Turkmenistan deports last Russian Baptist missionary

Tuesday, May 23, 2000

23 May 2000 (Newsroom) -- Turkmen police have expelled the last remaining Russian Baptist missionary in the country, the Keston News Service reported. Authorities ordered the deportation of Vitali Tereshin in March, but the missionary went into hiding to continue his work. He was located in April by Turkmenistan's political police, the National Security Committee (KNB).

Tereshin was expelled to Russia on April 16, one month after his wife and child were deported. Six Baptist missionary families have been deported from Turkmenistan since December. The families are ethnic Russian and Ukranian members of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which was established under the former Soviet Union.

Keston says that the Tereshins frequently had been harassed for their activity in the Dashkhovuz Baptist church. Their home was raided on February 13 by KNB officers and Tereshin was fined for holding an unlawful religious meeting. Police later confiscated his passport.

Turkmen officials had openly declared that they would deport all foreign Baptists and "strangle" local Baptist churches, which are not registered with the government. Keston said that "now that all Baptists have been deported it remains to be seen what further measures the Turkmen authorities will take against local Baptists." Keston said that officials at the government's Council for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad consistently have declined to discuss the deportation of the Baptists.

Dozens of foreigners from other Christian denominations have been deported over the past year, along with the leader of the country's Hare Krishnas. Officials also routinely have threaten to deport Turkmen citizens involved in unregistered religious activity, Keston said.

Under the Central Asian republic's 1996 amendment to its law on religion, a congregation must have at least 500 adult Turkmen citizens before it can apply for reregistration. Only the Russian Orthodox and the officially sanctioned Sunni Muslims have been able to reregister under the new law. Keston notes that the government treats all other religious activity as illegal, despite the absence of any published law specifically banning unregistered religious activity.

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