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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

TURKMENISTAN: Chief mufti joins crackdown on Protestants

Amid a new crackdown on Protestant churches across Turkmenistan, five members of a church in Abadan have been warned not to meet together. Church members told Forum 18 News Service they were subjected to hours of questioning at the police station and town administration in the wake of a 31 May raid on the flat of two church members. Officials threatened to confiscate the flat. The crackdown has seen at least six other Protestant churches raided during services since the beginning of May. Forum 18 has learnt that chief mufti Kakageldy Vepaev took part in at least four of the raids. OSCE officials in the capital Ashgabad refused to comment on the raids or on Turkmenistan's violation of religious freedom.

TURKMENISTAN: Citizenship moves "will not affect Russian Orthodox"?

Officials of the Russian Orthodox Church – the only Christian Church allowed to register in Turkmenistan – have told Forum 18 News Service that the unilateral decision by the Turkmen leader to abolish the right to hold joint Turkmen and Russian citizenship will not affect the functioning of the Church, although membership of the Church is almost entirely made up of ethnic Russians. "There really is a problem with the abolition of dual citizenship," Father Ioan Kopach of Ashgabad's St Aleksandr Nevsky cathedral told Forum 18. "But if people ask us about it, all we can do is shrug our shoulders. It's not a religious issue. I am sure that just as before we will be able to receive religious literature without hindrance and travel to Russia." But one activist Vyacheslav Mamedov says abolition of dual citizenship will "of course" affect Turkmen Orthodox. "It will be more difficult for them to integrate with Orthodox culture and visit places of pilgrimage in their historic homeland."

TURKMENISTAN: Detained Baptists threatened and insulted

Law enforcement officers who broke up the Sunday morning Baptist service in Balkanabad on 11 May forcibly took all those present to the police station, where they threatened and insulted the Baptists, a church statement reaching Forum 18 News Service reported. "What's the point in talking to them, they should be put in a bus and shot!" the Baptists quoted one police officer as telling them. This latest raid on the Balkanabad church came the same day as the Sunday morning Baptist service in Turkmenbashi was raided. "We are not conducting any special campaign against Baptists," Yagshimurat Atamuradov, the country's senior religious affairs official, insisted to Forum 18.

TURKMENISTAN: Threats and fines follow break-up of Baptist Sunday service

Angered by the presence of many children, secret police, police, procuracy and city administration officials broke up the Sunday morning service of a Baptist church on 11 May, held in a private flat in the city of Turkmenbashi. They threatened to confiscate the flat and deprive the parents of their parental rights. One official who participated in the raid has rejected Baptist complaints about the raid and said he expected the Baptists to be fined. "There were no violations of the law in the actions of the authorities," administration official Shanazar Kocheev insisted to Forum 18 News Service. "This was an illegal meeting and we broke it up." The Baptists have called on the procuracy "to defend our constitutional rights to believe in God and to confess our religion".

CENTRAL ASIA: Only limited censorship of religious websites

Despite authoritarian rule, high levels of censorship of the local media and periodic barring of access to foreign-based political opposition websites, Central Asia's governments have so far only enacted limited censorship over access to religious websites based outside the region, a Forum 18 News Service investigation has found. Uzbekistan permanently bars access to the London-based website of Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, though not to its Pakistan-related site. In several Uzbek Internet cafes, Forum 18 even came across the notice: "Viewing of religious and pornographic sites is forbidden". But with low Internet use in Central Asia and a population too poor to be able to afford access, Central Asia's governments – which to a greater or lesser extent try to control all religious activity - may believe they do not need to impose religious censorship on the Internet.

TURKMENISTAN: Secret police interrogate and threaten Baptist children

Raided by the secret police, the police and the procuracy on 16 March, the Baptist church in Balkanabad is facing new pressure. Children have been interrogated in school about "internal church life and their Christian education in their families", a statement from the church reaching Forum 18 News Service complains. They were banned from attending services and the older ones threatened with prison. A church service in a private flat was again raided on 1 April. Forum 18 was unable to reach the secret police (which the church claims organised the interrogations) or the police in Balkanabad to find out why the Baptists are being threatened for attending unregistered religious services, which are not technically illegal in Turkmenistan.

TURKMENISTAN: Ex-KGB leads raid on Baptist church

Eight officers raided the Sunday morning worship service on 16 March in the unregistered Baptist church in the city of Balkanabad. A statement from the church reaching Forum 18 News Service reports that the officers were led by Kadyr Meredov, the local officer of the National Security Committee (NSC, the former KGB) responsible for controlling religious groups. "They accused us of holding an unapproved meeting and violating the law on religious cults," the church complained. "They banned us from meeting until we had registered our church with the justice authorities, and warned us that otherwise, a police officer would be present at each of our services." Forum 18 was unable to find out from NSC or procuracy officials why the church had been raided.

TURKMENISTAN: Orthodox to be main victims of clampdown?

The clampdown launched in the wake of the apparent assassination attempt on President Saparmurad Niyazov last November will make life more difficult still for Turkmenistan's religious believers. As religious minorities – especially Protestant Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses – had already suffered the brunt of government pressure, it is difficult for their position to get any worse. Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna devotees, Baha'is, Jews and even the Armenian Apostolic Church had already been denied any public religious activity. With the Sunni Muslim community and the Russian Orthodox under tight state control, it seems that ordinary Orthodox believers are likely to suffer most from the latest crackdown.