TURKMENISTAN: Yet Another Raid on a Protestant Church.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 12 February 2001

Yet another Protestant Christian church in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad has been raided in the continuing government attempts to stamp out religious minorities. Keston News Service has learnt from sources in Ashgabad that in the evening of 2 February a meeting of the New Life church was raided by police, officers of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (formerly the KGB), and officials of the khyakimlik (local administration) of the city's Niyazov district. It is believed that some of those attending have been fined, although this has not yet been confirmed.

The New Life church - which meets in a private home - does not have registration with the government. Although Turkmenistan's religion law guarantees freedom to hold religious meetings in private homes and does not forbid unregistered religious activity, the government treats all such activity as illegal.

Last month saw increased pressure on Protestant communities, including fines on members of the Pentecostal church and the Church of Christ in Ashgabad, raids and pressure on members of Ashgabad's Greater Grace and Word of Life churches, 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 2 February 2001).

Turkmenistan's religious policy is the most repressive of all the former Soviet republics and Protestant Christians are among religious groups whose activity is deemed 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)