TURKMENISTAN: Detention, then Deportation for Returning Baptist

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 31 January 2001

A Baptist revisiting Turkmenistan, where he had lived during the 1990s, was detained by border guards at Ashgabad airport as he was about to leave the country on 26 January. They said that the validity of his passport had expired. Pyotr Kashin – a Russian citizen who formerly served as pastor of the Baptist congregation in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi, where he was still officially registered as living - told Keston News Service that after being questioned by officers of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (the former KGB) about his work with the church in the country he had been put on a plane on 29 January and deported. His residence permit had been revoked, with no reason being given.

Kashin reports that despite the pressure on congregations belonging to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists (of which the Turkmenbashi congregation is a member), the churches are continuing their work. `They are functioning, preaching and conducting baptisms,' Kashin declared, `not as we would like, but they are continuing to work for the Lord.' He acknowledged the difficulties following the deportation of all foreign Baptists known to the Turkmen authorities as being active in the church, and the pressure on local Baptists who remain, but remained optimistic. `Christ has not been deported from Turkmenistan. If I'm not there and another brother is not there, God will send someone else.'

Kashin told Keston from his new home in the town of Yelets in Russia's Lipetsk region on 31 January that he had arrived by plane in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad on 18 January. Although border guards checked his name against a list of those to be barred from entering the country, Kashin had no problems entering. `They have a list on the computer,' Kashin declared. `When we arrived in the airport there was a man named Chernov, and when the name figured on the list he was taken away.' It appears this was a case of mistaken identity. Kashin believes the border guards thought the man was connected to Vladimir Chernov, a Baptist from Ashgabad who was deported in December 1999 (see KNS 22 January 2000). Only on departing from Ashgabad on 26 January did Kashin run into problems.

He had gone through check-in and reached the final passport control at the airport, when border guards stopped him. The 1978 Soviet passport on which he was travelling had already been checked three times, but they claimed it was no longer valid, something Kashin contests. He was taken to the KNB station in the airport and interrogated. `They said I was undertaking religious propaganda, that I was a religious activist living here simply to be able to preach,' Kashin told Keston. `They banned me from preaching and giving out Bibles. I said that Article 11 of Turkmenistan's new constitution guarantees religious freedom.' The KNB officers then asked him to write a detailed statement of what he had done during his visit, giving details of all the believers he had met. He refused.

They then threatened to take him to the special reception centre `to verify his identity', although Kashin insisted that they knew very well who he was. The KNB officers eventually decided not to do so and he was allowed to return to Ashgabad. His ticket was rebooked for 29 January. They refused to give Kashin back his passport, although they had already made a copy of it, telling him he would get it back once he had boarded the flight. `I understood then they were going to cancel my registration [to live in Turkmenbashi].'

Kashin moved to Turkmenistan with his wife and nine children in 1996 to lead the Turkmenbashi church. He received a residence permit to live in the city on 16 July 1996. While serving as pastor, he faced constant KNB harassment, including summons for continuing to hold worship services and confiscation of religious literature.

By 1997, he told Keston, it was clear that the Turkmen authorities intended to expel him for his work with the church, despite his legal residency in the country. His wife and children left for Russia in 1998, while he shuttled back and forth between Russia and Turkmenistan, serving the church on his frequent visits. Before his January visit, his most recent previous visit had been in March 2000.

On 29 January Kashin wrote a letter of complaint to Baigeldy Gelenov, consul at the Turkmen embassy in Moscow, asking for a written explanation of why he was deported, arguing that this violated Turkmenistan's constitution and international human rights conventions. He has not so far had any response. A spokesman for the embassy, Grigory Kolodin, confirmed to Keston on 31 January that Gelenov had received the letter and had requested further information from Ashgabad. Kolodin said Gelenov would reply to Kashin as soon as he had received this information. (END)