TURKMENISTAN: Atakov Pressured to Emigrate.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 14 May 2001

Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov has been brought from the Interior Ministry prison in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) to the Turkmen capital Ashgabad in an apparent bid to persuade him and his family to agree to leave the country for the United States, Keston News Service has learnt. The German-based Friedensstimme mission told Keston on 12 May that earlier that day the authorities had also brought Atakov's wife Artygyul from her home in internal exile in the town of Kaakhka for a meeting with her husband at the Ashgabad headquarters of the country's political police, the KNB (former KGB). The two have told the KNB separately and jointly that they have no wish to leave. The KNB have reportedly told Shageldy that if they refuse to emigrate he will be made to serve his full sentence.

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. His sentence runs until December next year. There is no news on Atakov's current state of health, which has been poor. He was reportedly close to death at the beginning of the year after being beaten and forcibly treated with psychotropic drugs.

The Friedensstimme mission - which maintains close ties with congregations of the Council of Churches in the former Soviet republics - reported that the Turkmen authorities had separately made the emigration offer to both Shageldy and Artygyul a week earlier, and both had refused, declaring that they wanted to remain in their homeland.

Atakov was transferred from labour camp in Seydy to the Turkmenbashi prison on 23 March, and five days later was placed in two-month `quarantine', depriving him of access to mail and parcels (see KNS 24 April 2001).

From early March, 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 KNB officers to convert to Islam and she was threatened with being deprived of her parental rights after her children refused to participate in the school ceremony of reading the oath of allegiance to President Saparmurat Niyazov and kissing the flag.

Turkmenistan is the most religiously repressive of all the former Soviet republics. Most religious faiths are in effect banned, rendering all religious practice by Protestants, Armenian Apostolic Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Bahais, Jews, Hare Krishna devotees and Muslims outside the framework of the officially-sanctioned Muslim Board liable to punishment. (END)