Baptist Pastors Face Uncertain Future In Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest

ASHKABAD/TASHKENT/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) -- Two Baptist pastors in two neighboring former Soviet republics faced detention and deportation Tuesday, December 4, amid an increased crackdown on evangelical churches in the region, BosNewsLife learned.

Human rights group Forum 18 said Pastor Nikolai Zulfikarov has been sentenced to two years "correctional labor" in Uzbekistan for "teaching religious doctrines without special religious education and without permission from a central organ of administration of a religious organization, as well as teaching religion privately".

Zulfikarov will also have to pay 20 percent of his earnings to the state for the next two years for leading the five member unregistered Baptist church in the Khalkabad area near the city of Pap, said Forum 18 which closely monitored the case.

It was not immediately clear whether Zulfikarov would appeal against the decision. Asked if it is illegal to be a religious believer in Uzbekistan, Judge Bakhrom Batyrov reportedly said that laws of Uzbekistan prohibit people worshipping and praying together without being legally registered.


"This is the latest sentence against a member of one of Uzbekistan's religious minorities, which along with the majority Muslim community continue to be put under severe official pressure," Forum 18 said.

Zulfikarov's colleague in neighboring Turkmenistan, Baptist pastor Vyacheslav Kalataevsky also faced an uncertain future. After being released following eight months imprisonment, he has failed in his attempt to remain with his wife, children and his congregation in his town of Turkmenbashi, investigators said.

Authorities have said he will be deported as he is a Ukrainian citizen, although he grew up in Turkemnistan, Forum 18 said. He was due to leave on a flight to Moscow on December 11. Officials have refused to explain their denial of a visa. "But of course it is linked to my activity as a believer. Everything that has happened to me since 2001 is related to that, " he said in published remarks.


His congregation has no other pastor. Others seen as a threat to the government are also suffering, rights activists say. Former enforced psychiatric hospital detainee Kakabai Tejenov was quoted as saying that among his fellow detainees was a mullah, an Islamic leader, who arrived at the closed hospital in Lebap Region in late 2006.

"If he is still being detained, I want him to be freed," Tejenov declared. Also, 18-year-old Jehovah's Witness Ashirgeldy Taganov still awaits possible trial for refusing compulsory military service, Forum 18 said. However getting independent information remains difficult. Turkmenistan has been described as a one-party state, led by the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan of late president Saparmurat Niyazov until he his death in December 2006.

The late leader styled himself Turkmenbashi, or ‘Father of the Turkmen’, and made himself the centre of a cult of personality. His successor, Kurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, has said he will follow in Niyazov's footsteps, although it remains unclear whether he demands the same kind of pomp treatment.

In neighboring Uzbekistan, th situation remains tense as well: Human rights watchers say Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov keeps a tight grip on the country, there is no real internal opposition and the media is very much controlled by the state. A United Nations report has reportedly described the use of torture as "systematic" in Uzbekistan, adding to concerns among Christians and other religious minorities in former Soviet republics.

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