KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 7, Articles 9-10, 14 July 2000

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

I. TURKMEN SECRET AGENT TRIES TO ENTRAP KESTON VISITOR
The Keston representative appeared at the agreed time and place to discuss
Bahai believers - but was struck by how little his interlocutor knew. She also
seemed more interested in developing a social relationship than in discussing
religious freedom.

II. TURKMENISTAN CONTINUES HARSH MEASURES AGAINST
PROTESTANTS. A recent visit by a Keston News Service representative to
Turkmenistan found that this southernmost former Soviet republic is still
actively persecuting Protestant Christians both as congregations and as
individuals. Keston heard repeated accounts of police raids on worship
services, confiscations of Bibles and other religious literature, commands to
pastors from the secular authorities to stop holding religious gatherings, and
reprisals against believers at their places of work or study.

Friday 14 July 2000
TURKMEN SECRET AGENT TRIES TO ENTRAP KESTON VISITOR

by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service

During his recent visit to Turkmenistan a Keston News Service representative
had several experiences reminiscent of the pre-glasnost Soviet Union. One of
these began on 7 July when he was briefly introduced to an employee of the US
Embassy who is a Turkmen citizen and member of the Bahai faith. This
employee offered to meet him the next day and introduce him to local members
of that faith.

The Keston representative appeared at the agreed time and place on 8 July and
began asking questions about local Bahais - but was struck by how little his
interlocutor knew. She said that her group of co-religionists was led by one
`Pyotr Sergeyevich', but that she could not remember his last name. (She also
seemed more interested in developing a social relationship than in discussing
religious freedom.) On the Keston representative's insistence she agreed to take
him to this leaders' flat, but when they arrived it appeared that he was not there.
She then abruptly rushed off, leaving the Keston representative standing alone
on the street.

Keston returned to the flat the next day and asked a neighbour about `Pyotr
Sergeyevich'. The reply was that no such person had ever lived there. On 10
July the Keston representative visited the US embassy, called on the employee
whom he had first met briefly on 7 July - and immediately realised that this
was not the same person who met him on 8 July. The employee said that she
had phoned the Keston representative's hotel to leave a message telling him
that the 8 July meeting could not take place as scheduled. That message,
however, was never transmitted. The Keston representative concluded that the
impostor who met him on 8 July was an agent of the KNB - the renamed, but
not reformed, Turkmen branch of the old Soviet KGB. (END)

Friday 14 July 2000
TURKMENISTAN CONTINUES HARSH MEASURES AGAINST
PROTESTANTS

by Lawrence A. Uzzell, Keston News Service

A recent visit by a Keston News Service representative to Turkmenistan found
that this southernmost former Soviet republic is still actively persecuting
Protestant Christians both as congregations and as individuals. Keston heard
repeated accounts of police raids on worship services, confiscations of Bibles
and other religious literature, commands to pastors from the secular authorities
to stop holding religious gatherings, and reprisals against believers at their
places of work or study. (To minimise the risk of making individual sources
more vulnerable to still harsher measures, Keston chooses not to identify them
publicly by name.)

In classic Soviet style, the Turkmen authorities deny any such practices even
though it is clear that they are part of a systematic, centralised strategy. The
authorities often simply ignore written requests or petitions from believers.
They usually make their threats orally rather than in writing - for example,
warning that they will close and seal a prayer house if worshippers continue to
gather there. One source said that an official had told him orally that a local
branch of the world-wide United Bible Societies would never receive
registration in Turkmenistan no matter how many signatures it gathered.

In November 1999 the authorities in the republic's capital Ashgabat physically
demolished the newly built church of the local Seventh Day Adventist
congregation (see KNS 26 November 1999). (As far as Keston knows, this is
the only case in which a state agency has deliberately destroyed a Christian
church building anywhere in all of the former Soviet Union since the formal
end of the Soviet system in 1991.) The
reason given at the time was the need to build a new road (see KNS 21 January
2000); that reason was still invoked when Keston asked an official of the
government's Council for Religious Affairs about the Adventists on 11 July.
When Keston pointed out to CRA staff consultant MERED CHARIYAROV
that there had been no further progress on this alleged road-building project
during the eight months since the
building was forcibly torn down, he hastily reversed course and disclaimed all
knowledge of the subject.

