TURKMENISTAN: Adventists Detained At Prayer Meeting.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 7 December 2001

Three weeks after an Adventist meeting in a private flat in the eastern city of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou) was raided by the authorities, identity documents taken from those present have still not been returned, Adventist sources told Keston News Service on 7 December. In the wake of the 16 November raid, six people were held for several hours before being freed. Although they were warned they would be summoned again, so far this has not happened. All their religious books as well as audio and video materials were seized. Police confiscated from the flat's owner legal documents proving ownership of the home, and these have not been returned either. Church members fear she may lose her home, as has happened to believers of other faiths who have used their private homes for religious meetings the authorities deem illegal.

Adventists in Turkmenabad declined to discuss the raid and its aftermath with Keston, perhaps for fear of further reprisals from the authorities.

The six who have had their identity documents confiscated are certain to face difficulties in everyday life. Many transactions in Turkmenistan, including buying tickets to travel within the country, are impossible without identity documents, so they are in effect confined to the city.

The raid on the Adventist meeting in Turkmenabad came a day after a meeting of the Pentecostal Word of Life Church was raided in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad. Some forty people were given heavy fines, three foreign nationals were deported and threats were made to confiscate the flat where the meeting took place, although the threats have not been carried through.

Two church members who had travelled to Ashgabad for the meeting from the village of Deinau 35 kilometres (20 miles) from Turkmenabad are currently serving fifteen-day prison terms imposed in reprisal for their participation (see KNS 5 December 2001). The two - Murad Djumanazarov and Jamilya Boltaeva - are now half way through their prison term. A further two were threatened with being "locked away".

Protestant sources told Keston on 7 December that three women from Turkmenabad who had been present at the Ashgabad meeting and who were among those fined (two of them each receiving fines of 500,000 manats [25 US dollars or 18 British pounds at the street exchange rate]) have again been fined. Sources said the three were summoned earlier in the week to the Turkmenabad hyakimlik (administration), where they were given fines of 250,000 manats each, apparently under Article 205 of the administrative code which punishes "violation of the law on religious associations". When the three women asked officials why they were being fined again for the same offence, they were reportedly told: "We are the law here. Just pay up." After the fines were levied, the police visited one of the women in her home, put her in a police vehicle and took her to the local police station for further interrogation, before returning her home.

Turkmenistan has the harshest religious policy of all the former Soviet republics. For the past four years the only religious groups which have state registration are communities belonging to the state-approved Muslim Board and several parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church. The authorities treat all other religious communities as illegal and seek to crush their activity.

One Russian pastor expelled in the wake of the raid on the Word of Life Church, Vladimir Shamrai, told Keston that raids on unregistered religious meetings often come around the time of major holidays (see KNS 29 November 2001). The raids on the Word of Life and Adventist meetings came shortly after the end of the ten-day official celebration period for the tenth anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence. It is not known if any other religious communities experienced raids at the same time. (END)