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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
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TURKMENISTAN: President's personality cult imposed on religious communities

Amongst pressures on religious communities is a government-enforced cult of President Niyazov's personality. Forum 18 News Service has learnt that Muslims face mounting pressure to venerate the president's two volume ideological book, the Ruhnama (Book of the Soul), while Russian Orthodox churches must have a minimum of two copies of the Ruhnama. One government minister claimed that the Ruhnama would make up for shortcomings in both the Bible and the Koran, neither of which were, he claimed, fully adequate for the spiritual needs of Turkmens. The personality cult includes a massive mosque decorated with quotations from the Ruhnama, a gold statue in Ashgabad that revolves to follow the sun and a monument to the Ruhnama. Also important in the President's cult are his books of poetry, and Muslim clerics were last month told that "it was a priority task for clergymen to disseminate the lofty ideas in our great leader's sacred books on the duties of parents and children."

TURKMENISTAN: "What's the point of registering?"

Religious communities with state registration - Seventh-day Adventists, some Baptists, Bahais, Hare Krishna and Muslims - have recently seen some improvement in their freedom to meet for worship, but almost all complain of being unable to worship outside approved places and of the ban on printing or importing religious literature. Russian Orthodox parishes are expecting registration in March. The leader of one religious community, which has decided not to register, complained to Forum 18 News Service that "even if you get registration there are so many things you can't do." Harassment of unregistered religious communities, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, continues. Turkmen President Niyazov has reportedly stated of unregistered religious communities that, if they are good and agree to cooperate with the SSM secret police, there is no reason not to register them. Questioned by Forum 18 about why the government is secretive about its policy, an official insisted that the policy is not secret – but would not give any information.

TURKMENISTAN: More religious prisoners of conscience jailed

Turkmenistan has increased the number of religious prisoners of conscience it has jailed, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, by imprisoning two further Jehovah's Witnesses, Atamurat Suvkhanov and Begench Shakhmuradov, for refusing on religious grounds to serve in the armed forces. There are now five known religious prisoners of conscience in Turkmenistan, four of them Jehovah's Witnesses and one Muslim, the former chief mufti. In addition, some imams are believed to be in internal exile. Religious prisoners of conscience in Turkmenistan have been harshly treated, being regularly beaten, threatened with homosexual rape, and in one case apparently treated with psychotropic (mind-altering) drugs. Suvkhanov, who is now 18, is currently being held in the women's labour camp in the eastern town of Seydi, and the whereabouts of Shakhmuradov, who is 26, are unknown. Commenting on the fact that Shakhmuradov is older than most military conscripts, Jehovah's Witness sources told Forum 18 that "we still don't know why someone that age was called up."

UZBEKISTAN: Saints and martyrs relics banned

Uzbek authorities have banned the relics of two saints, recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church, from entering the country. The two saints, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna and a lay-sister Varvara, were both nuns martyred by Communists in 1918, by being thrown alive down a mine shaft. The Russian Orthodox diocese of Central Asia told Forum 18 News Service that "we cannot understand why the Uzbek authorities have deprived [Orthodox believers] of the opportunity of venerating the holy relics." The relics have already been brought to eight other former Soviet republics. Shoazim Minovarov, chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs, whose committee was asked to allow the relics to enter, categorically refused to comment to Forum 18 on the ban, saying "You can think what you want! I don't wish to express my opinion on this question. After all, you don't need to receive a comment at a ministerial level every time!"

TURKMENISTAN: Jehovah's Witnesses interrogated and mosques demolished

Raids and other pressures against Jehovah's Witnesses are continuing, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, including the sudden detention and interrogation "in a verbally abusive manner" of Altyn Jorayeva and her three children, aged 8 years, 6 years, and 7 months old. Forum 18 has also learnt of further demolitions of mosques the authorities do not approve of.

TURKMENISTAN: 2004, the year of demolished mosques

Like the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Hare Krishna community, Muslims in Turkmenistan have also suffered from having their places of worship demolished by the government, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In 2004 President Niyazov inaugurated "the largest mosque in Central Asia," but at least seven mosques were demolished by the authorities, Muslim and non-Muslim sources inside Turkmenistan have told Forum 18. The Baptist and Pentecostal churches in the capital Ashgabad were confiscated in 2001, leaving both communities with nowhere to worship. The Adventist church in Ashgabad and two Hare Krishna temples were bulldozed in 1999. Although both communities gained official registration in 2004, neither community has been allowed to meet publicly for worship. Also, the authorities have neither paid compensation for bulldozing their places of worship, nor allowed them to be rebuilt.

