3 November 2003
Turkmenistan plans to make its harsh state restrictions on religion even harsher, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Under a new draft religion law, which neither the OSCE nor Forum 18 has been able to see, penalties for breaking the law will lead to criminal, not administrative, punishments. The new law also reportedly requires religious groups to "coordinate" contacts with foreigners with the government, and to gain permission before receiving foreign support such as funding and religious literature. Turkmenistan has the harshest state controls on religion in the former Soviet Union, but the Justice Minister claims harsher controls are necessary to address security concerns. Places of worship have already been demolished and police routinely break up religious meetings. Believers have been beaten, threatened, fined, sacked from their jobs, imprisoned, had their homes confiscated, been sent to a remote area of the country, and deported from Turkmenistan.
14 October 2003
Already fined some 48 US dollars each (at the inflated official exchange rate) for participating in "illegal religious meetings", the members of a Baptist church are now seeing their fines doubled. "At present the local authorities of the town of Balkanabad are prohibiting the Baptists from meeting for worship, in violation of the rights guaranteed in Turkmenistan's Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," church members complained in a 3 October statement reaching Forum 18 News Service. "And they have increased the level of fines to 500,000 manats." No officials of the regional or town procurators' offices or the regional or town administrations were prepared to tell Forum 18 why the Baptists have been handed down such heavy fines for meeting for worship in private homes.
10 October 2003
Oguljan Jumanazarova, a Jehovah's Witness lawyer serving a four year sentence in the women's labour camp in the northern town of Tashauz, was freed early on 20 September, the Jehovah's Witness centre in St Petersburg has told Forum 18 News Service. Jumanazarova, from the town of Seydi, was sentenced in July 2001 on fraud charges that the Jehovah's Witnesses insist were imposed in retaliation for helping fellow Jehovah's Witnesses with their legal problems. "Nothing more is known about the terms of her release – only that she has been freed," a Jehovah's Witness spokesman told Forum 18. The Jehovah's Witnesses – like all non-Sunni Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox communities – have been denied registration and are treated as illegal.
2 October 2003
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the complete lack of freedom to practice any faith except for Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity in a limited number of registered places of worship. All other communities - Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist, Lutheran and other Protestants, as well as Shia Muslim, Armenian Apostolic, Jewish, Baha'i, Jehovah's Witness and Hare Krishna – are de facto banned and their activity punishable under the administrative or criminal law. Religious meetings have been broken up (with a spate of raids on Protestants and Hare Krishnas since May), believers have been threatened, detained, beaten, fined and sacked from their jobs, while homes used for worship and religious literature have been confiscated. Religious activity is overseen by the secret police's department for work with social organisations and religious groups, which recruits spies in religious communities.
1 September 2003
In the wake of the latest raid on a Baptist Sunday service in Balkanabad on 24 August, police have banned church members from meeting for services and threatened that if they do so they will be fined for each meeting. In July and August, all its members had already been fined 48 US dollars each. "The Baptists refuse to be registered, citing the fact that they are forbidden from having contact with the secular authorities," Balkanabad's procurator Berdy Shirjanov told Forum 18 News Service. "The law is the law. We have to fine the Baptists."
4 August 2003
Two signing deaf and speech impaired Baptist women are the latest victims of Turkmenistan's campaign against religious minorities, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Olga Shchedrova has been fined, had money stolen from her by officials, and suffered the same officials' attempts to humiliate her. But she still refused to deliver court summonses to other Christians. Nezire Kamalova has been threatened with 15 days' imprisonment for non-payment of a fine and her mother is now threatening to send her to non-Christian relatives in a distant village, to prevent Kamalova attending Christian services in Turkmenabad.
18 July 2003
High Turkmen visa fees make it prohibitively expensive for many Uzbek Muslims living close to the western border with Turkmenistan from crossing over to visit family graveyards and places of pilgrimage, Forum 18 News Service has learnt in the Khorezm region of western Uzbekistan. "We can see our forebears' graves through the barbed wire, but if we want to reach them and perform religious rituals, we have to pay money to the Turkmens," the imam of Manak village, Nodyr Formanov, told Forum 18. "The visa regime between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan clearly encroaches on believers' rights," complained Vladimir Artemyev, director of the Uzbek branch of a UNESCO project for the preservation of ancient monuments.
9 July 2003
Before the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief on 17-18 July 2003, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org/ surveys some of the more serious abuses of religious freedom that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration.
8 July 2003
Two Hare Krishna devotees suspected by a policeman in the capital Ashgabad of passing information out of Turkmenistan about a 27 May raid and subsequent fines are being hunted, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Colonel Byashim Taganov, who led the raid, has expressed his anger that news of the incident reached the outside world through Forum 18's report of 10 June and blames Varshana prabhu (Vitali Yefremovtsev) and Mishra Bhagavan prabhu (Marat Urayev). Although Colonel Taganov flatly denied to Forum 18 on 9 June that he had led the raid, after speaking to Forum 18 he launched an investigation into who had reported the raid and subsequent fines.
25 June 2003
In the wake of a raid on a Baptist church in Turkmenabad, apartment owner Yeldash Roziev has been fined nearly 100 dollars for allowing his home to be used for a religious meeting, local Baptists reported in a statement reaching Forum 18 News Service. Officials also threatened to confiscate his apartment. All the others attending the 13 June prayer meeting, who are signing deaf and speech impaired, were each fined nearly 50 dollars by the city administration on 19 June. Officials declined to explain to Forum 18 why the Baptists had been fined for meeting for worship in a private home. "Why do you keep on telephoning us!?" assistant procurator Mukhamad Tashliev told Forum 18. "We never have and never will give any information over the telephone!"
18 June 2003
A Baptist church in Turkmenabad has become the tenth religious community known to have been raided since the authorities began their latest crackdown on religious minorities in early May. On 13 June, 11 officials raided a prayer meeting in an apartment, local Baptists reported in a statement reaching Forum 18 News Service. All those present were questioned for several hours. "We have been on your tracks for three months now, and we'll put you away for 12 years," officers warned church members Yeldash Roziev and Aleksandr Frolov. Head of the city police Alaverdy Khudoberdiev defended the raid, telling Forum 18 the police had done nothing unlawful.
12 June 2003
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.