KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 19 March 2001

I. TURKMENISTAN: AUTHORITIES RESETTLE FAMILY IN CLOSED
BAPTIST CHURCH. The authorities of the Niyazov district of the Turkmen
capital Ashgabad have reportedly resettled a family in the city's closed
Baptist church, Keston News Service has learnt. Church members
discovered the family there on 11 March. No Turkmen official was prepared
to comment to Keston on the matter, which appears to be an attempt by the
authorities to prevent the Baptists from ever regaining use of the church.

II. TURKMENISTAN: WEEK-LONG DETENTION OF KRISHNA
DEVOTEES. Seven Hare Krishna devotees arrested at a wedding in the
town of Mary have been freed after a week in the hands of Turkmenistan's
political police, the KNB (former KGB). They had been warned not to meet
in public, even at weddings of friends or relatives. Hare Krishna sources
have confirmed to Keston News Service that the seven were released on 17
March. Meanwhile in the capital Ashgabad, an altar at the house formerly
used as the Hare Krishna temple is to be destroyed by the local authorities.

I. TURKMENISTAN: AUTHORITIES RESETTLE FAMILY IN CLOSED
BAPTIST CHURCH

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The authorities of the Niyazov district of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad
have reportedly resettled a family in the city's closed Baptist church, Keston
News Service has learnt. The church was sealed by the local authorities on
17 February to halt the church's services being held there and on 2 March the
authorities broke their own seals and stripped the building of all furnishings,
carting them away on a lorry (see KNS 2 March 2001). Church members
discovered the new family was living in the house when they came to look at
their church on 11 March, but the family failed to open the door when they
knocked to enquire why they were living in church property without
permission. The resettling of a family in the building appears to be an
attempt by the authorities to prevent the Baptists from ever regaining use of
the church.

Officials of the Niyazov district khyakimlik (administration), contacted by
telephone on 19 March, declined to explain why the family had been
resettled in property that belongs to the Baptist church. Muhammed
Kerimov, a senior aide to the local khyakim, four times claimed the
telephone line was too poor for him to hear Keston's questions, although
Keston could hear him perfectly. Contacted the same day, an official of the
administrative department of the khyakimlik passed on Keston's questions to
her colleagues sitting in the same room, but after a hasty discussion among
themselves in Turkmen she simply put the phone down. The telephone of
Maksat Yazmuradov, head of the khyakimlik's special administrative group
which sealed the church in February, went unanswered on 19 March.

Keston decided not to telephone the church's pastor Vasili Korobov in order
not to increase official pressure on him.

It is believed that the sealing, seizure of the church's movable property and
seizure of the building itself were all undertaken without any court sanction.

The Ashgabad Baptist Church, which had registration in the later Soviet
period and in the early years of Turkmen independence, lost its legal status
in May 1997 after failing to gain re-registration required under the terms of
the harsh 1996 religion law. Government officials repeatedly claim that
religious activity without official registration is illegal, despite the fact that
no such provision appears in any published law. All other Baptist Union
churches in the country have also been closed down. (END)

II. TURKMENISTAN: WEEK-LONG DETENTION OF KRISHNA
DEVOTEES

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Seven Hare Krishna devotees arrested at a wedding in the town of Mary
have been freed after a week in the hands of Turkmenistan's political police,
the KNB (former KGB). Hare Krishna sources have confirmed to Keston
News Service that the seven were released on 17 March. Meanwhile, the
authorities of the Niyazov district of the capital Ashgabad have told devotees
they will destroy an altar and an outbuilding to a private home where it is
located, claiming that the outbuilding has been built without permission.
Other outbuildings to the home - which was used as the Hare Krishna temple
until the authorities banned this last November - have already been
demolished by local authority workers. `These actions have clearly been
taken to destroy the activity of our communities,' a Hare Krishna source told
Keston.

The seven devotees in Mary attended the wedding of a relative of a devotee
named Akmyrat Orazmyradov (religious name, Akinchana Chaitanya das)
on 10 March, despite earlier warnings from KNB and khyakimlik (local
administration) officials that they should not attend any religious meetings in
private homes, appear in public or even attend weddings of friends and
relatives. The KNB and the police swooped on the wedding, seizing the
seven in front of the other guests and taking them off to the KNB prison in
the town. Five of the seven have been identified as Tirkish Kelov, Tirkish
Ovezov, Begmyrat Amanov and Arslan Mommadov, in addition to
Orazmyradov. Although they were accused of violating public order, none of
the seven was fined.

One source told Keston the devotees were detained for violating a recently-
enacted secret order banning more than two members of any religious
community apart from the Muslims and Russian Orthodox (the only two
communities with registration) from meeting. Keston has been unable to
obtain confirmation that such an order exists, but both the KNB and police
have broken up numerous meetings of unregistered religious communities
whose activity they deem illegal.

Meanwhile, officials of the Niyazov district khyakimlik (administration) in
Ashgabad, contacted by telephone on 19 March, declined to explain why the
city's Hare Krishna temple was being subjected to such treatment while no
action was apparently being taken against other illegally-built extensions in
the neighbourhood. Muhammed Kerimov, a senior aide to the local khyakim,
four times claimed the telephone line was too poor for him to hear Keston's
questions, although Keston could hear him perfectly. Contacted the same
day, an official of the administrative department of the khyakimlik passed on
Keston's questions to her colleagues sitting in the same room, but after a
hasty discussion among themselves in Turkmen she simply put the phone
down. The telephone of Maksat Yazmuradov, head of the khyakimlik's
special administrative group which sealed the city's Baptist church in
February, went unanswered on 19 March.

The Ashgabad Hare Krishna community has long been subject to official
harassment. Hare Krishna sources have told Keston that the KNB and police
raided a meeting at the temple last November, taking names and passport
details of all those attending. A bus was summoned to take 20 devotees away
and 15 of them were held in prison for three days, where they were
reportedly insulted for their beliefs. All those held were reportedly visitors to
Ashgabad from other parts of the country. The 15 were each given an
administrative fine of one month's minimum wage at a hearing on the same
day that Pentecostal pastor Viktor Makrousov was fined for religious
activity. One of the Hare Krishna devotees, Murat Uraev (religious name,
Misra Bhagavan das) was threatened that if he takes part in unregistered
religious activity again he will face criminal charges and a prison sentence of
up to three years.

During the raid, KNB and police officers warned the community not to hold
any further meetings at the temple.

It is not yet known if the outbuilding, which measures 15 by 6 metres and
contains the altar, has yet been demolished. However, in the wake of the
November raid local authorities workers demolished two other outbuildings
to the home, one containing a dining room and the other a bathroom, both
used by the community for religious purposes. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.