KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 11.00 13 November 2000

REBUFFED? A team of four foreign Jehovah's Witnesses has been waiting
seven months for a response from Turkmenistan's Brussels embassy in
response to their proposal to visit Turkmenistan to discuss the position of their
community with the authorities. Beatings, detentions and lost jobs are all
reported by believers in Turkmenistan.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Nearly seven months after first presenting a proposal to visit Turkmenistan to
discuss with the authorities the position of the Jehovah's Witness community in
the country, a team of four foreign Jehovah's Witnesses is still waiting for a
response from Turkmenistan's Brussels embassy. The team applied to visit
back in April and met the Turkmen ambassador to Belgium and to the
European Union, Niyazklych Nurklychev, and embassy first secretary Rovshan
Bagiyev, when the aims of the visit were discussed.

In the absence of any follow-up, on 12 July, Bart Staes, a Belgian deputy to the
European Parliament and chairman of the parliamentary co-operation
committee for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan
and Mongolia, wrote to the ambassador to urge him to speed up approval for
the delegation to visit. In the four months since Staes' letter there has been no

The planned delegation, which would consist of John Burns, Lodewijk De Wit,
Drew Holiner and Andrei Zhbanov, intends to `clear up misunderstandings'
about the Jehovah's Witnesses in Turkmenistan, De Wit told Keston from
Brussels on 10 November. `Some of our members there are being treated very
badly, some have been detained, some beaten, fined or dismissed from their
work and some deported.' The delegation aims to convince government
officials that the community in Turkmenistan would obey the law. `Jehovah's
Witnesses are totally different to what they expect and we want to convince
them that we're not dangerous. We need contact with the highest authorities
there.' De Wit declares that the delegation would ideally like to meet President
Saparmurat Niyazov during any visit, but would also seek to meet the foreign
minister and the head of the government's National Institute for Democracy and
Human Rights.

Ambassador Nurklychev told Keston on 10 November that he cannot
remember details of the discussions about the planned visit as they took place
so long ago. `All I know is that the delegation did not go. They themselves
chose not to go.' Told that this differs from the Jehovah's Witness account that
they do indeed wish to go and are still waiting for a response to their
application, Ambassador Nurklychev referred all further enquiries to the first
secretary Bagiyev. However, Bagiyev is away for the next ten days. Asked
whether he would facilitate the planned Jehovah's Witness delegation visit to
Turkmenistan, Nurklychev responded: `We're positive towards all Europeans.
Yes we would consider it positively.'

The Jehovah's Witnesses - like all religious communities apart from those of
the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church - have been refused
registration consistently in Turkmenistan. Government officials insist (although
it is not stated in the country's religion law) that all unregistered religious
activity is illegal. The Jehovah's Witnesses remain determined to end
harassment of their community and achieve legal status by dialogue, despite
the difficulties they are encountering trying to present their case in person to
the Turkmen government. (END)