Religious Activity Leads to a Baptists Deportation in Turkmenistan
Thursday, June 15
By Jeremy Reynalds
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
TURKMENISTAN (ANS) — A Russian citizen has been deported from Turkmenistan because of his religious activity.
Turkmenistan is located in Central Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Kazakhstan .
Aleksandr Frolov was reportedly deported from Turkmenistan on June 10 because of his activities within the Baptist faith community Forum 18 News Service reported.
Frolov’s deportation separates him from his wife, a Turkmen citizen, their three-year-old son, and their five-month-old daughter at their family home in Turkmenabad in eastern Turkmenistan .
Turkmenistan ‘s state Migration Service, in the capital Ashgabad declined to discuss Frolov’s deportation.
“We can’t respond to such questions by telephone,” Forum 18 reported an official in the agency’s headquarters told the news service. An additional call later went unanswered.
The Russian Embassy in Ashgabad also declined comment on the case.
An individual answering the embassy switchboard said that such an issue is “a consular matter,” and referred the issue to the Consular Department. However after being given the details of the case, an official of the Consular Department, who did not give her name, refused to say what, if anything, the Embassy would do to help Frolov.
“I am not authorized to give out such information,” Forum 18 reported the told the news service before terminating the conversation.
Local Baptists told the news service that Frolov’s latest problems began early this year, after he visited Russia . On his return via Kazakhstan , Christian literature he was bringing back with him was confiscated by Turkmen border guards.
On March 24, soon after his return, three Migration Service officials, led by Senior Lieutenant Merdan Melebaev and an official of the department that registers foreign citizens, came to Frolov’s home and confiscated his Residence Permit.
It was reported that the officials gave their reasons as Frolov’s attempt to import Christian literature, failure to notify the Migration Service of his exit from the country, and the holding of worship services in his home. “These three accusations were made to him verbally,” Baptists stated.
Under a new Migration Law adopted in Dec. 2005, foreign citizens living in Turkmenistan must inform the local office of the Migration Service where they live, and if they go abroad or travel within the country. However, the law does not make clear how long such visits must last before the Migration Service must be informed of the visit.
In addition to Frolovs deportation, his Residence Permit was cancelled. Local Baptists have called for prayer and appealed for Frolov to be allowed back to his home and his family in Turkmenabad. They have also asked for the local Baptist congregation to be allowed to hold worship services freely, for an end to restrictions on receiving Christian literature and for believers to be able to travel freely to visit other churches.
Frolov – has intermittently received deportation threats in recent years – was among a number of church members fined in June 2003 after a police raid on the Turkmenabad Baptist congregation. Although officials again threatened him with deportation, the threat was not carried out at that time. The raid came during a particularly intense wave of anti-religious activity, when many Protestant, Hare Krishna and Jehovah’s Witness communities were subjected to raids, fines and other harassment.
Forum 18 reported that Baptists also complain of the recent denial of exit permission to local Baptist and former religious prisoner Shageldy Atakov, who was taken a Moscow flight on May 25 by MSS secret police officers at Ashgabad airport, shortly before departure. The Baptists said that the Migration Service has still not responded to Atakov’s letter asking why he has been banned from leaving his native land.
Frolov and Atakov are both members of the Council of Baptist Churches, whose members refuse on principle to register their congregations in any of the former Soviet states, arguing that such registration amounts to unwarranted state interference in their religious activity. The Baptists complain of what they call “unceasing persecution” in Turkmenistan .
The Baptists said, Our believers of our brotherhood there are not allowed to conduct services peacefully, their meetings have been broken up, those present have been fined and sometimes beaten, and several have even been deported from the country and their homes confiscated. Those who love Christ have tolerated this only because this has allowed them to bring salvation to dying sinners.”
Many registered and unregistered religious communities regard state registration – made more possible as part of an alleged “liberalization” of government policy – with great dislike, as registration brings with it oppressive conditions.
At least six Baptist families were among the estimated hundreds of Muslim, Christian, Hare Krishna and Jehovah’s Witness believers deported from Turkmenistan – mainly in the second half of the 1990s – in retaliation for their religious activity. Almost all of these were foreign citizens living and working in Turkmenistan legally, though at least one was a Turkmen citizen.
The deportations are part of a long-standing policy of isolating religious believers from their fellow brethren abroad, Forum 18 reported, which also includes denial of entry visas to foreign citizens wishing to visit religious communities in Turkmenistan .