KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 20 June 2001

TURKMENISTAN: BIBLES BANNED FROM BOOK TRADE? Copies of
the Bible may no longer be sold through the book trade, sources in
Turkmenistan have told Keston News Service. A letter was reportedly sent
in March to the directors of bookshops and companies running street book
stalls banning such sales and reports say copies of the Bible in both Turkmen
and Russian have disappeared from shops and stalls. The Koran was not
mentioned in the letter and is still on sale widely.

TURKMENISTAN: BIBLES BANNED FROM BOOK TRADE?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Copies of the Bible may no longer be sold through the book trade, sources in
Turkmenistan have told Keston News Service. A letter was reportedly sent
in March to the directors of bookshops and companies running street book
stalls banning such sales and reports say copies of the Bible in both Turkmen
and Russian have disappeared from shops and stalls. The Koran was not
mentioned in the letter and is still on sale widely. Although the ban on Bible
sales was reported by reliable sources, Keston has been unable to establish
which agency issued the instruction and has not seen a copy of the letter.

Father Andrei Sapunov, a Russian Orthodox priest and simultaneously a
deputy chairman of the government's Gengeshi (Council) for Religious
Affairs responsible for Christian affairs, was unavailable either at the
Gengeshi or at his cathedral on 19 and 20 June, and no other Gengeshi
official was prepared to speak to Keston by telephone to explain whether
such a ban on Bibles in the retail book trade had been issued and, if so, why.

Until the ban, Bibles were reportedly sold openly for about 100,000 to
120,000 manats (some five US dollars at the street exchange rate), the same
price that is charged in bookstalls at Russian Orthodox churches (the only
Christian churches allowed to function in Turkmenistan). `This price is
expensive, but it was surprising how often Bibles were available,' one
Christian told Keston.

It is not clear why the Bible - the holy book of one of Turkmenistan's two
legal faiths - has apparently been banned from the retail trade. It also
remains unclear whether holy books of unregistered faiths trying to function
in Turkmenistan - such as the Bhagavad-Gita holy to the Hare Krishna faith
or the teachings of the founder of the Bahais, Baha'u'llah - were also banned
in the March letter.

Bookshops and stalls do not normally sell any other kind of religious
literature, although books imported from Russia on the occult and themes
such as extra-sensory perception are widely available.

A worker at the Russian Orthodox Voskresensky cathedral in Ashgabad told
Keston by telephone on 20 June that although the cathedral has a bookstall,
no Bibles are currently on sale there. `Sometimes we have copies, sometimes
we don't,' the worker added. `They are very difficult to get hold of as we
don't publish or print here. We import Bibles from the diocese in [the Uzbek
capital] Tashkent, but there are no regular deliveries. It just depends on
someone going somewhere and bringing back copies on an individual basis.'
The worker added that other literature is currently available in the bookstall,
such as prayer books and booklets on how to prepare to receive the
sacraments.

The worker confirmed that the bookstall sells books to anyone who wishes
to buy them. `We don't ask if they are Armenian Christians or Baptists, for
example.' Both the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Baptist Church are
among the faiths the government deems illegal. The worker did not know
about the supply of Christian literature in Ashgabad's two other Russian
Orthodox churches, the only other legal Christian places of worship in the
capital. (END)