TURKMENISTAN: Two-Month Prison 'Quarantine' for Atakov.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 24 April 2001

Ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov, who was transferred to an Interior Ministry prison in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) on 23 March, was placed in two-month `quarantine' within days of arrival, Keston News Service has learnt. The German-based Friedensstimme mission told Keston that Atakov was placed in isolation on 28 March, where he will be denied all mail and parcels for two whole months. `This has cut him off from all contact with the outside world,' mission director Klaus Karsten told Keston on 23 April. There is no news on Atakov's current state of health.

Keston has been unable to obtain the telephone number of Lieutenant-Colonel T. B. Meretklychev, commander of the prison where Atakov is being held, to find out why he has been put in isolation.

Atakov - a member of a congregation of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists - is serving a four year sentence on charges fellow Baptists believe were fabricated to punish him for his activity in the Baptist church in Turkmenbashi, where he was arrested in December 1998.

In early February he was transferred to prison hospital in the town of Mary after widespread concern about his rapidly-deteriorating health, then on 1 March he was transferred back to labour camp in Seydy before being transferred to the Turkmenbashi prison three weeks later (see KNS 27 March 2001).

Atakov's address in prison:

745000 MVD Turkmenistana

BL-t/5 Departamenta politsii Balkanskogo velayata

g. Turkmenbashi

Turkmenistan

From early March Atakov's wife Artygyul and their five children have been under intense pressure in internal exile in the town of Kaakhka. Artygyul has been pressured by the local mullah, administration officials and officers of the political police the KNB (former KGB) to convert to Islam (see KNS 26 March 2001).

Administrative officials invited Artygyul to attend a committee hearing on 2 April to determine whether her children's refusal to participate in the school ceremony (reading the oath of allegiance to President Saparmurat Niyazov and kissing the flag) is due to their personal conviction or whether they are being influenced by Artygyul. If the latter were proved true, the authorities threatened to deprive her of her parental rights. It is not yet known what decisions were taken at the hearing.

From his prison cell, Atakov asked his wife and relatives to have his children brought up as Christians. He and his wife believe that teaching children in school to bow down in reverence to the president's portrait is a form of idolatry which violates basic Christian beliefs. `All that the Atakovs are asking is for the right for their family to practise their Christian faith and to abstain from practices that violate their beliefs,' an official of the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries told Keston in early April. (END)