KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 18 January 2002.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

I. TURKMENISTAN/UZBEKISTAN: PLEA FOR VISA-FREE CROSS-
BORDER MUSLIM GRAVEYARD VISITS. An Uzbek human rights
organisation has appealed to Turkmenistan's president to allow Muslims
in the region along Uzbekistan's western border with Turkmenistan to
visit graves of relatives in Turkmenistan on two Muslim festivals a year
without paying what it believes is an unaffordable visa fee - more than
most Uzbeks earn in a month. In December a riot was caused when
hundreds of Uzbeks forced their way through the border in an attempt to
reach a cemetery just inside Turkmenistan on the festival of Ramadan
Haita [Eid-al-fitr]. Talib Yakubov, head of the unregistered Society for
Human Rights of Uzbekistan, told Keston News Service on 16 January
that he was keen to prevent another riot. "People simply do not have six
dollars to pay the Turkmen border guards for a visa, and that means that
at Kurban-Bairam [Eid-al-Adha, marked this year on 22 February] they
will again force their way across the border," he said.

II. TURKMENISTAN: "WE JUST WANT REGISTRATION" SAYS
EVICTED ADVENTIST. A young Adventist evicted by court order from
her flat in the town of Turmenabad (formerly Charjou) last December for
hosting religious meetings (see KNS 27 December 2001) has told Keston
News Service that all her denomination is asking for is freedom of
conscience - to be allowed to register with the Turkmen authorities and to
be able to practise their faith in accordance with the law. Speaking on 16
January from her temporary refuge in the Siberian city of Omsk, Marina
Ismakayeva pointed out that it is not only the Adventist Church that has
suffered because of burdensome registration requirements that make it
impossible for minority faiths to gain legal status. "We're not the only
ones. The Protestants, the Jehovah's Witnesses and others - all have
problems, except for the Muslims and the Russian Orthodox."

I. TURKMENISTAN/UZBEKISTAN: PLEA FOR VISA-FREE CROSS-
BORDER MUSLIM GRAVEYARD VISITS

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

An Uzbek human rights organisation has appealed to Turkmenistan's
president Saparmurat Niyazov to allow Muslims in the region along
Uzbekistan's western border with Turkmenistan to be able to visit graves
of relatives in Turkmenistan on two Muslim festivals a year without
paying what it believes is an unaffordable visa fee. "According to Islam,
believers are obliged to visit the graves of their relatives on the festivals
of Kurban-Bairam [Eid-al-Adha] and Ramadan Haita [Eid-al-fitr]," Talib
Yakubov, head of the unregistered Society for Human Rights of
Uzbekistan, told Keston News Service by telephone on 16 January.
Yakubov, speaking a month after a riot caused when hundreds of Uzbeks
forced their way through the border in an attempt to reach a cemetery
three kilometres (two miles) inside Turkmenistan, is keen to prevent a
repetition of the riot next month. "People simply do not have six dollars to
pay the Turkmen border guards for a visa, and that means that at Kurban-
Bairam [marked this year on 22 February] they will again force their way
across the border." He said residents of Amudarya district in Uzbekistan's
autonomous Karakalpakstan republic have already told his organisation
conflicts at the border crossing are likely.

According to the Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre, on 17
December, the last day of the Ramadan fasting month, a group of 400-500
people from Uzbekistan's Amudarya district gathered near the customs
building on the Turkmen border intending to cross to visit the cemetery in
Gubadag district of Turkmenistan to hold a religious ceremony
commemorating the dead. Turkmen law requires Uzbek citizens wishing
to cross the Turkmen border to pay a fee of six US dollars (which must be
paid in dollars). Many Uzbek citizens find it hard to raise the fee, which
represents more than most earn in a month. The Turkmen soldiers refused
to let the Uzbeks cross to the cemetery, ignoring all requests to let them
through without payment.

Then, approximately 200 people broke through the circle of soldiers and
marched directly towards the cemetery. In front of and behind the crowd
were Turkmen soldiers armed with automatic rifles. After three
kilometres, near the military barracks, soldiers stopped the crowd,
surrounded it and pointedly cocked their automatic rifles. A fire engine
and buses approached. A person in civilian dress who appeared to be in
command of the soldiers announced: "You have violated the Turkmen
state border and we have the right to open fire on you. We shall not let
you pass, you should turn back." Although they were only half a
kilometre from the cemetery, the people were ordered to go back as
rumours spread that the order from above had been received to open fire
on the crowd should the order be ignored.

Keston's attempts to verify this account with the Uzbek authorities proved
unsuccessful. "I am hearing about this case for the first time from you. I
can only say one thing: there has not been any official reaction to this
case," the director of the information agency attached to the Uzbek
foreign ministry, Abror Gulyamov, told Keston by telephone from
Tashkent on 16 January. A senior official of the Committee for Religious
Affairs at Uzbekistan's Cabinet of Ministers, who asked not to be named,
told Keston by telephone the same day that he had heard about the
incident on the BBC. "Ever since Turkmenistan introduced a visa regime,
residents in the border regions have found themselves in a very difficult
situation." The official added that during the Soviet period, the border
between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan was "purely a formality", with
Uzbeks and Turkmen living on both sides of the border. "But today, close
relatives have been separated by the border. People cannot, without
excessive formalities, pay their respects at the graves of their relatives."
The official stressed that he did not want his name published. "The border
question is a very delicate one, and I do not want to get caught up in it."

