Monday 14 February 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Ten days after being subjected to `internal deportation', the wife of Turkmen
Baptist prisoner SHAGILDY ATAKOV has been placed under `village arrest'
and remains under tight surveillance. During the deportation she was subjected
to threats in a bid to force her to abandon her Baptist faith and convert to Islam.
Atakov's family have also been placed under pressure from the secret police. In
a separate case, local Baptists in Turkmenistan fear that ANATOLI
BELYAYEV, arrested on 2 February, may face deportation (dozens of non-
Turkmen Christians have already been deported from the country). Belyayev's
wife has been placed under house arrest.

In a statement of 12 February, passed to Keston News Service both by the
Friedensstimme Mission in Germany and the US-based Russian Evangelistic
Ministries, local Baptists in Turkmenistan report in greater detail the
deportation of ARTYGUL ATAKOVA, Shagildy's wife, and their five children
from the town of Mary to the village of Kaakhka on 3 February (see KNS 3 and
4 February). After being ordered expelled from Mary by the local chief of the
National Security Committee (KNB, former KGB), Atakova was transported to
Kaakhka via the town of Tedjen, where she was interrogated by a KNB officer
who had specially arrived from the Turkmen capital Ashgabad. `They held
Artygul there for more than three hours,' the Baptists write in their 12 February
statement, `and threatened to send her to prison if she did not renounce her
Christian faith. They tried to force her with threats to sign a statement that she
was renouncing her Christian faith and that she would confess Islam.' Atakova
refused. `Then they handed her over to the KNB officials of the village of
Kaakhka with instructions to crush her at any cost. They promised to speak to
her again, keep her under their control and she cannot leave the village to go

The KNB has more than once threatened to imprison Atakova solely on the
grounds of her Christian belief, although no articles of Turkmenistan's
administrative or criminal codes specifically criminalise the holding of
Christian beliefs. However, KNB pressure has not been confined to Artygul
Atakova. Since her forced arrival in the village - where many members of
Shagildy's family live - the KNB have summoned the non-Christian relatives,
some of whom have already been demoted from responsible positions at work.
`They forced them to write a renunciation of the Baptist faith, which they did,'
the Baptists write. `By these actions the KNB officers aroused indignation and
hostility on the part of Shagildy's non-believing sisters towards his wife, two
convert brothers and the church. Shagildy's own brother, KHOSHGELDY, was
forced to resign from his job under pressure from the KNB. For three days
KNB officers tried to turn him against the believers and Shagildy's mother.'
Family ties are highly important in Turkmen society and it appears the
authorities are trying to use relatives to pressure Artygul and Shagildy to
abandon their Christian faith.

The Friedensstimme Mission also reported on 10 February from sources in the
Baptist church in Turkmenistan that a younger brother of Shagildy's was found
hanged the previous week. The circumstances of his death remain unclear, but
KNB officers arrived on the scene immediately.

Meanwhile, the 12 February statement from Turkmen Baptists reports that
ANATOLI BELYAYEV, a leading member of the Ashgabad Baptist
congregation, remains in detention, ten days after his arrest in the capital (see
KNS 3, 4 and 8 February). Local Baptists reported earlier that they feared the
KNB was preparing a `fabricated' case against him on unspecified motoring
charges. However, now they fear that the authorities have changed their mind.
`They are threatening to deport him from the country.' The Baptists add that
Anatoli's wife, NATALYA BELYAYEVA, has had her passport taken away
from her and is being held under house arrest at their home in the capital.

These Baptists congregations belong to the Council of Churches of Evangelical
Christians/Baptists, which refused registration during the Soviet era and has
declined to register its congregations in any of the republics of the former
Soviet Union since 1991.

Although Keston has not been able to verify the information in the Baptists'
statements independently, similar statements issued over the past decades
through the Council of Churches - the denomination's central body - have
proved to have a very high level of accuracy.

The Turkmen authorities have permitted only the officially-approved Sunni
Muslim Board and the local branch of the Russian Orthodox Church to gain
registration since 1997, when all other religious groups that had registration
had it revoked. Although Turkmen legislation does not specifically outlaw
unregistered religious activity, the authorities consider such religious activity
illegal. They have detained believers, raided worship services, deported non-
citizens involved in religious activity, fined believers and demolished places of
worship in their attempts to stamp out all traces of religious activity outside the
framework of the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church.

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000