TURKMENISTAN: Do the Detentions and Beatings precede Deportation?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 19 February 2001

Two Baptists were detained in the eastern city of Turkmenabad (formerly Chardjou) and reportedly severely beaten by officers of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (former KGB), ahead of an apparent move to deport one of them from the country. According to a statement from local Baptists passed to Keston News Service by the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries, Aleksandr Frolov was forced to watch as Yevgeny Potolov was subjected to repeated and sustained beatings during 14 hours of interrogation at Turkmenabad's KNB headquarters on 15 February. Potolov was told he is to be deported, a common fate for foreign citizens active in religious communities in Turkmenistan.

Baptist sources in Moscow told Keston on 19 February that both were freed two days earlier and are back at home, Potolov in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) - to which he was sent back by the KNB - and Frolov in Turkmenabad. It remains unknown if the Turkmen authorities will carry through their threat to deport Potolov.

The two Baptists belong to a congregation affiliated with the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, a group uniting congregations in many former Soviet republics. Although Keston has been unable to verify Potolov and Frolov's maltreatment independently, reports distributed through the Council of Churches have a long track record of reliability.

`Yevgeny was savagely beaten, first struck on the head with a stick, then beaten with the stick on his legs, hips and shinbones,' local Baptists wrote in a 16 February statement. `One of the agents sat on the brother as he was lying, while the other agent struck the soles of his feet with a stick. This continued for five minutes. After this the brother could not get up. The agents also struck him on the chest with their fists.'

Potolov and Frolov were arrested on the street in the evening of 14 February by the police, who searched them thoroughly. `Pointing at the Bible, the officers said that it is a forbidden book,' Baptists report (despite the fact that the Bible is nowhere banned in published Turkmen law and is the holy book of the Russian Orthodox Church also, which has state registration in the country). The two were then transported to the special detention cell, where they spent the night.

The following morning they were transferred to the KNB building, where both were beaten in an attempt to force them to write a statement about their religious activity. `The interrogation was conducted by a KNB agent, Durdy Khomedov,' the Baptists claim. `On his orders, two other agents, Khudaberdiev and Kakadjan Yazgurov physically assaulted the brothers.' The beatings were particularly directed at Potolov as the officers believed the sight of his colleague being beaten would force Frolov to write a statement. `The beating continued for four hours. During all this time, both brothers were verbally assaulted with the most indecent expressions, pressuring them psychologically.' The interrogation - which began at 9 am - finally ceased at 11 pm.

At 4 o'clock in the morning on 16 February, Potolov was forcibly placed on the Dashkhovuz to Turkmenbashi train in the direction of Turkmenbashi, at the other side of the country. Just before being transported from the KNB headquarters in Turkmenabad he was told that he is to be deported.

Six Baptist families active in local congregations of the Council of Churches are known to have been deported from Turkmenistan in the past two years despite having legal residence in the country (see KNS 26 May 2000). All were Russian or Ukrainian citizens. Hundreds of foreign citizens active with other faiths - including members of other Protestant churches, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees - have also been deported. (END)