TURKMENISTAN: Baptist Women are latest targets
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.
On 21 July court officials took Shchedrova's passport, which they were holding, to the social security department and without her being present or giving her permission drew her pension of 300,000 manat (416 Norwegian Kroner, 51 Euros or 58 US Dollars). They withheld 255,000 in payment of her fine (the fine was 250,000) (347 Norwegian Kroner, 42 Euros or 48 US Dollars) and passed on to her 46,000 (64 Norwegian Kroner, 8 Euros or 9 US Dollars). When asked where the remaining 4,000 manat (6 Norwegian Kroner, 1 Euro or 1 US Dollar) were, the court officials replied that they had kept them for themselves. Throughout the conversation they made fun of her disability.
On 21 July, also signing deaf and speech impaired Baptist Nezire Kamalova was summoned to court as well. She was also threatened with 15 days' imprisonment if she failed to pay her fine. Kamalova's non-Christian mother accompanied her to the court and after the hearing became very hostile towards her. She paid the fine for Nazire and is now threatening to send her to non-Christian relatives in a distant village so that she will be unable to attend Christian services in Turkmenabad.
Forum 18's attempts to establish whether the authorities regarded this as normal practice in Turkmenistan were in vain. Both at the city administration and at the procuracy, officials who did not give their names hung up when Forum 18 tried to phone them on 1 August.
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.
Since May 2003, pressure on religious minorities has intensified with a series of apparently coordinated raids in six different locations on various communities, including Baptist and Pentecostal churches, as well as Hare Krishna communities (see F18News 10 June 2003). In all these cases, the police burst into private apartments where members of religious minorities had gathered, and took them to the police station.
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.