TURKMENISTAN: Russian Protestant Freed after Four Days.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 23 April 2001

A Russian Pentecostal Christian has been freed after being held in detention for four days in the eastern town of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou), Protestant sources told Keston News Service from Turkmenistan. Yevgeny Samsonov, a member of the Word of Life Pentecostal church originally from the Russian city of Novosibirsk, was reportedly maltreated while in the hands of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (former KGB), who tried to force him to sign documents incriminating himself. `Although he was tortured and beaten, he did not sign any documents the KGB was pressuring him to sign,' one source told Keston on 17 April.

Although Samsonov left Turkmenistan for Russia soon after his release, Keston has been unable to reach him by telephone so far.

The US-based news service Compass Direct reported on 12 April that the KNB arrested 26-year-old Samsonov at his rented flat in Turkmenabad on 9 April, using his neighbour's balcony to gain access. They claimed he had never obtained the required visa to live in the country (citizens of the Russian Federation require visas and residence permits to live in Turkmenistan).

`He was tortured several times during the last two days,' a local source told Compass on 11 April, adding that the authorities were believed to be trying to force Samsonov to sign a document incriminating himself as `a person who acts against President [Saparmurat] Niyazov of Turkmenistan'.

It is not clear whether Samsonov left Turkmenistan voluntarily or whether he was expelled. Many foreign citizens the government accused of being involved in religious activity, including dozens of Protestants and hundreds of Muslims, have been expelled in the past few years.

Meanwhile, Compass also reported that four Turkmen Protestants from the capital Ashgabad, all converts from Islam to Christianity who were arrested, tortured and evicted from their homes by the KNB last November and December, have fled the country with their families. The four - Shokhrat Piriyev, Batyr Nurov, Umit Kochkarov and Babamurat Goiymov - had been implicated in the use of `contraband' Christian videos in the Turkmen language (see KNS 1 February 2001). The Turkmen authorities had launched a national manhunt in a bid to arrest them again.

Turkmenistan has the harshest policy towards religious minorities of all the former Soviet republics. Only communities of the state-sponsored Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church have registration. All other faiths are treated as illegal. (END)