KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 29 November 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

TURKMENISTAN: SITUATION EASES FOR PUNISHED
PROTESTANTS. Following payment of fines imposed on those who
attended a Protestant service in a private flat in the capital Ashgabad
raided by the authorities on 15 November, sources in Turkmenistan have
told Keston News Service that pressure on members of the Word of Life
church has eased. Identity papers have been returned and the five people
interrogated last week have so far been let off with a warning. However
one of the foreign nationals expelled from Turkmenistan in the wake of
the raid has told Keston that he thinks the authorities set such large fines
because they believed foreign Christians would pay them.

TURKMENISTAN: SITUATION EASES FOR PUNISHED
PROTESTANTS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

In the wake of the payment of the massive fines on those attending a
Protestant service in a private flat in the capital Ashgabad raided by the
authorities on 15 November (see KNS 22 November 2001), sources in
Turkmenistan have told Keston News Service that pressure on members
of the Word of Life church who attended the meeting has eased.
However, Pastor Vladimir Shamrai, one of three foreign nationals
expelled from Turkmenistan in the wake of the raid, has told Keston that
he thinks the authorities set such large fines because they believed foreign
Christians would pay them.

"All fines are paid," one local Christian told Keston from Ashgabad on 29
November. "Most of the money has been donated as a gift by other
brothers and sisters from here and abroad." Other sources confirmed that
identity documents taken from the forty or so people fined have now been
returned.

Sources say that the five people interrogated last week have so far been
let off with a warning. Svetlana Annamukhammedova and her husband
Ishan Annamukhammedov were questioned on 21 November and later in
the week as to how and why they invited Pastor Leonid Malko from
Moscow (who was present when the church was raided and was deported
two days later). Lyudmila Karpenko was questioned the same day as to
why she invited Pastor Shamrai and his wife Olga (who were also present
at the meeting and who were deported three days later). Immediately
afterwards, Olga Ryzhkova, the owner of the private flat where the
meeting was held, was also interrogated. Although she was warned,
sources say that the danger she would lose her flat has receded.
Interrogated on 23 November was Olga Nuryeva, but it appears the
authorities are not proceeding with their threat to sack her from her job as
a music teacher in an Ashgabad school.

Pastor Shamrai told Keston from Moscow on 29 November that he had
asked the KNB (former KGB) officer who accompanied him and his wife
to the airport as they were being deported, who gave his first name as
Oraz but declined to give his full name, why the fines had been so high.
"You have lots of money," the KNB officer responded. "You can afford
it." He said the Turkmen authorities believe Christians in the country have
good contacts abroad. "The authorities think Westerners are financing
local churches," Shamrai told Keston. "They set the fines so high
deliberately." He added that Orthodox priest Father Andrei Sapunov -
who is also a deputy head of the government's Gengeshi (Council) for
Religious Affairs - provides the authorities with information about groups
he regards as "sects". "He tells the authorities people are paid to attend
our meetings. He is close to the president [Saparmurat Niyazov] and they
act on his information, although in himself he is not a powerful figure."
Shamrai admitted that such reports were just rumours, but believed they
were reliable.

"Repression comes in waves," Shamrai declared, "especially around
festivals like Independence Day. Officials are trying to create an image
for the president." Turkmenistan marked Independence Day on 27
October, and the celebrations lasted ten days. (END)