TURKMENISTAN: Why did Turkmenistan lie to the UN?

In a failed bid to head off a United Nations (UN) resolution, sponsored by the European Union and the USA, and supported by Brazil, expressing grave concern at Turkmenistan's human rights record, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov has falsely claimed that there were "no cases of arrest or conviction on political grounds or for religious beliefs". Three religious prisoners are known to Forum 18 News Service to be held, and arrests continue to be made. On the day of the debate he claimed that there was "no truth to the allegations of limits on the rights to belief, conscience or religion," despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and the UN's two previous resolutions critical of the country's human rights record. Turkmen officials and President Niyazov have a record of making such false claims, but the country's diplomats have refused to discuss the issue of false claims with Forum 18. Countries speaking in support of Turkmenistan in the debate were Algeria, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

TURKMENISTAN: Adventists seek end to Sabbath schooling threats

Leading Adventist Olga Kholopova was summoned by the secret police in the capital Ashgabad on 8 November and, two days later, to her local police station in a bid to force her to send her son to school on Saturdays, the Adventist day of rest and worship. Protestant sources told Forum 18 News Service that officers threatened not only to launch a criminal case and take her son away from her if she failed to comply, but to deprive the Adventist church of the registration it got back in June after a seven and a half year break. But Pastor Pavel Fedotov told Forum 18 he believes the threats are a misunderstanding that can be overcome. "We hope for a good resolution to this issue and are looking forward to reaching an understanding with the government."

TURKMENISTAN: Continued isolation of religious believers

Turkmenistan has, as part of an apparent policy of keeping religious believers isolated, denied permission for a group of Seventh Day Adventists to visit the country, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, despite the fact that their invitation came from Turkmenistan's registered Adventist church. Other religious communities facing obstacles in visiting co-religionists include Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna devotees, ethnic Uzbek Muslims, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. The head of Uzbekistan's Bible Society has also been denied entry, as was the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. The only religious community to have unimpeded travel to Turkmenistan is the Russian Orthodox Church.

TURKMENISTAN: Prisoners still held, one prisoner tortured with mind-altering drugs?

Despite president Saparmurat Niyazov's proclaimed amnesty, the former chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, is still in jail, along with two Jehovah's Witnesses. Religious minority prisoners of conscience, who have included Baptists and other Jehovah's Witnesses, have not been released under presidential amnesties, as released prisoners are required to swear an oath on the Koran in a mosque and a national oath of allegiance, which religious minorities consider blasphemous, may also be insisted upon. The former chief mufti is the religious prisoner of conscience serving the longest sentence in any formerly Soviet country. Fears continue to be expressed for the religious prisoners of conscience, as there is some evidence that Jehovah's Witness Kurban Zakirov, like former Baptist prisoner Shagildy Atakov, was forcibly injected with psychotropic (mind-altering) drugs.

TURKMENISTAN: Public Prosecutors assault and threaten to rape female Jehovah's Witness

Amid a continuing crackdown on religious minorities, a female Jehovah's Witness, Gulsherin Babakulieva, has been assaulted and threatened with rape by two public prosecutors, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The second prosecutor to threaten rape also said that he would then dress Babakulieva as a suicide bomber, to frame her as a terrorist. Threats of rape have been used against another female Jehovah's Witness, and at least one male Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience has been homosexually raped. The persecution of Jehovah's Witneses and other religious minorities continues throughout Turkmenistan.

TURKMENISTAN: When will Adventist worship be permitted?

Even though the Seventh Day Adventist Church has gained state registration, Adventists in the capital Ashgabad still cannot meet together for worship, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, and a ceremonial meeting to celebrate the relaunch of the church with legal status was cancelled as officials refused to give permission for the event. The Baptist Church, has still not completed the registration process and has not yet been given an official seal needed to issue legal documents. The only other religious communities to receive registration before the process stopped were the Baha'i and Hare Krishna communities, but other religious communities have got nowhere with their applications. Turkmen officials continue to claim a "liberalisation" of religion policy, but they do not explain continuing police raids and threats, why many religious minority communities who have applied for registration cannot get it, or why some of those with registration cannot meet for worship.