KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 3, Article 18, 15March 2000
Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
Wednesday 15 March 2000
TURKMEN BAPTIST TO CELEBRATE BIRTHDAY IN PUNISHMENT
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
Imprisoned Turkmen Baptist SHAGELDY ATAKOV is set to celebrate his
38th birthday on 19 March in the labour camp punishment cell. According to
information reaching the Friedensstimme Mission in Germany, he has been
sentenced to one month in the punishment cell (known as a `kartser' in Russian)
and the term has already begun, although the reason for the punishment and the
date the term started are not yet known.
Although Keston News Service has not been able to verify the report of
Atakov's new punishment independently, information from sources within the
Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists have a long track
record of reliability.
Atakov is serving a sentence in a labour camp in Seydy near Turkmenistan's
north eastern border with Uzbekistan for his involvement in an unregistered
Baptist congregation in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi. This is the
second time Atakov is known to have been sent to the prison cell within the
camp. Last December he was sentenced to a fifteen day punishment term for
refusing to swear the daily oath of loyalty to the Turkmen president
SAPARMURAT NIYAZOV required of all prisoners (see KNS 28 January
Atakov - who is married with five children - was arrested in his home in
Turkmenbashi in December 1998. He was sentenced in August 1999 to four
years' imprisonment by a court in the capital Ashgabad and was fined an
astronomical sum of $12,000. Average wages in Turkmenistan are no more
than $30 a month. The trial was called after prosecutors complained that the
punishment handed down at Atakov's first trial in March 1999 was too lenient.
At the March trial he had been sentenced to two years in labour camp and a
$12,000 fine under Article 228 of the Criminal Code, which covers swindling.
The heavy fine reportedly related to the compensation the prosecutor believed
Atakov owed in view of the car he was alleged to have taken.
The charges - which members of his church say were fraudulent -related 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 present-day
Turkmenistan, it does not have state registration. Local Baptists suggest that
the charges against Atakov, an ethnic convert to Christianity, were designed to
halt his preaching activity in the Turkmenbashi congregation.
Since Atakov's arrest and imprisonment, his wife ARTYGUL and family have
been singled out for punitive action by the Turkmen authorities.Artygul and
their five children were forcibly subjected to `internal deportation' (without
judicial sanction) in early February from the town of Mary to the town of
Kaakhka on the orders of the political police, the National Security Committee
(KNB, formerly the KGB). Since their arrival and `village arrest' in Kaakhka,
many other relatives of Atakov have been subjected to harassment, even those
who are not Baptists (see KNS 14 February 2000).
Atakov's brother CHARIYAR, also a Baptist, was arrested in Kaakhka on 3
March and was sentenced to fifteen days' administrative arrest, apparently on
charges of `disobeying the authorities' (see KNS 7 March 2000).
Shageldy Atakov's labour camp address:
746222 Lebapskaya obl.,