KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 23 January 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.

Baptist congregation in the town of Khazar have been fined for holding
"illegal services", Keston News Service has learned. They were
summoned to the local administration on 9 January, and were informed
that the instruction to fine them came from the political police, the KNB
(former KGB). They were also told they should register their community,
something they refuse to do for fear of state control. The six have refused
to pay the fines.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Six members of a Baptist congregation in the town of Khazar (formerly
Cheleken) were fined in mid-January for holding "illegal services",
Keston News Service has learned. The instruction to fine them came from
the political police, the KNB (former KGB), the six were told. The
Turkmen authorities routinely fine members of unregistered religious
congregations for holding religious meetings, even if such meetings take
place in private homes.

According to an 18 January statement from local Baptists, passed to
Keston by the German-based Friedensstimme Mission, the six were
summoned to an administrative commission at the hyakimlik (local
administration) on 9 January. "There it was explained to them that an
instruction had arrived about them from the KNB to take punishment
measures against them in connection with illegal meetings they had
conducted," the local Baptists reported. "They suggested that they should
register the community, if they could collect 500 believers from the whole
of Turkmenistan." Each of the six � named in the statement as V. Portnov,
N. Popova, M. Kichibayeva, E. Zabibulayev, S. Nuriyeva and L.
Bibartseva - was fined 250,000 manats (50 US dollars or 35 British
pounds at the official exchange rate - about one week�s wages) under
Article 205 of the Administrative Code, an article dating back to the
Soviet period that punishes those participating in unregistered religious
activity. "The believers refused to sign the record and to pay the fines."

The Khazar Baptist church - like all congregations of the Council of
Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists - refuses to register with the
authorities, believing that this would lead to unacceptable state control.

The suggestion that the congregation could register with 500 members
nationally is in accordance with the latest version of the country's
restrictive religion law, although local officials have routinely told
members of other denominations trying to register that these 500
members (who must be Turkmen citizens) have to live in the same district
of a town or the same rural district.

Turkmenistan operates the most repressive religious policy of all the
former Soviet republics. Only communities of the state-sanctioned
Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church have been allowed to
register since 1997. All other communities are treated as illegal. (END)