TURKMENISTAN: Russian Protestant Has Been Deported.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 8 May 2001

A Russian Christian who left Turkmenistan in April after being held in prison for four days (see KNS 23 April 2001) was deported, Keston News Service has learnt. Yevgeny Samsonov, a member of the Word of Life Pentecostal church, was arrested after taking part in an Easter service and deported on the orders of the police and Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (former KGB). Unlike in most previous cases where the government has deported foreign citizens it accused of being involved in `illegal' religious communities, the authorities gave Samsonov a certificate of deportation - though the certificate makes no mention of his arrest on religious grounds.

The Turkmen-language certificate - dated 14 April, of which Keston has received a copy - recounts that the deportation was ordered by A.G. Charyev of the Lebap region KNB and two police officers. `Reason for deportation: violation of Turkmenistan's visa regime,' the certificate declares. The authorities claimed that Samsonov, a Russian citizen originally from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, did not have a visa or residence permit to live in Turkmenistan.

Protestant sources have told Keston that Samsonov was seized at his home in the eastern town of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou) in the evening of 8 April. The KNB had originally tried to arrest him at a church meeting held earlier that day to mark Easter (although Christians did not celebrate Easter this year until 15 April, churches the Turkmen government treats as illegal generally hold services at major festivals like Christmas and Easter not on the day itself as the KNB is especially active in hunting them down on such days). The Easter service, held in a private home, was raided, but Samsonov managed to escape, only to be detained when police came to his flat later, where they broke down two doors before forcing access by climbing through a neighbour's balcony.

The arresting officers beat Samsonov on the legs before taking him to the local police station, where KNB officers and an official from the mayor's office were present. He refused to sign a statement incriminating himself, but after his fingerprints were taken he did sign to confirm they were his fingerprints. Officers then forged his signature on documents stating that he was leaving voluntarily. All his personal possessions - including books, a camera and a tape-recorder - were confiscated.

When Word of Life church officials telephoned from Moscow to find out what was happening, Samsonov was transferred to a general police cell, where he was held with other prisoners. On 13 April the police took him to Turkmenabad's train station and forcibly put him on the train accompanied by a police officer. When the train reached the northern town of Tashauz, just before the train crosses the border into Uzbekistan, Samsonov was given his deportation certificate and handed into the care of the conductor. He arrived in Moscow on 16 April with only the clothes he stood up in. Keston has been unable to reach Samsonov by telephone so far.

The Turkmen authorities have expelled hundreds of Muslims, dozens of Protestants and a number of Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees in the past few years. Word of Life officials told Keston that two of their members were deported from Turkmenistan last year, while others were required to leave when visas and residence permits were revoked or not renewed. In an echo of Soviet practice, the authorities have even deported or tried to deport a number of Turkmen citizens, despite the fact that international human rights conventions do not allow governments to deport their own citizens (see KNS 23 February 2001).

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)