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Christians in Turkmenistan face upsurge in harassment, threats and fines

Country/Region: Turkmenistan, Central Asia

Home raided, business closed and ousted from town; threatened with expulsion and harassment of their children at school; taken to court and fined: summer 2012 for Christians in Turkmenistan.

Protestant Christians have faced an upsurge in harassment, raids, threats and legal action over the last few months. One, who wished to remain anonymous, said:  

The situation has got markedly worse since July and we don’t know why.

The flag of Turkmenistan

On 25 June, plain-clothes police officers raided the home of a Christian man in Tejen while he was at work. They subjected his mother, who was in the property alone, to intense questioning, and seized Bibles and Christian books from his room. She was greatly distressed by the ordeal.

The police ordered that the man come to the police station the next day to make a statement. He was interrogated by the secret police, who asked why he did not pray the namaz (Islamic prayers) and threatened him. The Christian man was told that his career was over; his business was subsequently closed down, and many of its goods and fittings were confiscated.

A police officer then told him that if he did not want his mother to be upset again, he should leave the town, which he did. 

Threatened with expulsion

In another incident, imams and local officials summoned all residents of a village in Serdarabad district to a meeting. They threatened to expel or ostracise all Protestants, and to keep their children under close scrutiny at school.

There have been a number of instances of Christian children being harassed and discriminated against at school in Turkmenistan. One Christian said:

Children of believers can be singled out by head teachers and individual teachers for ridicule and can have their grades lowered because of the faith of their parents.

Fined for unregistered religious activity

At least five Christians in Lebap Region were taken to court in late August and fined for taking part in unregistered religious activity. They were all accused of violating the law on religious organisations, which comprises refusing to register a religious community or participating in an unregistered religious community. 

One of the Christians who tried to appeal against the fine was told that this was not allowed. Court officials threatened to seize the family’s property if the fine was not paid. 

Threatened and harassed

In late July, several Protestants were summoned by the authorities in Gubadag district and threatened with losing their jobs if they continued to attend church meetings, and with imprisonment if they persisted.

Earlier in the year, in late March, secret police officers raided a flat where five elderly Christian women had gathered for worship, as was their regular practice. They were so frightened by the incident that they have stopped meeting together.   

While Turkmenistan’s constitution theoretically grants religious freedom, a Religion Law passed in 2003 forbids any activity by unregistered religious groups. The authorities try to suppress Christian activity, subjecting believers to raids, fines or exile; some lose their jobs and homes, and pastors are sometimes beaten or imprisoned.  

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