Issue 3, Article 16, 14 March 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Tuesday 14 March 2000

by Felix Corley and Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow and the Russian
Federation embassy in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad have confirmed to
Keston News Service that they have not been involved in trying to defend the
interests of the Russian citizens deported from Turkmenistan in the past few
days for involvement in religious activity the Turkmen government considers
illegal. The authorities deported one Baptist family last Saturday, with two
further Baptist families apparently in the process of deportation (see KNS 13
March 2000). However, Baptists in Moscow of the Council of Churches of
Evangelical Christians/Baptists told Keston that they had no intention of
appealing to the Russian authorities for support.

ANATOLI BELYAYEV, his wife NATALYA and their daughter were
deported by plane from Ashgabad on 11 March. YURI SENKIN and his family
and VYACHESLAV SHULGIN and his family were taken away from their
homes in the town of Mary southeast of Ashgabad by the political police
(KNB) on 13 March, and are believed to have been placed on a train out of the
country. Two fellow Baptists - also Russian citizens - were deported last year:
ALEKSANDR YEFREMOV and his wife VERA SEMINA were deported
from the town of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou) on 22 December 1999 by
train to the Russian town of Saratov.

The press attache of the Turkmen embassy in Moscow, GRIGORI KOLODIN,
told Keston on 14 March that they had received `no official documents' on the

IGOR MOZGO, a counsellor at the Russian embassy in Ashgabad told Keston
in a telephone interview on 14 March that `this is the first time I have heard of
these deportations' (despite the fact that an official who initially answered the
phone admitted that he had heard rumours of the deportations). `They [the
deported Baptists] did not appeal to us for protection. Who said they were
Russian citizens? Many people who are Russian speakers say they are Russian
citizens.' However, Mozgo did take down the names and details of those
Russian citizens known to have been deported for their involvement in the
Baptist church. `We have a consular agreement with the government of
Turkmenistan,' Mozgo explained. `If a citizen is being deported, the Turkmen
government must inform the Russian embassy and consulate. The Turkmen
government has not done so.' Mozgo indicated that his embassy would take up
these cases if it had confirmation that the individuals are Russian citizens. `In
principle, if they are Russian citizens we would take up their cases with the
Turkmen government through diplomatic channels and find out the reasons for
the deportation. They have the right to appeal to the Russian embassy and
consulate to seek protection. We can then raise the cases with the Turkmen

Officials in Moscow have also denied any knowledge of the deported Baptists.
The press centre of the Russian Foreign Ministry referred Keston to the
Ministry's Third Department, which handles relations with the CIS countries,
including Turkmenistan. After making enquiries an official of the Third
Department told Keston on 14 March that the matter should properly be
addressed to the Human Rights Department within the Ministry. The Human
Rights Department told Keston that they `had no information' about these
deportations and that `no official documents had arrived about them'.

It appears that the Turkmen authorities have failed to inform the Russian
authorities about the deported Baptists as they should do under bilateral
agreements (they have even reportedly refused to give those deported a
certificate of deportation) and the failure of the Baptists themselves to bring
their cases to the attention of the Russian authorities has left them without
support from their own government.

However, a Baptist representative in Moscow expressed no interest in
appealing to the Russian authorities to protect the interests of their fellow-
believers. `Why should we appeal to them? They don't know God,' she
explained to Keston on 14 March. `We have our God - he is our only authority.'

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.