Issue 3, Article 14, 13 March 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Monday 13 March 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

When raiding the Ashgabad church last year, one of the KNB (formerly KGB)
officers said, `First, we'll deport all foreign missionaries, then we'll strangle the
remaining Christians in the country.' Local Baptists fear that now the first stage
of the operation has been nearly completed, the second phase is about to begin.

In the past three days, the Turkmen authorities have taken steps to deport three
further Baptist families from the country to Russia in retaliation for their
involvement with unregistered congregations. ANATOLI BELYAYEV, his
wife NATALYA and their daughter were deported by plane from the capital
Ashgabad on Saturday, 11 March. YURI SENKIN and his family and
VYACHESLAV SHULGIN and his family were taken away from their homes
in the town of Mary southeast of Ashgabad by the political police (KNB)
today, 13 March, and are believed to have been placed on a train out of the
country. By Monday evening, however, Baptist sources in Moscow told
Keston that they had not yet received confirmation that the Senkin and Shulgin
families had arrived in Russia.

Belyayev, who had been arrested on 2 February and held without charge for six
weeks, was reportedly brought straight from the KNB prison in Ashgabad to
the city's airport, was reunited with his wife and daughter and forcibly placed
on an aeroplane bound for Moscow. The family was only given their passports
back while on the plane, according to information reaching the Friedensstimme
Mission in Germany. Baptist sources in Moscow confirmed to Keston on
Saturday evening that the Belyayev family had arrived in the Russian capital.

Belyayev, a leader in the Ashgabad Baptist congregation, which belongs to the
Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, had been threatened
with deportation on his arrest in February, when his passport was confiscated.
Natalya's passport was confiscated when she was placed under house arrest at
the same time. The family had legal residency in Turkmenistan and own their
own home in the city.

Last Friday, 10 March, Senkin and Shulgin were summoned to the office of the
local administration (khyakimlik) in their home town of Mary and told by the
KNB and local officials that they would be deported today, 13 March (see KNS
10 March 2000). The KNB arrived at their homes today in the early morning,
the Friedensstimme Mission reported, and took the whole families away with
their luggage, presumably to the railway station.

Both families - who came to Turkmenistan from elsewhere in the former Soviet
Union in the wake of the country's independence in 1991 - wish to remain in
the country and continue their religious work. Both families had their homes
searched by the KNB in early February at the time ARTYGUL ATAKOVA,
wife of the Baptist prisoner SHAGELDY ATAKOV, was forcibly removed
from the town with her children and sent to the town of Kaakhka. Atakova had
been staying with the Shulgin family in Mary before being removed.

The members of all three families are Russian citizens. Keston tried to contact
the Russian embassy in Ashgabad on 13 March to find out what action it had
taken to protect the interests of these citizens, but was unable to get through.

The Turkmen authorities deported two other leading members of the Baptist
church last December. ALEKSANDR YEFREMOV and his wife VERA
SEMINA (who are Russian citizens) were deported by train from the town of
Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou) on 22 December 1999 by train to the Russian
town of Saratov. VLADIMIR CHERNOV and his wife OLGA (who are
Ukrainian citizens) were deported by plane from Ashgabad to the Ukrainian
capital Kiev two days later.

The Council of Churches is increasingly concerned about what will happen to
native Turkmen Baptists now the majority of Baptists from other former Soviet
republics who had been living in Turkmenistan have been expelled.

Several dozen foreign Christians of other denominations have also been
deported over the past year, as well as the leader of the Hare Krishna
community in the country. (END)