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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

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.

TURKMENISTAN: Baptists raided and Jehovah's Witnesses reject presidential portraits

In the third known set of raids on religious communities in August, police interrogated and threatened members of a Baptist church in the western town of Balkanabad, warning Nikolai Matsenko that any further unregistered services in his home will lead to fines. Meanwhile a Jehovah's Witness elder told Forum 18 News Service from the capital Ashgabad that if his faith gets registration, it will reject official demands made of other faiths to hang the country's flag and a portrait of the president where it worships. "These are unacceptable demands," he declared. Forum 18 has been unable to get confirmation of a 5 September report that President Saparmurat Niyazov ordered the registration procedure for religious organisations to be tightened up once more.

TURKMENISTAN: Finding Nemo, hunting Adventists

Just three days after a Baptist service in a private home was raided in Abadan, across the country in Turkmenabad [Chärjew] police raided an Adventist home on 7 August. The family's children and guests were watching a video of Finding Nemo, but police confiscated all the literature they could find, confiscated the owners' identity documents and pressured the husband to sign a statement that an "illegal" religious service was underway. The Adventist pastor in the capital Ashgabad has complained that his congregation cannot hold public worship as it cannot rent premises for worship, despite having state registration. "All hall managers turn us down as soon as they learn that we are looking for premises for a Church," Pastor Pavel Fedotov told Forum 18 News Service. "Even though we have registration we can't do anything."

TURKMENISTAN: Why register when persecution continues?

Despite gaining state registration under the much-trumpeted "liberalisation" of the religion law, secret police raids and threats against a Baptist congregation in Turkmenistan have not stopped, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Last Wednesday (4 August), NSM secret police raided a meeting for prayer and bible study, arrested participants for three hours, confiscated bibles and hymn books, and threatened a "big problem" if meetings continued. Another state registered community, the Hare Krishnas, have been told by state officials that they do not know whether the community should be allowed to operate. A wide range of religious communities have either been unsuccessful with registration applications, or do not want to apply because of the harsh controls they would be subjected to. Asked about making a registration application, one Jehovah's Witness said to Forum 18 "Why should we when persecution continues?"