KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00 20 November 2000

TURKMENISTAN: BAPTIST CONVERT THREATENED WITH DEATH
A recent convert has been beaten by the former KGB after refusing to answer
questions about whether he had been baptised and about Baptist literature.
Interrogators failed to intimidate him into signing a statement promising not to
attend church or to preach again.

TURKMENISTAN: BAPTIST CONVERT THREATENED WITH DEATH

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A recent convert to the Baptist faith in the Caspian port of Khazar (formerly
Cheleken) has been threatened and beaten by the former KGB after refusing to
answer questions about whether he had been baptised and by whom. Baptists in
the town have reported that Viktor Portnov's life was threatened by an officer
of the National Security Ministry (KNB) who refused to give his name.
Portnov was eventually freed, but warned not to attend church again or to
preach. `These demands violate the laws and constitution of Turkmenistan,'
local Baptists complained.

The Khazar congregation that Portnov joined belongs to the Council of
Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejected state control
during the Soviet period. Although Keston News Service has not been able to
verify the report of Portnov's maltreatment independently, information from
sources within the Council of Churches has a long track record of reliability.
No official agency was able to give Keston the telephone number of the Khazar
KNB or the Khazar procuracy to seek their response to the Baptists' report.

According to a statement from the Khazar Baptist community - passed to
Keston by the German-based Friedensstimme mission - Portnov was
summoned to the local KNB station on 9 November. KNB officer Rozyev, who
handed him the summons, told him they needed to `clarify some questions
related to his faith'. Once at the KNB station, Portnov was interrogated in the
office of the KNB chief by an officer who refused to give his name. When
Portnov refused to say whether he had been baptised and by whom, the officer
`flew into a rage, began to shout at him, grabbed his jacket and pushed him into
another office where he began to bang his head against the wall'.

The KNB chief then arrived and the two officers tried to force Portnov to write
a statement that `he would not preach about Christ and would not hand out
religious literature'. Portnov declined to write any statement or reply to any
questions. The unnamed officer again began to beat him in the face and
`threatened that he would not let him live, and would let him rot'.

The officers then summoned Khazar's deputy procurator, who asked where the
Baptists acquired their literature and who imported it into Turkmenistan. They
threatened to sack Portnov's father and mother from work. They then drew up a
charge sheet accusing him of attending `illegal meetings of believers of an
unregistered sect' and going from house to house preaching. Despite efforts to
force him to sign the charge sheet Portnov refused. The three officials then
signed it and told Portnov they would send it to the regional procuracy. They
then threatened Portnov with a 15-day `re-education' term in prison but in the
end let him go with the warning not to attend the Baptist church again or to
preach.

Turkmenistan is the most religiously repressive of the former Soviet republics.
Only communities of the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox
Church have been able to gain official registration since the law on religion
was amended in 1996, while officials at all levels have spontaneously and
repeatedly told both local believers and Keston that these are the only two
religions allowed in the country (although this is nowhere stated in law).
Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees have
been deported from the country or harassed. An Adventist church and two Hare
Krishna temples have been demolished to prevent the communities from
meeting. The Bahais, Jews and Armenian Apostolic Christians are among other
communities banned from meeting. (END)