TURKMENISTAN: Update on Protestant Church Raid

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 22 February 2001

Keston News Service has learnt from sources in Ashgabad that in the wake of the raid in the evening of 2 February on a meeting of the city's New Life church (see KNS 12 February 2001), all 24 people attending were detained through the night and not freed until the following morning. They were warned not to attend meetings of the church in future, and five of them were reportedly fined 250,000 manats each (one month's average wages) under Article 205 of the Administrative Code, a Soviet-era provision which punishes unregistered religious activity.

The raid on the New Life church was staged 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.

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.

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)