Turkmen officials proved more forthcoming. "We know all about the
incident of 17 December. A crowd of Uzbek residents forced their way
across the border, after killing three of our border guards," Kurban
Halmuradov, duty officer at the local branch of the National Security
Committee (KNB, former KGB), told Keston by telephone on 16 January.
"Our border guards put a stop to this violent action, and turned these
illegal entrants back into Uzbekistan."

The borders between the Central Asian republics were established in
1924. Prior to that, however, states in the region were never built on the
basis of ethnicity. Even in 1921, when asked about their nationality, the
indigenous population of Central Asia replied "Muslim". The
unacceptability for local people of the very principle of ethnic and
territorial demarcation has been made even more acute by the fact that
borders were frequently designated arbitrarily, without taking account of
ethnic and political realities. The legacy of this is the dozen "disputed
territories" in Central Asia to which two ethnic groups lay claim
simultaneously. (END)

II. TURKMENISTAN: "WE JUST WANT REGISTRATION" SAYS
EVICTED ADVENTIST

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A young Adventist evicted by court order from her flat in the town of
Turmenabad (formerly Charjou) last December for hosting religious
meetings (see KNS 27 December 2001) has told Keston News Service
that all her denomination is asking for is freedom of conscience - to be
allowed to register with the Turkmen authorities and to be able to practise
their faith in accordance with the law. Speaking on 16 January from her
temporary refuge in the Siberian city of Omsk, Marina Ismakayeva
pointed out that it is not only the Adventist Church that has suffered
because of burdensome registration requirements that make it impossible
for minority faiths to gain legal status. "We're not the only ones. The
Protestants, the Jehovah's Witnesses and others - all have problems,
except for the Muslims and the Russian Orthodox."

Despite a provision in the law on meetings allowing groups of any sort to
notify the local administration of when and where they wish to hold a
meeting, Ismakayeva added, religious minority groups are unable to meet
legally at all. "This provision doesn't work."

Ismakayeva, who also goes under her native Tatar name of Maryam, was
earlier reported by Adventist sources as being "in shock and very
depressed" in the wake of her eviction and her flight from the country.
However, speaking from her brother's home, she sounded optimistic
about her future, downplaying the importance of the eviction and
stressing her fellow believers' simple desire to worship in peace. "In the
wake of the 21 December court decision I decided not to appeal," she told
Keston. "I calmly collected my things and took them to my parents' house
in the city and handed over the keys to the housing office. No-one came
to evict me."

Ismakayeva, who was born and brought up in Turkmenistan but who has
both Turkmen and Russian citizenship, added that she had voluntarily
decided to leave the country for Russia in the wake of the loss of her
home. "I realised it was time for me to leave. However, I could go back to
live in Turkmenistan at any time, though not of course in my old flat."

A meeting of the small Turkmenabad Adventist congregation in
Ismakayeva's flat was raided by about 12 officers she presumed were
from the political police, the KNB (former KGB), in October 2000 (see
KNS 24 October 2000). "They were probably all from the KNB. They
didn't identify themselves and I didn't ask. I could have done but didn't. I
was warned then that if any further religious meetings were held in my
home it would be taken away. It was after all a state-owned flat." She said
that she had given a written statement after that meeting to say she would
host no further religious meetings. "I realised later I was wrong."

The meeting last November was raided by five officials from the
administrative commission of the hakimlik (local administration),
Ismakayeva reported, though she recognised one from the previous raid.
The officials said they had received complaints from neighbours about
her. She said those attending were detained and she admitted to hosting a
religious meeting. "If it wasn't for my faith there wouldn't have been a
trial and I wouldn't have lost my home," she added, apparently without
bitterness. "The neighbours complained about me, although one of them
is an elderly, sick woman who had not read what she signed." Ismakayeva
said she had no grudge against these neighbours who had complained
against her.

Ismakayeva said that at least twice officers of the KNB had told her that if
she wanted to practise a faith she could attend the mosque or a Russian
Orthodox church. "Otherwise you can just sit at home and believe on your
own. You don't need to meet with anyone." She believed many in the
KNB are uneasy at their role in repressing believers. "They're human."

Viktor Krushenitsky, public affairs and religious liberty director for the
Adventist Church in Euro-Asia, told Keston from Moscow on 16 January
that Ismakayeva was the first Adventist in Turkmenistan to be evicted
from a private home for hosting religious meetings, although the
Turkmen authorities have deployed this punishment against members of
other minority faiths. The authorities in the capital Ashgabad bulldozed
the newly-built Adventist church in November 1999 and have also
destroyed Hare Krishna temples, at least one mosque and confiscated
Baptist and Pentecostal churches. (END)