TURKMENISTAN: Further Raid On Greater Grace Meeting.

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 4 September 2001

On 15 August ten officials from the police, the district administration and the National Security Committee (KNB, the former KGB secret police) burst into a private flat in the Kopetdag district of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad, where around 20 members of the Greater Grace Protestant church had gathered for prayer, Protestant sources in Turkmenistan have told Keston News Service. All the church members present were taken to the Second Police Department of Kopetdag district, where KNB officers interrogated each one separately, recording where the church members worked and warning them that they were not allowed to meet for prayer as their church was unregistered. After five hours the church members were released.

A member of the Greater Grace church, who preferred not to be identified, told Keston that it was the second time this year that the authorities had detained church members while they were conducting prayers in a private flat (see KNS 25 January 2001).

Speaking to Keston by telephone on 31 August, the head of the Kopetdag Second Police Department, Komgeldy Sopregeldy, admitted that the church members had been detained. He declared that the action had been taken under the auspices of the KNB of Kopetdag district and recommended that Keston should ask that organisation for a comment. However, when Keston reached the Kopetdag district KNB by telephone from Bishkek the same day, no officer was prepared to discuss the case. One KNB officer, who refused to identify himself, told Keston: ‘If you want to defend these good-for-nothings, then come to Ashgabad. We’re not going to speak to anyone at Oxford or at Bishkek.’

A call by Keston on 31 August to the special administrative commission at the Kopetdag district administration also proved fruitless. (The administrative commission is particularly concerned with seeking out unregistered places of worship.) An employee at the commission, Merdam Chariyev, told Keston: ‘We know what case you are referring to, but we will only comment in response to a written request from Keston Institute. For now, I can tell you just one thing: the law is being observed in Turkmenistan.’

Turkmenistan's published laws on religion do not specifically ban unregistered religious activity, although state officials repeatedly insist that such activity is illegal. Only communities of the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church have been allowed to gain state recognition. Almost all Protestant churches - including the Baptists, Pentecostals and Adventists - as well as communities of Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna devotees and Bahais have faced severe pressure in. the past five years in a bid to stamp out their activities. Groups that have been prevented from reviving their activity in the country include the Lutherans, Jews and the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Catholic Church is only able to conduct religious activity on Vatican diplomatic territory. (END)