KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 4 September 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

TURKMENISTAN: FURTHER RAID ON GREATER GRACE
MEETING. Keston has learned that the police, the district
administration and the secret police have again raided a prayer meeting
held by the Greater Grace Protestant church in Ashgabad, detaining and
interrogating all those present. The Protestants were told that they are not
allowed to meet for prayer as their church is not registered. Although the
head of the district police department admitted that church members had
been detained, neither the police nor the district authorities were prepared
to discuss the raid. One official, who refused to give his name, told
Keston that �If you want to defend these good-for-nothings, then come to
Ashgabad. We�re not going to speak to anyone at Oxford or at Bishkek.�

TURKMENISTAN: FURTHER RAID ON GREATER GRACE
MEETING

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

On 15 August ten officials from the police, the district administration and
the National Security Committee (KNB, the former KGB secret police)
burst into a private flat in the Kopetdag district of the Turkmen capital
Ashgabad, where around 20 members of the Greater Grace Protestant
church had gathered for prayer, Protestant sources in Turkmenistan have
told Keston News Service. All the church members present were taken to
the Second Police Department of Kopetdag district, where KNB officers
interrogated each one separately, recording where the church members
worked and warning them that they were not allowed to meet for prayer
as their church was unregistered. After five hours the church members
were released.

A member of the Greater Grace church, who preferred not to be
identified, told Keston that it was the second time this year that the
authorities had detained church members while they were conducting
prayers in a private flat (see KNS 25 January 2001).

Speaking to Keston by telephone on 31 August, the head of the Kopetdag
Second Police Department, Komgeldy Sopregeldy, admitted that the
church members had been detained. He declared that the action had been
taken under the auspices of the KNB of Kopetdag district and
recommended that Keston should ask that organisation for a comment.
However, when Keston reached the Kopetdag district KNB by telephone
from Bishkek the same day, no officer was prepared to discuss the case.
One KNB officer, who refused to identify himself, told Keston: �If you
want to defend these good-for-nothings, then come to Ashgabad. We�re
not going to speak to anyone at Oxford or at Bishkek.�

A call by Keston on 31 August to the special administrative commission
at the Kopetdag district administration also proved fruitless. (The
administrative commission is particularly concerned with seeking out
unregistered places of worship.) An employee at the commission,
Merdam Chariyev, told Keston: �We know what case you are referring to,
but we will only comment in response to a written request from Keston
Institute. For now, I can tell you just one thing: the law is being observed
in Turkmenistan.�

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 five 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)