“Singing About God is Banned Here”
TURKMENISTAN: “Singing about God here is banned”
Two homes of church members were raided and religious literature including personal Bibles were seized. One church member was threatened with a 15-day jail term and deportation, even though he is a Turkmen citizen. During one raid, on a rehearsal of songs for the following Sunday’s meeting for worship, officials stated that “singing about God here is banned”. The Church was also threatened that it might lose its state registration, thus making it illegal. A state religious affairs official who is also an imam told the church’s Pastor Yuri Rozmetov that the Christian faith “is wrong” and pressured him to become a Muslim.
By Felix Corley
12/20/2013 Turkmenistan (Forum 18)-Police and Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police in Turkmenistan’s northern city of Dashoguz [Dasoguz] have raided and threatened members of the local Pentecostal Light of the East Church, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Two homes of church members were raided and religious literature was seized from both. One church member was threatened with a 15-day prison term and deportation, even though he is a Turkmen citizen. A state religious affairs official who is also an imam told the church’s Pastor his Christian faith “is wrong” and to become a Muslim. Local Protestants expressed concern to Forum 18 about the raids and continuing pressure on church members.
Light of the East Church gained state registration in April 2005, one of very few non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox communities to gain state permission to exist outside the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] (see Forum 18’s Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).
Meanwhile, the level of fines to punish individuals and communities for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief has been increased, with the announcement of new base units used to calculate fines from 1 January 2014 under the new Code of Administrative Offences (see below).
The raids and threats came as an 11th known prisoner of conscience jailed for exercising their freedom of religion or belief was imprisoned. Suhrab Rahmanberdiyyev became the ninth known jailed conscientious objector to military service when he was given an 18-month prison term on 18 November. Known freedom of religion or belief prisoners of conscience are nine Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors and a Protestant and a Jehovah’s Witness jailed for other freedom of religion or belief-related reasons (see F18News 20 December 2013 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1910).
“We don’t answer to you”
Officials refused to explain why religious communities are raided and threatened, and why religious literature is confiscated, as happened with Light of the East Church members in Dashoguz.
The man who on 20 December answered the telephone of Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, Deputy Chair of the government’s Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad, put the phone down as soon as Forum 18 introduced itself. Subsequent calls went unanswered. The telephone of the Gengesh in Dashoguz – whose officials had taken part in threatening Light of the East church members – went unanswered each time Forum 18 called between 17 and 20 December.
The Gengesh’s main role is restricting people of all beliefs’ exercise of freedom of religion or belief. As part of that role Gengesh officials are appointed by the state to be leaders of the Islamic community, including imams (see Forum 18’s Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1676).
The duty officer at Dashoguz Police referred Forum 18 to the city police chief, whom he would not name. However, his assistant claimed to Forum 18 on 19 December that he was not in the office.
Orazgeldy Orazgeldiyev, head of the secretariat of Dashoguz Police, refused to explain why local police officers had taken part in raiding and threatening church members and seizing religious literature. “We don’t answer to you,” he told Forum 18 on 20 December. He then put the phone down.