TURKMENISTAN: Russia Refuses to Accept Deported Jehovah's Witness.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 23 February 2001

An attempt by the Turkmen political police the KNB (former KGB) to deport a Jehovah's Witness to Russia last month failed after Russian border guards refused to allow him entry, citing his failure to hold all the necessary documents. This is the first case known to Keston News Service where Russia has refused to accept a religious deportee, most of whom are summarily expelled with no official certificate of deportation and even - on some occasions - with no personal documentation. Most of those deported have been foreign citizens, but Konstantin Vlaskin is a citizen of Turkmenistan, making his deportation illegal under Turkmen law and its international human rights commitments. `No one shall be subjected to arbitrary ... exile,' declares Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Vlaskin, leader of the Jehovah's Witness community in the eastern city of Turkmenabad (formerly Chardjou), confirmed to Keston from Turkmenabad on 21 February that he is a Turkmen citizen and that he was refused entry to Russia on 22 January because he did not have the right documentation. However, he declined to discuss the attempted deportation, declaring only that there had been no problems since being freed in the wake of the failed attempt.

Contacted by telephone on 23 February, an official of the consular section of the Russian embassy in Ashgabad - who declined to give his name - refused to discuss Vlaskin's case, referring all enquiries about deportations of both Turkmen and Russian citizens to the head of the consular section, who was absent and whose name he declined to give.

Contacted by telephone the same day, the consul at the Turkmen embassy in Moscow, Baigeldy Gelenov, told Keston he had no information on Vlaskin's case. However, he promised to investigate and report back within a week what he had discovered. He confirmed that the Turkmen government cannot deport its own citizens.

The KNB summoned Vlaskin on 13 January and abused him verbally, he reported in a statement of 18 January. Officers demanded he sign a statement to say he would renounce his position as head of the local Jehovah's Witness community and no longer attend meetings. `They did not suggest renouncing my faith,' he stressed. `When I refused they took me by the left ear (so that I would not pull my head back) and began to strike my head blow after blow, and twisted my hands. When the officer tired, he had a break, then took a club and began to beat me. He aimed at the crown of my head, ears and wrists. But mostly the beating was on the back from the left side and on the chest near the heart.' Officers told Vlaskin if he refused to sign the statement he would face `prison without any hope of amnesty or deportation'.

Vlaskin asked that if he was to be deported they should give some notice so he could collect his belongings. `They liked this phrase and stopped beating me.' When the KNB city chief arrived at 5 pm he took Vlaskin to his office where he beat him around the head, swearing on the Koran he would lock him up or personally deport him. `He said he has clear instructions from the khyakim (mayor) that there must be no drug addicts, prostitutes or Jehovah's Witnesses in the city.' No court, procurator or medical report would help him.

KNB officers told Vlaskin to resign his job and report for deportation on 21 January. Vlaskin resigned on 15 January, but was unable to complete the paperwork without his military card, which the police had confiscated in 1999. KNB officers took his passport and mobilisation card and said they would recover his military card. On 22 January he was put onto a train, but even the presence of an accompanying KNB officer did not prevent Russian border guards barring his entry to Russia. He was returned to his home in Turkmenabad and released.

Meanwhile Pyotr Kashin, a Russian Baptist whose registration to live in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi was annulled while he was on a return visit to Turkmenistan in January and who was subsequently deported (see KNS 31 January 2001), has still not received an explanation for his deportation, despite a promise from Turkmen consular officials. Gelenov told Keston that he had not yet had time to write to Kashin as he had just come back from a work trip, but would do so within a week. (END)