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Christian Children’s Camp Raided by Police in Turkmenistan

ICC Note: A summer Christian camp for children was raided by police officers in Turkmenistan. The police came in and questioned the children for more than three hours, searched the premises, took video of the camp, and ordered the children sent home. They then issued two fines against the organizers of the camp for holding an unregistered church meeting and not meeting sanitary norms, both of which the church leaders who organized the camp reject as unjustified.

By Felix Corely

8/29/2013 Turkmenistan (Forum 18) – The Baptist church in the town of Mary tried to hold a children’s summer camp on its premises on 5 July. However, the camp was “suddenly raided” by 15 police officers, Baptists who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals complained to Forum 18. Police were soon followed by two medical personnel and other officials.

“Everyone and everything was noted down,” Baptists told Forum 18. Among the officials was one with a camera. “Despite our indignation over the filming he was actively rushing around filming all the rooms and places where the children were or something was underway, including the kitchen, sleeping room, lessons, shower, toilet – in fact anything that could be filmed.” Officials took some of the food – including meat, vegetables, bread and jam – allegedly for testing.

Police questioned all the children present for three hours. They also phoned the children’s parents and demanded that they immediately come and collect them. “The parents were in a panic and began to ring us to find out what was going on,” Baptists told Forum 18. Police insisted that the local children be sent home, while children from other places had to leave by the following day.

Church leaders were summoned to the local court. Two fines were handed down under the Code of Administrative Offences. One fine punished holding an unregistered religious meeting under Article 205, Part 4 (“violation of procedures established by law for organising and holding religious meetings”). The fine was 750 Manats (1,600 Norwegian Kroner, 200 Euros or 265 US Dollars). The second fine was 300 Manats for failure to comply with sanitary norms. “Officials insisted the fines were paid immediately, otherwise they would confiscate property,” Baptists told Forum 18.

Baptists reject the basis of the fines, insisting that the church has registration as a branch of the registered Baptist Church in Ashgabad. They also insist that hygiene standards were maintained, pointing out that about 80 per cent of the food came from local shops and the market.

Baptists also fear that the film taken by the official could be edited “in any way they like” to be used to discredit the church.

By contrast, Baptists noted to Forum 18 that another of their summer camps in a different city took place without incident.

No police comment

As is often the case in Turkmenistan, no official was prepared to explain why the Baptist children’s summer camp in Mary was raided and fines were handed down. Because Nursakhatov of the Gengesh for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad put the phone down, Forum 18 was unable to ask him. Similarly, parliamentary human rights committee head Hudainazarov was unwilling to discuss anything with Forum 18.

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