Issue 5, Article 20, 23 May 2000

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

Tuesday 23 May 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The last Russian Baptist missionary in Turkmenistan, VITALI TERESHIN,
who had remained in hiding in the wake of a deportation order last March, has
been located by Turkmenistan's political police, the National Security
Committee (KNB), and expelled to Russia, a month after his wife and their
child were deported. The Tereshins' deportation brought to six the number of
Baptist missionary families deported from Turkmenistan between December
1999 and April of this year as part of a concerted plan by the Turkmen
government to expel all foreigners suspected of working with local religious
communities. All six families, who belonged to unregistered congregations of
the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, had legal residency
in Turkmenistan.

Officials of the visa and registration office came to the Tereshin family home
in Dashkhovuz in the far north of Turkmenistan on 22 March and informed
them of their deportation the following day, without citing any reason or
showing any official instruction ordering the deportation (see KNS 23 March
2000). On 23 March, Tereshin's wife and their child were deported to Russia,
but Vitali Tereshin went into hiding to evade deportation.

However, Tereshin was detained by KNB officers at his home and deported to
Russia on 16 April. `Vitali remained in hiding, keeping a low profile, as he
continued ministering to the spiritual needs of new believers,' the US-based
Russian Evangelistic Ministries told Keston News Service on 22 May. `He was
arrested at his home (which was abandoned after his family was deported),
taken to the train station and deported from Turkmenistan. By 18 April, he
arrived by train in his hometown of Saratov, Russia.'

The Tereshins were frequently harassed for their activity in the Dashkhovuz
Baptist church. Their home was raided on 13 February by KNB officers, who
declared a religious meeting unlawful, issued a fine, summoned Vitali Tereshin
to the KNB station and confiscated his passport.

Although congregations of the Council of Churches have long faced
harassment, a policy of deporting foreign members of the church began late last
year. 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 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

ANATOLI BELYAYEV, his wife NATALYA and their daughter (all Russian
citizens) were deported by plane from the capital Ashgabad on 11 March.
YURI SENKIN, his wife TATYANA and their young daughter (also Russian
citizens), who lived in Mary, were deported by train to Russia on 13 March,
while VYACHESLAV SHULGIN, his wife OKSANA and their four children
(also Russian citizens), who also lived in Mary, were deported by train to
Russia on 19 March.

Officials at the government's Council for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad have
consistently declined absolutely to discuss with Keston the issue of the
deportation of Baptists.

Turkmen officials had openly declared that they would deport all foreign
Baptists and then `strangle' local Baptists. Now that all the foreign Baptists
have indeed been deported, it remains to be seen what further measures the
Turkmen authorities will take against local Baptists.

Foreign citizens of other faiths have also been deported in the last year. On 17
August 1999, ALEKSANDR PRINKUR, an Uzbek citizen who had led the
Hare Krishna community in Ashgabad since 1995, was deported (see KNS 8
September 1999). On 11 December 1999 RAMIL GALIMOV, a member of a
Jehovah's Witness community in Kizyl-Arvat who held dual Russian-Turkmen
citizenship, was forcibly placed on the Moscow train at Gazachak station and
expelled, leaving his wife LIDIYA behind in Ashgabad. Galimov was removed
from the train two days later when it reached Saratov in Russia, where he was
left on the platform with his Turkmen passport (which the KNB had handed to
the train conductor) and only the clothes he stood up in. Galimov had been
detained two weeks earlier - reportedly without a warrant or formal charge -
before being deported. His Turkmen passport was confiscated. Law-
enforcement officers reportedly beat him severely while he was in detention.

Several dozen citizens of Western countries suspected of contacts with local
Christian churches were expelled or failed to have residence permits renewed
in the last few months of 1999 and the first few months of this year.

Turkmen officials also routinely threaten Turkmen citizens who are activists of
unregistered faiths - including Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses - with
deportation. Only Muslims affiliated with the state-approved Muslim Board
and the Russian Orthodox have state registration in Turkmenistan. The
government treats all other religious activity as illegal, despite the absence of
any published law specifically banning unregistered religious activity. (END)