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Friday 28 May

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The Kyrgyz authorities disrupted an evangelistic meeting held by Baptists on 20 May in the town of Kyzyl Kiya in Osh region of south western Kyrgyzstan, detaining and fining participants. According to a report from the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries, quoting information from the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, the authorities detained ten of the participants - who were from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - for conducting the evangelistic service. They were fined 120 soms each (one month's average wage). As collateral for payment, the authorities took away their passports and illegally drove them across the border into neighbouring Uzbekistan.

`The believers from the church in Kyzyl Kiya ask others to pray and to send letters of petition for the return of the confiscated passports and about the preaching of the Gospel in their town without hindrance,' the Council of Churches reports. In particular they call for appeals to the Kyrgyz President ASKAR AKAYEV, and the procurator in Kyzyl Kiya, M.A. ASHIMOV.

The Kyrgyz authorities frequently expel without due process anyone originally from Uzbekistan conducting activities in Kyrgyzstan that they do not approve of. Those expelled have included Muslim missionaries, political activists and refugees from Afghanistan. However, in this case those expelled appear to have included citizens of Kyrgyzstan itself and Tajikistan. (END)

Friday 28 May

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A Turkmen Baptist sentenced to two years' imprisonment in a labour camp in March (see 21 April KNS �Baptist Imprisoned on Swindling charges��) is set to face a new trial after the procurator complained the sentence was too lenient. He and the prosecuting lawyer claimed the investigation against SHAGILDY ATAKOV, a member of the Baptist church in the port city of Turkmenbashi, had not been thorough enough and that the sentence he received was too mild. They appealed to the court, which has granted a new trial. Apparently no date has been set yet.

There is concern among Baptists in Turkmenistan that the National Security Committee (KNB, the former KGB), which is currently conducting a crackdown against Protestant Christians, is behind the move to retry the case. `Christians in Turkmenistan fear that the decision of the court to take the case back directly results from KNB pressure,' the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries reports. `These things usually do not occur in Turkmenistan.' The group also reports that Atakov continued to be beaten in prison even after he was handed down his sentence.

An official of the government's Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs in Ashgabat, contacted by telephone on 26 May, claimed to have no information about the case. The official, who did not give his name, told Keston News Service: `Such cases do not happen here.'

Atakov - who is married with five children - was arrested last December and sentenced on 19 March in the Koptedag district court in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on charges of `swindling' under Article 228 of the Criminal Code (which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment and confiscation of property). In addition to receiving the two-year labour camp term Atakov was also reportedly fined the equivalent of 12,000 dollars. The charges - which members of his church say are fraudulent - relate to his activities as a car trader before he became a Christian and joined the Baptist congregation in Turkmenbashi. The congregation belongs to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejected state control during the Soviet period. Like all non-Orthodox churches in today's Turkmenistan it does not have state registration.

In what appears to have been a separate case, Shagildy's brother CHARIYAR ATAKOV and fellow Baptist ANATOLI BELYAYEV were stopped at a police checkpoint along the Ashgabat-Dashkhovuz highway on 17 April, when Turkmen Bibles were discovered in their car. After officials had quizzed the two about their faith, they confiscated all their books and papers, including address books. The men were told that the Baptist faith was `forbidden' in Turkmenistan and escorted the last 60 miles to Dashkhovuz, where they were interrogated separately at the National Security Committee.

According to a report from the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, Atakov was beaten severely for refusing to give information about the church, repeatedly punched in the stomach and his head banged against the wall. When a drunk security officer later intensified the beating, Atakov reportedly told him he was `prepared to be martyred' for his faith. The beating stopped abruptly and thetwo were locked in a cold room for the night.

The next morning, their families some 400 miles away in Kaakhka were questioned by security officers about the men's faith.

That same morning a security colonel told Atakov and Belyayev that there was an order not to release them in Dashkhovuz, but he declined to say from whom. The confiscated Bibles and books were not returned, nor were Atakonv and Belyayev issued a document confirming their confiscation. The two were told it was allowed to have a copy of the Bible in one's personal library, but not to travel around the country with it. Shortly afterwards the two were dropped outside the city of Dashkhovuz at the side of the road.

Meanwhile, Compass Direct reports that more than 100 citizens have been called in for questioning about the activity of expatriate Christians living in the country. In April the authorities refused to renew the residence permits of two foreign families working in Ashgabat and one of the families who described themselves as `active Christians' was forcibly expelled on 22 April.

Ever since the tightening up of legislation on religion and subsequent compulsory reregistration in early 1997, only the Russian Orthodox Church and the officially sanctioned Muslims were able to gain reregistration for their congregations. All other religious communities which had official registration were deprived of it. Legislation now requires religious groups to have 500 members before they can apply for registration, and even then there is no guarantee that they will receive it.

The official at the Gengeshi for Religious Affairs contacted by Keston on 26 May referred all enquiries about Turkmenistan's policy on registering religious communities to the Ministry of Justice, but declined to give contact details of officials in the ministry who deal with registration. He said that the Gengeshi did have statistics on the number of registered religious communities in Turkmenistan, but refused to give the figures. `I don't know who you are,' he told Keston. (END)