KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 12 June 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
TURKMENISTAN: CAMPAIGN AGAINST RELIGIOUS MEETINGS IN
PRIVATE HOMES? The same official who closed the Baptist church in the
Turkmen capital Ashgabad earlier this year (see KNS 2 March 2001) has
now arranged the expulsion from their home of a family who used their flat
for Jehovah's Witness meetings. Keston has also learnt that a number of
Protestants were sacked from their jobs in March and April for involvement
in religious activity. In one case, a teacher was sacked after the KNB came
to the school where the church member worked and issued an instruction to
TURKMENISTAN: CAMPAIGN AGAINST RELIGOUS MEETINGS IN
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
The same official who closed the Baptist church in the Turkmen capital
Ashgabad earlier this year (see KNS 2 March 2001) has now arranged the
expulsion from their home of a family who used their flat for Jehovah's
Witness meetings. Maksat Yazmuradov, head of the special commission of
the Niyazov district khyakimlik (administration), was unavailable on 12 June
when Keston News Service sought to ask him why he was conducting a
campaign to prevent residents using their homes for religious events, which
Turkmenistan's constitution specifically allows. Nor would an official of the
khyakimlik's administrative department comment. `We're not responsible for
the decision and secondly we don't answer such questions by telephone,' she
told Keston, before putting down the phone.
The khyakimlik brought the case to expel the Segzekov family from their
home, claiming that they had violated the housing code by not using the flat
they rented for its true purpose. According to the verdict (of which Keston
has received a copy), the Niyazov district court ruled on 4 June that the
family should be deprived of the flat `without provision of another place of
residence'. `Having illusory hopes of a just consideration of the case, the
Segzekov family intends to appeal against the ruling to the Ashgabad city
court,' Jehovah's Witness representatives told Keston on 11 June. They have
until 14 June to lodge their appeal.
Maria Segzekov, her husband Amangaly (who is not a Jehovah's Witness)
and their two children, are still in their flat, as the ruling only takes effect
once the legal case has concluded.
At the hearing, presided over by judge V. Hadjimamedov, the khyakimlik's
lawyer, R. Yazdurdiyev, claimed that neighbours had complained of
disturbance from people attending the meetings, although the Segzekov
family obtained a letter from 12 neighbours denying this. Yazdurdiyev
declared that religious meetings were `unsanctioned' and violated the terms
of use of the flat. He claimed Maria Segzekov had received three written
warnings to halt the meetings, although she and her husband had received
only one and had halted religious meetings in their home after receiving it.
The district procurator G. Shchukurova was apparently not convinced the
khyakimlik had issued more than one warning, as there was no
documentation attesting to the warnings it alleged had been issued on 30
March and 18 April.
The family reportedly used the flat for religious meetings on two evenings a
week, inviting their friends to attend. Officers of the KNB, Turkmenistan's
secret police, raided the flat on 27 April, together with police officers and
representatives of the khyakimlik `under the guise of conducting a passport
check', Jehovah's Witness sources reported. `After all the participants had
arrived, an explanatory discussion was held with them about the
unacceptability of holding such religious meetings in a flat in view of the
absence of registration.' The names of those present were taken and on 30
April, Yazmuradov summoned all of them to the khyakimlik's administrative
commission. `Those summoned had to suffer a humiliating attitude, were
fined 250,000 manats [about one month's average wages] and sent to the
police.' Maria Segzekov reportedly refused to pay.
Article 11 of the Turkmen constitution guarantees freedom of religion and
equality of different faiths before the law. `Everyone has the right to
determine independently their attitude to religion individually or jointly with
others to confess any religion or not to confess any,' Article 11 adds, `to
express and spread their convictions connected with their attitude to religion
and to take part in the carrying out of religious cults, rituals and rites.'
`Despite the constitutional guarantees of freedom, the Jehovah's Witnesses in
Turkmenistan have long been subjected to various kinds of torment,'
Jehovah's Witnesses complained. `The persecutions are, as a rule, initiated
by the KNB and are not confined to threats, beatings and fines.'
Keston has also learnt of further actions against members of religious
minority communities the government regards as illegal (i.e. every
community apart from the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox
Church). Protestant sources told Keston that a number of Protestants in
Ashgabad, Turkmenabad (formerly Chardjou) and elsewhere were sacked
from their jobs in March and April for their involvement in religious activity.
In one case, a teacher was sacked after the KNB came to the school where
the church member worked and issued an instruction to the director. The
sources declined to allow the denomination involved to be publicly
identified for fear of further retribution against church members. (END)