TURKMENISTAN: Elderly Blind Woman Threatened with Eviction.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 21 December 2001

Mariya Zadorozhnaya, an elderly, blind Baptist, has been threatened with eviction from her flat in the town of Khazar (formerly Cheleken) on the Caspian Sea after hosting a Baptist service raided by the political police last Sunday (16 December). "They threatened her that if believers gather in her flat again, they will take it away from her," declared a 20 December statement from the Khazar church, passed to Keston News Service by the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries. "They have banned the believers even from visiting this sister."

"The Sunday morning service had only just finished when officers burst into the flat where it had taken place without even knocking," the church reported. "They announced that a passport check was underway in the town and demanded passports from those present." After writing down the names and passport details the officers warned the Baptists that they were violating Article 205 of the Administrative Code, a provision punishing unregistered religious activity that dates back to the Soviet period.

The officers issued a "final warning" to the Baptists that if they continued to meet for worship or distribute Christian literature they would be expelled from the town or would be taken to court under Article 205.

The Khazar church is a member of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which refuses to register in all the post-Soviet republics where it operates. Even were it to apply for registration in Turkmenistan it would be refused, as there is an unpublished rule that Protestant churches, like all non-Muslim and non-Orthodox communities, may not be registered, even if they meet the strict registration requirements.

Local Baptists identified the officers of the KNB, Turkmenistan's successor to the KGB, as the local KNB chief, Major Chutbaev; one of his aides, Lieutenant Mamedov; the head of the passport desk Niyazmukhamedov; and an official of the procuracy, Magdenov.

Keston has not been able to verify the report of the raid independently, but statements issued through the Council of Churches have a long track record of reliability. Keston has been unable to reach the hyakim (head of the town administration), Aygul Satylova, to ask her why Zadorozhnaya is being threatened with confiscation of her flat, or the local KNB and procuracy, to ask why a religious meeting in a private home (specifically permitted in Turkmenistan's constitution) was raided.

The raid on the Khazar Baptist church came a month after a raid in the capital Ashgabad on a meeting of the Word of Life Protestant Church, which resulted in massive fines for some 40 people, the expulsion of three foreign citizens to Russia and two week imprisonment for several participants (see KNS 5 December 2001), and a raid on an Adventist meeting in the town of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou), during which six people were briefly detained and religious publications confiscated (see KNS 7 December 2001). The hosts of both these meetings have been threatened with the loss of their flats, though so far this has not happened. (END)