TURKMENISTAN: Baptist Prisoner of Conscience Recovers from Heart Attack

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 26 January 2001

Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov is recovering well from a heart attack he suffered earlier in January in labour camp in the town of Seydy in north-eastern Turkmenistan, Keston News Service has learnt. Atakov had to spend a week in the labour camp sick-bay, although he is now reportedly back in the main camp.

The 38-year-old Atakov, who is married with five children, is serving a four year sentence on charges of swindling which church members insist were instigated to obstruct his activity with the church. He was arrested on 18 December 1998 in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and fined on 19 March 1999, but was retried on 4 and 5 August 1999 in Ashgabad and given the increased sentence.

Atakov belongs to a Baptist congregation affiliated with the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, a group founded in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and which refuses to register in any of the post-Soviet republics where it operates. The German-based Friedensstimme Mission, which maintains close links with the Council of Churches, told Keston on 26 January that Atakov suffered his heart attack two weeks earlier, and spent a week in the labour camp sick-bay, from where he has now been discharged.

Despite the release of some 12,000 prisoners in the wake of a presidential amnesty last December, Atakov and four Jehovah's Witness prisoners were not freed (see KNS 5 January 2001). However, the amnesty has freed many of the prisoners in the Seydy camp which, according to information reaching Friedensstimme, now contains only some 300 prisoners. It is believed that two of the Jehovah's Witness prisoners - Yazmammed Annamammedov and Guvanch Ashirov - have been transferred to the Seydy camp from the camp in Bezmein, which is due for closure.

Friedensstimme adds that Atakov's wife Artygul and family remain under `village arrest' in Kaakhka, after being forcibly subjected to `internal deportation' (without judicial sanction) from the town of Mary in early February last year on KNB orders.

Shageldy Atakov's labour camp address:

Turkmenistan,

746222 Lebap vilayet,

Seydy,

uchr. LV-K/12,

Atakov Shageldy

Meanwhile, the Friedensstimme Mission also reports that Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (formerly the KGB) are searching for two Baptists who escaped the deportations of hundreds of foreign citizens involved in religious activity, which took place in 1999 and 2000. Those deportations saw six Baptist families summarily expelled, with the most recent Baptist expellee being deported in May last year (see KNS 26 May 2000). KNB officers have recently visited the homes of the two Baptists, who hold Russian citizenship and have been living in Turkmenistan legally, in what local believers fear is a prelude to deportation. (END)