TURKMENISTAN: Further Fall-Out From Protestant Church Raid.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 22 November 2001

As the Turkmen authorities continue to take revenge on those present at the meeting of the Word of Life Protestant church in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad raided by the police and political police, the KNB, on 15 November, those who invited the two Russian pastors to the country and the owner of the flat where the meeting took place were summoned for interrogation yesterday (21 November). Sources in Ashgabad told Keston News Service that those summoned to office No. 1 (the religion department) of the city hyakimlik (administration) were each asked to write a statement about the church's activity, were warned that if further meetings take place their homes will be confiscated and that they risk being deported from Ashgabad to other parts of the country.

The raid on the Word of Life meeting is the biggest single move against believers in recent months, although raids have been common on Protestant, Jehovah's Witness and Hare Krishna gatherings in recent years. In the wake of the 15 November raid, some forty people were detained, five of them being held overnight. All but one were fined - many being fined more than two months' average wages - and three foreign citizens (among them two pastors) were deported to Russia. Four people have been summoned for further interrogation and further threats and interrogations seem set to follow (see KNS 19 November 2001).

However, asked why such punitive action had followed a religious meeting in a private home, the deputy hyakim (governor) of Ashgabad, Ashir Cherkezov, claimed to Keston on 22 November: "I don't know what you're talking about." He then put the phone down. The city hyakim, Berdymurat Berdymukhammedov, was unavailable by telephone on 22 November.

At the city hyakimlik on 21 November, Svetlana Annamukhammedova and her husband Ishan Annamukhammedov were questioned in the morning as to how and why they invited Pastor Leonid Malko from Moscow (who was present when the church was raided and was deported two days later). Lyudmila Karpenko was questioned in the afternoon as to why she invited Pastor Vladimir Shamrai and his wife Olga (who were also present at the meeting and who were deported three days later). Immediately afterwards, Olga Ryzhkova, the owner of the private flat where the meeting was held, was also interrogated.

Another church member, Olga Nuryeva, has been summoned for interrogation in the morning of 23 November. She works as a music teacher at School No. 16 in Ashgabad, and the school director has also been summoned. It is feared the interrogation might be the prelude to Nuryeva's sacking.

Sources in Ashgabad have told Keston that rumours about the raid on the church and the heavy punishment imposed on all those attending have spread through the capital. The media, which is under tight government control, has made no mention of the raids or the aftermath. (END)