KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 19 November 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.

CHURCH RAID. Following the police raid on the Protestant Word of
Life Church in Ashgabad on 15 November (see KNS 16 November
2001), three foreign citizens have been deported from Turkmenistan.
Russian pastor Vladmir Shamrai, who led the meeting, his wife Olga (a
Kazakh citizen), and visiting Russian pastor Leonid Malko were expelled
over the weekend, they told Keston News Service from Moscow on 19
November. Few of the local people at the meeting have been able to pay
the huge fines imposed on them (correction to KNS 16 November). Those
who have not have had their identity papers confiscated by the security
police, and all face the threat of dismissal from work, Malko and Shamrai
told Keston.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

As 38 local people desperately search for money to pay off the huge fines
levied on them after a service of the Protestant Word of Life Church in
the Turkmen capital Ashgabad was raided on 15 November (correction to
KNS 16 November 2001, which reported that the fines had already been
paid), three foreign citizens who had been present at the meeting have
been summarily deported. Russian pastor Vladmir Shamrai, who led the
meeting, his wife Olga (a Kazakh citizen), and visiting Russian pastor
Leonid Malko had their legal residence in the country terminated and
were expelled over the weekend, they told Keston News Service from
Moscow on 19 November. The three have described how the local people
- especially ethnic Turkmens - have been threatened by the police and
officials of the National Security Committee, the KNB (former KGB) for
attending a Christian meeting.

"Everyone was distraught about the huge fines imposed," Malko told
Keston. "More than 35 of those detained received fines of one million or
one and a half million manats [some 50 and 75 US dollars at the street
exchange rate] - these are enormous sums in a country where the average
wage is about 30 dollars a month. Where can people get money like that?
When we asked why we were being fined the KNB officers simply
responded: 'It's the law.'"

Although the majority of those detained at the evening meeting were
released during the night, Malko reported that five were held until the
morning as they did not have their identity documents with them. "One of
those held all night was a lady with cancer [Tamara Nikolayevna (last
name unknown)]. Another woman held there was beaten in the face."

Malko reported that the five-member administrative commission that met
on 16 November at the hakimlik (administration) of the Niyazov district
did not impose a fine on Tamara Nikolayevna, who received only a
warning, while a pensioner was fined 250,000 manats. Two others
received fines of 500,000 manats, but all the rest received the heavier

"Few of the local people have been able to find the money to pay the fines
yet, so their passports - which were confiscated by the KNB - have not
yet been returned," Malko declared. "The KNB told them: 'When you've
paid the fines, bring the receipt to confirm payment and then your
passports will be returned.'" Shamrai added that the handful of people
who have paid off the fines had to borrow the money to do so. "Some
thirty of those fined were from other towns and had come to Ashgabad
specially for the meeting. Without their passports they can't travel home."

He added that all the local people attending face the threat of dismissal
from work. "The KNB will write to their places of work - or more likely
will go to visit their places of work." He believes the threat to confiscate
the home of Olga Ryzhkova, who hosted the meeting in her private flat, is
real. "The administrative commission told her that if she does that again it
will be confiscated, but they could confiscate it for what she has already
done. This has happened elsewhere with people who have hosted
religious meetings in their homes," Shamrai declared.

The three foreigners seized at the meeting were interrogated separately.
"They asked us how we had come to Turkmenistan," Malko reported. "I
showed them my card confirming I am a pastor and told them we invited
anyone who wanted to come to attend our meetings, believers or non-
believers." A record of the interrogation was drawn up and they took
away their passports. After paying their fines, they were told they could
collect them from the visa and registration office, but there they were told
the passports had been sent to the main KNB office. "There we were told
we were being deported. Vladimir - who was in the country on a six-
month visa - had two months left, but this was cancelled. I was taken to
the airport for the Moscow flight on Saturday, as I already had a plane
ticket. A KNB officer accompanied me through check-in and passport
control, and only at the gate was I given back my passport. I was told I
could not enter Turkmenistan for a year and even after then they would
only consider an application, not necessarily grant it, as my name is now
on the computer at the airport and in all the embassies."

Shamrai and his wife, who is pregnant, wanted to leave on a flight to the
Uzbek capital Tashkent on 22 November, but they were forced to fly to
Moscow on 18 November. "A KNB officer named Oraz took us to the
airport, but all the tickets except business class were taken. Although
these were very expensive, we had to take them," Shamrai reported.
"They told us that otherwise we would be locked up for four days until
the flight. They told us we had no rights there and that we were violating
the laws of the country, so we had to be deported." All the Shamrais'
personal possessions were subjected to a minute examination by KNB
and customs officers. The couple was shouted at and treated "crudely".

Shamrai believes the pressure on his church - which, like all Protestant
churches in Turkmenistan, does not have state registration and is treated
by the authorities as illegal - will only increase. "There will be more and
more threats." (END)