TURKMENISTAN: Authorities Resettle Family in Closed Baptist Church.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 19 March 2001

The authorities of the Niyazov district of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad have reportedly resettled a family in the city's closed Baptist church, Keston News Service has learnt. The church was sealed by the local authorities on 17 February to halt the church's services being held there and on 2 March the authorities broke their own seals and stripped the building of all furnishings, carting them away on a lorry (see KNS 2 March 2001). Church members discovered the new family was living in the house when they came to look at their church on 11 March, but the family failed to open the door when they knocked to enquire why they were living in church property without permission. The resettling of a family in the building appears to be an attempt by the authorities to prevent the Baptists from ever regaining use of the church.

Officials of the Niyazov district khyakimlik (administration), contacted by telephone on 19 March, declined to explain why the family had been resettled in property that belongs to the Baptist church. Muhammed Kerimov, a senior aide to the local khyakim, four times claimed the telephone line was too poor for him to hear Keston's questions, although Keston could hear him perfectly. Contacted the same day, an official of the administrative department of the khyakimlik passed on Keston's questions to her colleagues sitting in the same room, but after a hasty discussion among themselves in Turkmen she simply put the phone down. The telephone of Maksat Yazmuradov, head of the khyakimlik's special administrative group which sealed the church in February, went unanswered on 19 March. Keston decided not to telephone the church's pastor Vasili Korobov in order not to increase official pressure on him. It is believed that the sealing, seizure of the church's movable property and seizure of the building itself were all undertaken without any court sanction.

The Ashgabad Baptist Church, which had registration in the later Soviet period and in the early years of Turkmen independence, lost its legal status in May 1997 after failing to gain re-registration required under the terms of the harsh 1996 religion law. Government officials repeatedly claim that religious activity without official registration is illegal, despite the fact that no such provision appears in any published law. All other Baptist Union churches in the country have also been closed down. (END)