Ethnic Turkmen who embrace Protestantism are subject to especially heavy
pressures. One source told Keston that the authorities orally told his
congregation that they should not include Turkmen names among the
signatures on any application for state registration. Turkmenistan's law requires
500 such signatures - by far the highest such barrier in all of the former Soviet
Union - and this oral requirement makes that barrier even more formidable
since the ethnic-Russian share of the republic's populace has dropped from 15
percent to 3 percent over the last decade. (Some believe that the true figure is
now only 2 percent.)

Individual Protestant believers have repeatedly experienced threats of dismissal
from their jobs unless they agreed to stop participating in worship services, and
sometimes these threats have been carried out. In one case described to Keston,
a believer lost her flat as well since she held it as a benefit connected with her
job. In another instance a schoolteacher resigned `voluntarily' after pressure
from her school director, who told her orally that if necessary some formal
pretext other than religion would be found.

The secular authorities have repeatedly told believers that Protestant worship
services will not be tolerated even in private homes - even though CRA official
Chariyarov denied to Keston that any such prohibition exists and even though
there is no basis in Turkmenistan's laws for it. In practice, however, Baptists,
Adventists, Pentecostals and other Protestants have continued such activities.
(The Baptists and Pentecostals still have `prayer houses' originally built as
private homes; the now-destroyed Adventist building had been Ashgabat's only
purpose-built Protestant church.) One source told Keston that both the Ministry
of Justice and the Council for Religious Affairs had orally demanded that such
gatherings be halted and had threatened to take away his congregation's prayer
house. Another said that he had been told that he could pray alone at home, or
even together with his wife, but that as soon as they invited someone from
outside the family - even just one person - they would be going beyond the
permitted limits.

Though Protestant worship services are in fact still taking place in Ashgabat,
they have repeatedly suffered police raids and aggressive searches. (Believers
attending them have also sometimes been fined for taking part in `illegal'
gatherings.) One source said that after the security organs interrupted a worship
service in a private flat, his congregation changed the location. Others said that
they have not experienced this particular form of persecution during the last
two months; one theorised that this pause was connected with the law signed
by Turkmenistan's president SAPARMURAT NIYAZOV last May ordering
restrictions on police searches of private homes. According to this source, from
past experience it would be reasonable to expect such harassment to intensify
again in the near future as memories of the president's statement fade. The
source also said that the current relaxing of such raids has been accompanied
by increased pressures on believers at their places of work.

It appears that such tactics are more aggressive in the provinces than in the
capital. A source in Ashgabat told Keston that in the eastern town of
Turkmenabad (formerly Chardjou) a pastor has been arrested twice in recent
months, detained for three days the first time and 15 days the second time, and
physically beaten. This pastor is now under house arrest. The source told
Keston that as far as he knows no believer in Ashgabat has suffered such
beatings - so far.

Raids on places of worship have repeatedly included confiscations of religious
literature. One source showed Keston an enclosed book cabinet, now empty,
which had been smashed open by the police; he said that all the Bibles and
other books in it were taken and never returned. Others recounted similar
episodes.

In comparison with some other traditionally Islamic countries - including some
within the former Soviet Union - Turkmenistan does not appear to have a high
degree of popular anti-Christian prejudice. Several Protestant sources told
Keston that they have excellent relations with the Muslims living near their
places of worship, and in two cases Keston was able to confirm this with
Muslim sources. (On the other hand, sometimes ethnic Turkmen have reacted
aggressively when their own relatives have embraced Christianity, even though
such converts usually had been only formal Muslims, not practising seriously.)

The traditionally nomadic Turkmen never embraced Islam with the intensity of
neighbours such as the more settled Uzbeks to their north; several sources, both
Christian and Muslim, told Keston that attendance remains low at worship
services in the new, state-subsidised mosques that now tower over Ashgabat's
skyline. One Muslim source said that only one planeload of Turkmen per year,
about 180 faithful, makes the `haj' pilgrimage to Mecca. Thus there is
substantial evidence that authorities' uniquely harsh measures against
Protestant Christians are inspired mainly not by Islamic populism but by the
Soviet legacy. That legacy still maintains uninterrupted institutional continuity
with the pre-Gorbachev years in the Council for Religious Affairs, the KNB
secret police and the person of the president himself. (END)


Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.