KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 9, Article 10, 12 September 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
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SUMMARY:
Bibles and other Christian material have been confiscated from the senior
Baptist pastor in Turkmenistan twice in the last two months. During the second
incident, he and a colleague were held for 18 hours by Turkmenistan's political
police, the KNB, although when the two men were freed KNB officers were
reportedly unable to find any law that the two had broken. Despite this, the
Bibles and hymn books they had confiscated were not returned to them.

Tuesday 12 September 2000
TURKMENISTAN: DOUBLE CONFISCATION OF `ILLEGAL' BIBLES
FROM BAPTIST PASTOR

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The senior Baptist pastor in Turkmenistan, VASILI KOROBOV, has suffered
the confiscation of Bibles and other Christian materials the Turkmen
authorities considered `illegal' on two separate occasions in the last two
months, Keston News Service has learnt. During the second incident, Korobov
and a colleague were held for 18 hours by Turkmenistan's political police, the
KNB, although when the two men were freed KNB officers were reportedly
unable to find any law that the two had broken. Despite this, the Bibles and
hymn books they had confiscated were not returned to them.

Keston is not aware of any law that prevents residents of Turkmenistan
importing or transporting Christian literature. On 12 September Keston tried to
seek an explanation for the confiscations and the detention of Pastor Korobov
and his colleague from government officials in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad,
calling the government's Council for Religious Affairs, the office of the
Foreign Ministry chief spokesman and the government's National Institute for
Democracy and Human Rights, but the telephones went unanswered at all
three.

Korobov is pastor of the Baptist church in Ashgabad, a church that has existed
since the later Soviet period. The church had registration under the Soviet
regime as a member of the Baptist Union and in independent Turkmenistan,
although it lost that status when it failed to achieve compulsory re-registration
in 1997 in the wake of the
introduction of harsh amendments to the country's law on religion. The church
is still affiliated to the Central Asian Baptist Union based in the Uzbek capital
Tashkent. Pastor Korobov has oversight over other Baptist congregations in
Turkmenistan, none of which has been able to register since 1997.

In the first incident in mid-August, Pastor Korobov was returning by car from
the Netherlands after attending Amsterdam 2000, a conference on evangelism
organised by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. As he crossed Iran the
Iranian authorities drew up a detailed list of all the Christian material he had in
his car, but none of the literature or cassettes was taken. However, when he
reached the border
with Turkmenistan, Turkmen officials confiscated fifteen Russian-language
Bibles, as well as about twenty audio and video cassettes. The cassettes
included Russian-language talks from the Amsterdam conference and a copy of
the `Jesus' film. Pastor Korobov and his passenger were each able to keep two
copies of the Bible `for personal use'. Everything else was confiscated.

Christian literature was again confiscated from Pastor Korobov on 4
September, just after he had finished leading a service in a private flat in the
Caspian port of Turkmenbashi. He and a colleague were just leaving the town
by car when they were stopped at a traffic police check point on the edge of
Turkmenbashi. The traffic police had reportedly received written notification
that they should watch out for Pastor Korobov's car registration number.
Officers of the KNB were immediately called and the two were taken to the
KNB headquarters in the town. There they were locked in an office all night.

The next morning the KNB chief arrived and took them to the KNB in the
regional centre Balkanabad (formerly Nebit-dag). The two were questioned all
day and officers told them their case would be sent to the khokimat (local
administration), where they would be fined. The officers drew up a protocol
detailing the confiscation of `illegal religious literature'. After Pastor Korobov
insisted, the officers changed the text to read `illegal Bibles'. The officers
accused the two of `spreading illegal religious literature', but Pastor Korobov
asked them to clarify which article of the Criminal Code, Administrative Code
or the Constitution he and his colleague had violated. When the officers were
unable to find a suitable charge they were forced to abandon attempts to have
Pastor Korobov and his colleague fined. At 4 pm on 5 September the two
Baptists were released and allowed to return to Ashgabad by car.

However, all the Christian materials they had with them when they were
detained - including 14 Russian-language Bibles and Christian cassettes - were
confiscated. On this occasion, even their personal Bibles and hymn-books were
seized. Also confiscated were personal notebooks. (END)