TURKMENISTAN: Bible Study Group Raided by Police

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 2 February 2001

Police have raided a Bible study being held by a Protestant church in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad in the latest in a series of moves to crush remaining Protestant activity in the Central Asian state, Keston News Service has learnt from sources in Ashgabad. The Bible study organised by the Word of Life church was raided in the evening of 31 January and some 25 people attending were taken to the police station, where they were interrogated. Reports say one of the Protestants was beaten by the police. All were said to have been freed the same evening. There is no information on whether any of them were fined.

During their detention, police officers and representatives of the khyakimlik (local administration) pressured the Protestants to write statements saying they would no longer take part in such `illegal' religious activity. Most of them reportedly refused to write such statements.

The Turkmen government regards all activity by all Protestant churches as `illegal', despite the fact that no published law specifically bans unregistered religious activity (Protestant churches are not allowed to gain registration).

This month has seen increased pressure on Protestant communities, including fines on members of the Pentecostal church and the Church of Christ in Ashgabad, a raid and pressure on members of Ashgabad's Greater Grace church, the revocation of the residence permit in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi and expulsion of a leading pastor of a Baptist church and the detention of a Protestant Christian in the capital by police searching for three Protestant leaders currently in hiding (see KNS 30 January – 1 February 2001).

However, there was some positive news for the beleaguered Protestant community when an appeal hearing on 31 January ruled that an earlier court ruling to confiscate Ashgabad's Pentecostal church was `flawed' and sent the case back to the lower court (see KNS 31 January 2001). (END)