TURKMENISTAN: Week-long Detention of Krishna Devotees.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 19 March 2001

Seven Hare Krishna devotees arrested at a wedding in the town of Mary have been freed after a week in the hands of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (former KGB). Hare Krishna sources have confirmed to Keston News Service that the seven were released on 17 March. Meanwhile, the authorities of the Niyazov district of the capital Ashgabad have told devotees they will destroy an altar and an outbuilding to a private home where it is located, claiming that the outbuilding has been built without permission. Other outbuildings to the home - which was used as the Hare Krishna temple until the authorities banned this last November - have already been demolished by local authority workers. `These actions have clearly been taken to destroy the activity of our communities,' a Hare Krishna source told Keston.

The seven devotees in Mary attended the wedding of a relative of a devotee named Akmyrat Orazmyradov (religious name, Akinchana Chaitanya das) on 10 March, despite earlier warnings from KNB and khyakimlik (local administration) officials that they should not attend any religious meetings in private homes, appear in public or even attend weddings of friends and relatives. The KNB and the police swooped on the wedding, seizing the seven in front of the other guests and taking them off to the KNB prison in the town. Five of the seven have been identified as Tirkish Kelov, Tirkish Ovezov, Begmyrat Amanov and Arslan Mommadov, in addition to Orazmyradov. Although they were accused of violating public order, none of the seven was fined.

One source told Keston the devotees were detained for violating a recently-enacted secret order banning more than two members of any religious community apart from the Muslims and Russian Orthodox (the only two communities with registration) from meeting. Keston has been unable to obtain confirmation that such an order exists, but both the KNB and police have broken up numerous meetings of unregistered religious communities whose activity they deem illegal.

Meanwhile, officials of the Niyazov district khyakimlik (administration) in Ashgabad, contacted by telephone on 19 March, declined to explain why the city's Hare Krishna temple was being subjected to such treatment while no action was apparently being taken against other illegally-built extensions in the neighbourhood. 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 city's Baptist church in February, went unanswered on 19 March.

The Ashgabad Hare Krishna community has long been subject to official harassment. Hare Krishna sources have told Keston that the KNB and police raided a meeting at the temple last November, taking names and passport details of all those attending. A bus was summoned to take 20 devotees away and 15 of them were held in prison for three days, where they were reportedly insulted for their beliefs. All those held were reportedly visitors to Ashgabad from other parts of the country. The 15 were each given an administrative fine of one month's minimum wage at a hearing on the same day that Pentecostal pastor Viktor Makrousov was fined for religious activity. One of the Hare Krishna devotees, Murat Uraev (religious name, Misra Bhagavan das) was threatened that if he takes part in unregistered religious activity again he will face criminal charges and a prison sentence of up to three years.

During the raid, KNB and police officers warned the community not to hold any further meetings at the temple.

It is not yet known if the outbuilding, which measures 15 by 6 metres and contains the altar, has yet been demolished. However, in the wake of the November raid local authorities workers demolished two other outbuildings to the home, one containing a dining room and the other a bathroom, both used by the community for religious purposes. (END)