KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 25 January 2001

TURKMENISTAN: PROTESTANT CHURCH TOLD TO STOP MEETING.
Officers of the police, political police and the city administration raided a
meeting of a Protestant Christian church in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad on
10 January. They warned those present not to take part in such `illegal'
meetings in future and took down their names and personal details. The next
day these people were summoned to the city administration and warned again
not to attend �illegal� meetings.

TURKMENISTAN: PROTESTANT CHURCH TOLD TO STOP MEETING

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Some fifteen officers of the police, political police (KNB, former KGB) and the
khyakimlik (city administration) raided a meeting of a Protestant Christian
church in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad on 10 January, warning those
attending not to take part in such `illegal' meetings in future. Pastor Vladimir
Tolmachev of the Greater Grace church told Keston News Service from
Ashgabad on 24 January that during the raid on his church the police took down
the names and personal details of all the two dozen or so people present.

The day after the raid, those attending were summoned to the city khyakimlik,
where they were once more warned not to attend such `illegal' meetings.
Despite threats that the believers would be summoned individually to the local
district administrations, Pastor Tolmachev reports that so far this has not
happened. `Maybe they will finish with this or maybe it will go further,' he
declared. `We just don't know.'

Although he declared that the church `expected' such raids given the current
official hostility to religious minorities in Turkmenistan, Pastor Tolmachev
reports that the last time the Greater Grace church suffered a similar raid was a
year and a half ago.

Turkmenistan's published laws on religion do not specifically ban unregistered
religious activity, although state officials repeatedly insist that such activity is
illegal. Only communities of the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian
Orthodox Church have been allowed to gain state recognition. Almost all
Protestant churches - including the Baptists, Pentecostals and Adventists - as
well as communities of Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishna devotees and Bahais
have faced severe pressure in the past four years in a bid to stamp out their
activities. Groups that have been prevented from reviving their activity in the
country include the Lutherans, Jews and the Armenian Apostolic Church. The
Catholic Church is only able to conduct religious activity on Vatican diplomatic
territory. (END)