Turkmenistan deports more missionaries

Monday, March 13, 2000

13 March 2000 (Newsroom) -- Baptists in Turkmenistan fear that national security police are following through with a two-phase plan to deport missionaries and "strangle the remaining Christians in the country," the Keston News Service reported. Church members claim that officers of the KNB (formerly KGB) issued that threat following a raid on a church in the capital Ashgabad last year.

Three Russian families were deported over the weekend for their participation in unregistered congregations in Turkmenistan. Anatoli and Natalya Belyayev and their daughter were sent to Moscow on Saturday. KNB officers took the families of Yuri Senkin and Vyacheslav Shulgin from their homes in the town of Mary on Monday. Local Baptists believe that the families were placed on a train to Moscow, but did not have confirmation as of Monday night.

In what may be the beginning of the next phase, Keston says that authorities are now taking steps to stifle all minority Christian activity by "internally" deporting Turkmen citizens involved in Christian work. The KNB has informed Shokhrat Piriyev, a Protestant pastor in Ashgabad, that he will be deported back to his home town of Turkmenabad (formerly Chardjou). Authorities told Piriyev that his permit to live in Ashgabad is "faulty" and that he must report to the KNB on Tuesday.

Piriyev already had been publicly identified by authorities as a criminal in a newspaper article last year. The newspaper Adalat of Ashgabad in a September 24 story named him among religious minority leaders "involved in such criminal activities as illegal delivery and distribution of (imported religious books and videos) and conducting regular meetings in private apartments."

Compass Direct notes that one of the Baptist families deported to Russia, the Shulgins, had been caring for Artygul Atakova, the wife of Baptist prisoner Shagildy Atakov who was sentence to four years in labor camp in December. The KNB forcibly removed the prisoners' wife and their five children from the Shulgins' apartment in early February. Authorities internally deported the family to the town of Kaakhka, where they remain under virtual house arrest, Compass said.

Baptist leader Anatoli Belyayev had been held without charge since his arrest on February 2. He was a leader in the Ashgabad Baptist congregation. The Turkmen authorities deported two other leading members of the Baptist church last December, Russian citizens Aleksandr Yefremov and his wife Vera Semina, and Ukrainians Vladimir and Olga Chernov. Keston says that the Council of Churches, to which the Baptist Churches belong, is increasingly concerned about what will happen to native Turkmen Baptists now that the majority of Baptists from other former Soviet republics have been expelled from the country.

Dozens of foreigners from other Christian denominations have been deported over the past year, along with the leader of the country's Hare Krishnas.

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 even apply for reregistration. Only the Russian Orthodox and the officially sanctioned Sunni Muslims have been able to reregister under the new law.

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