining congregation in Chirchik will be subject to harsh penalties under the country's repressive Religion Law. Forum 18 was unable to find out the reason for the clampdown on the Jehovah's Witnesses from the government's Religious Affairs Committee, but its spokesperson Aziz Abidov has criticised Forum 18's coverage of the current severe crackdown on religious activity affecting many faiths.
20 July 2006
Muslims and Christians are both falling foul of Uzbekistan's crackdown on religious freedom, Forum 18 News Service has found. In the capital Tashkent and the surrounding area, the Human Rights Initiative Group of Uzbekistan thinks that there has this year been a sharp increase in the number of arrests and detentions of devout Muslims. Many of those detained have been accused of "Wahhabism," a term often erroneously applied in Central Asia to pious Muslims. The state Religious Affairs Committee has refused to discuss the arrests with Forum 18. Christians also continue to be victimised by the authorities, the latest publicly known incident being a Protestant Pastor being fined and Christian material confiscated from him being ordered to be destroyed – this is normal practice in Uzbekistan. The material included New Testaments which had been legally printed and paid for. Religious censorship against all faiths has recently been tightened, Forum 18 has found.
18 July 2006
In June 2006, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held a "Tolerance Implementation Meeting on Promoting Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Ethnic Understanding," in Kazakhstan. In a paper for the 11 June NGO Preparatory Conference, Igor Rotar of Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org looked at the reality of religious intolerance in Central Asia. This vital issue must be considered by examining the concrete reality of state policy that restricts the rights of believers of one or another confession, and religious intolerance in everyday life. It is sadly impossible to avoid the conclusion that many states in Central Asia deliberately pursue a policy which violates international religious freedom standards - despite the many fine-sounding statements made by these same states at OSCE and other conferences.