TURKMENISTAN: Atakov Back in Turkmenbashi Prison.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 23 July 2001

Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov has been returned to the Interior Ministry prison in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), Keston News Service has learnt from the German-based Friedensstimme Mission. The prison, which holds some 700 prisoners, was where Atakov had been held since March until his surprise transfer by plane to the Turkmen capital Ashgabad in May in a bid to persuade him and his family to agree to leave the country for the United States (see KNS 14 May 2001). His wife Artygul was taken by car from Kaakhka for a meeting with her husband at the headquarters of Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (former KGB), but both declined to leave the country.

Among those trying to persuade Atakov to agree to emigration in exchange for freedom was the head of the KNB, Muhammed Nazarov. The KNB also tried unsuccessfully to use Atakov's mother to persuade him to agree to emigrate. Atakov was returned to the Turkmenbashi prison about a week after being transferred to Ashgabad.

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.

Atakov's address in prison:

745000 MVD Turkmenistana

BL-t/5 Departamenta politsii Balkanskogo velayata

g. Turkmenbashi

Turkmenistan

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.

Local members of Council of Churches congregations have told Friedensstimme that despite continuing pressure on other Christian churches in recent months, their congregations have suffered less harassment. (END)