TURKMENISTAN: 'We Just Want Registration' Says Evicted Adventist.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 18 January 2002

A young Adventist evicted by court order from her flat in the town of Turmenabad (formerly Charjou) last December for hosting religious meetings (see KNS 27 December 2001) has told Keston News Service that all her denomination is asking for is freedom of conscience - to be allowed to register with the Turkmen authorities and to be able to practise their faith in accordance with the law. Speaking on 16 January from her temporary refuge in the Siberian city of Omsk, Marina Ismakayeva pointed out that it is not only the Adventist Church that has suffered because of burdensome registration requirements that make it impossible for minority faiths to gain legal status. "We're not the only ones. The Protestants, the Jehovah's Witnesses and others - all have problems, except for the Muslims and the Russian Orthodox.

"Despite a provision in the law on meetings allowing groups of any sort to notify the local administration of when and where they wish to hold a meeting, Ismakayeva added, religious minority groups are unable to meet legally at all. "This provision doesn't work.

"Ismakayeva, who also goes under her native Tatar name of Maryam, was earlier reported by Adventist sources as being "in shock and very depressed" in the wake of her eviction and her flight from the country. However, speaking from her brother's home, she sounded optimistic about her future, downplaying the importance of the eviction and stressing her fellow believers' simple desire to worship in peace. "In the wake of the 21 December court decision I decided not to appeal," she told Keston. "I calmly collected my things and took them to my parents' house in the city and handed over the keys to the housing office. No-one came to evict me.

"Ismakayeva, who was born and brought up in Turkmenistan but who has both Turkmen and Russian citizenship, added that she had voluntarily decided to leave the country for Russia in the wake of the loss of her home. "I realised it was time for me to leave. However, I could go back to live in Turkmenistan at any time, though not of course in my old flat.

"A meeting of the small Turkmenabad Adventist congregation in Ismakayeva's flat was raided by about 12 officers she presumed were from the political police, the KNB (former KGB), in October 2000 (see KNS 24 October 2000). "They were probably all from the KNB. They didn't identify themselves and I didn't ask. I could have done but didn't. I was warned then that if any further religious meetings were held in my home it would be taken away. It was after all a state-owned flat." She said that she had given a written statement after that meeting to say she would host no further religious meetings. "I realised later I was wrong.

"The meeting last November was raided by five officials from the administrative commission of the hakimlik (local administration), Ismakayeva reported, though she recognised one from the previous raid. The officials said they had received complaints from neighbours about her. She said those attending were detained and she admitted to hosting a religious meeting. "If it wasn't for my faith there wouldn't have been a trial and I wouldn't have lost my home," she added, apparently without bitterness. "The neighbours complained about me, although one of them is an elderly, sick woman who had not read what she signed." Ismakayeva said she had no grudge against these neighbours who had complained against her.Ismakayeva said that at least twice officers of the KNB had told her that if she wanted to practise a faith she could attend the mosque or a Russian Orthodox church. "Otherwise you can just sit at home and believe on your own. You don't need to meet with anyone." She believed many in the KNB are uneasy at their role in repressing believers. "They're human."Viktor Krushenitsky, public affairs and religious liberty director for the Adventist Church in Euro-Asia, told Keston from Moscow on 16 January that Ismakayeva was the first Adventist in Turkmenistan to be evicted from a private home for hosting religious meetings, although the Turkmen authorities have deployed this punishment against members of other minority faiths. The authorities in the capital Ashgabad bulldozed the newly-built Adventist church in November 1999 and have also destroyed Hare Krishna temples, at least one mosque and confiscated Baptist and Pentecostal churches. (END)