TURKMENISTAN: Protestant Church Told to Stop Meeting

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 25 January 2001

Some fifteen officers of the police, political police (KNB, former KGB) and the khyakimlik (city administration) raided a meeting of a Protestant Christian church in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad on 10 January, warning those attending not to take part in such `illegal' meetings in future. Pastor Vladimir Tolmachev of the Greater Grace church told Keston News Service from Ashgabad on 24 January that during the raid on his church the police took down the names and personal details of all the two dozen or so people present. The day after the raid, those attending were summoned to the city khyakimlik, where they were once more warned not to attend such `illegal' meetings.

Despite threats that the believers would be summoned individually to the local district administrations, Pastor Tolmachev reports that so far this has not happened. `Maybe they will finish with this or maybe it will go further,' he declared. `We just don't know.' Although he declared that the church `expected' such raids given the current official hostility to religious minorities in Turkmenistan, Pastor Tolmachev reports that the last time the Greater Grace church suffered a similar raid was a year and a half ago.

Turkmenistan's published laws on religion do not specifically ban unregistered religious activity, although state officials repeatedly insist that such activity is illegal. Only communities of the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church have been allowed to gain state recognition. Almost all Protestant churches - including the Baptists, Pentecostals and Adventists - as well as communities of Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna devotees and Bahais have faced severe pressure in the past four years in a bid to stamp out their activities. Groups that have been prevented from reviving their activity in the country include the Lutherans, Jews and the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Catholic Church is only able to conduct religious activity on Vatican diplomatic territory. (END)