KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 22 February 2001

I. TURKMENISTAN: AUTHORITIES SEAL LAST OPEN BAPTIST
CHURCH. The authorities of the Niyazov district of the Turkmen capital
Ashgabad have sealed the city's Baptist church without warning. Two seals
were placed on the church doors last Saturday, 17 February. This may be a
prelude to moves to confiscate the church, the latest phase of Turkmenistan's
attempts to crush its Protestant minority.

II. TURKMENISTAN: UPDATE ON PROTESTANT CHURCH RAID.
After the 2 February raid on a meeting of Ashgabad�s New Life church (see
KNS 12 February 2001), all 24 people attending were detained overnight.
They were warned not to attend meetings of the church in future, and five of
them were reportedly fined 250,000 manats each (one month's average
wages) under Article 205 of the Administrative Code, a Soviet-era provision
which punishes unregistered religious activity.

I. TURKMENISTAN: AUTHORITIES SEAL LAST OPEN BAPTIST
CHURCH

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The authorities of the Niyazov district of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad
have sealed the city's Baptist church without warning. The church's pastor
Vasily Korobov told Keston News Service from Ashgabad on 21 February
that two seals were placed on the church doors last Saturday, 17 February,
although no official gave the church any notice of the impending action or
even informed them of it. The sealing of the doors may be a prelude to
moves to confiscate the church, the latest phase of Turkmenistan's attempts
to crush its Protestant minority. `We avoided the trouble earlier - they were
not so harsh on us as they were on the others,' Pastor Korobov declared,
referring to raids on other Protestant churches and attempts to confiscate the
city's Pentecostal church. `But now they've turned on us.'

Keston has been unable to reach officials at the Niyazov district
administration to enquire why the church has been sealed and what further
action is intended.

`The night-watchman left on the Saturday morning as usual,' Pastor Korobov
reported, `and no-one was in the church during the day. The seals were
discovered when the night-watchman arrived again in the evening. We were
not told this had been done - I was here at home and no-one called me.' The
church decided not to break the seals to gain entrance the following day to
hold the Sunday service, as it feared being accused of breaking the law. The
church was forced to meet in a private home.

Pastor Korobov reported that he intends to go to the khyakimlik (local
administration) of the Niyazov district to find out why the church (at 1st
Tsyolkovsky street 15) has been sealed and why the authorities have given
no explanation of the action. `But I'm not hurrying to go to meet them as
they will only find new excuses to cause problems. I'm inclined to wait for
them to come.'

Baptist sources told Keston that the sealing of the church came a week after
the Sunday service on 11 February was raided by the political police, the
KNB (former KGB). KNB officers swooped in the middle of a hymn, but the
20-strong congregation continued to sing despite the interruption and went
on to complete the service. KNB officers took the names and passport details
of all those present and told them not to attend the church again. `Next time
we will take more serious measures,' they warned those present.

Pastor Korobov rejects any suggestion that the state authorities have the right
to determine the fate of their building, which is owned by the congregation.
`We have the right to deal with our own property under the law.' The
authorities are reportedly claiming that as the church does not have
registration (like all Protestant churches in Turkmenistan it lost state
registration in the compulsory re-registration drive in 1997 that followed the
adoption the previous year of a harsh new law on religion) its use for
religious worship is illegal. The authorities claim that if the church does not
dispose of the building within three years the property will revert to the state,
something the church vigorously rejects.

The Ashgabad Baptist church - which is a member of the Central Asian
Baptist Union - has functioned for more than a decade. The authorities last
year closed all the other Baptist Union churches in the country, including
those in Mary and Balkanabad (formerly Nebit-dag) (see KNS 4 April
2000). They have long been planning to close down the Ashgabad church
too, disputing its ownership. However, Pastor Korobov insists any legal
quibbles over ownership were settled some years ago and the congregation is
the full owner. (END)

II. TURKMENISTAN: UPDATE ON PROTESTANT CHURCH RAID

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Keston News Service has learnt from sources in Ashgabad that in the wake
of the raid in the evening of 2 February on a meeting of the city's New Life
church (see KNS 12 February 2001), all 24 people attending were detained
through the night and not freed until the following morning. They were
warned not to attend meetings of the church in future, and five of them were
reportedly fined 250,000 manats each (one month's average wages) under
Article 205 of the Administrative Code, a Soviet-era provision which
punishes unregistered religious activity.

The raid on the New Life church was staged by police, officers of
Turkmenistan's political police, the KNB (formerly the KGB), and officials
of the khyakimlik (local administration) of the city's Niyazov district.

The New Life church - which meets in a private home - does not have
registration with the government. Although Turkmenistan's religion law
guarantees freedom to hold religious meetings in private homes and does not
forbid unregistered religious activity, the government treats all such activity
as illegal.

Turkmenistan's religious policy is the most repressive of all the former
Soviet republics and Protestant Christians are among religious groups whose
activity is deemed illegal. Only communities of the Sunni Muslim Board and
the Russian Orthodox Church have been allowed to gain state recognition.
Almost all Protestant churches - including the Baptists, Pentecostals and
Adventists - as well as communities of Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna
devotees and Bahais have faced severe pressure in the past four years in a
bid to stamp out their activities. Groups that have been prevented from
reviving their activity in the country include the Lutherans, Jews and the
Armenian Apostolic Church. The Catholic Church is only able to conduct
religious activity on Vatican diplomatic territory. (END)

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