TURKMENISTAN: Hare Krishna devotee jailed for seven years
Turkmenistan has today [17 November] jailed a Hare Krishna devotee, Cheper Annaniyazova, for seven years on charges of illegally leaving the country, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Before being sentenced, she was compulsorily detained in a psychiatric hospital. "Cheper tried to get an exit visa to go to Kazakhstan to stay in the temple in Almaty, but was refused," a source close to the Hare Krishna community told Forum 18. "She went anyway, crossing the border to Uzbekistan." Despite a claimed abolition of exit visas, Turkmenistan is to Forum 18's knowledge preventing three religious believers - two Protestants and a Hare Krishna devotee – from leaving the country. Forum 18's source insists that the heavy sentence was imposed at the behest of the MSS secret police to intimidate the Hare Krishna community. Turkmenistan also has the religious prisoner of conscience with the longest jail sentence in the former Soviet Union, former chief mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah who is on a 22 year jail sentence.
Annaniyazova stayed in Almaty until earlier this year, returning to Turkmenistan when her father fell ill. She arrived home in Ashgabad in May, just too late to see her father before his death. However, when the MSS secret police later discovered she had crossed the border illegally three years earlier she was summoned for interrogation. While admitting she had left without obtaining the necessary exit visa (these are claimed to have been abolished), Annaniyazova protested that many others who had done likewise were not being tried. She insisted she was being persecuted for being prominent in the Hare Krishna community. The Hare Krishna community, along with other religious believers, has experienced continuing persecution (see the F18News religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=672). Born in 1968, Annaniyazova became a devotee in the late 1980s when Soviet controls on religion were loosened.
Despite the claim to have abolished exit visas, Turkmenistan still denies religious believers permission to leave the country and is currently barring two Protestants and a Hare Krishna devotee (see F18News 9 November 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=685).
In early August Annaniyazova was compulsorily detained in a psychiatric hospital in Ashgabad, where she was held until early September. "She was not injected with anything there – they just did tests and observed her," Forum 18 was told. Prosecutors then lodged a criminal case against her, though she was not arrested in the run-up to her trial, which began on 16 November.
Sources expressed concern that the sentence, handed down by Ashgabad city court, exceeded the five year maximum penalty under Article 214 section 2 of the Criminal Code, which punishes illegal border crossing "committed with preliminary planning and in a group, or using violence or threats". The sources say that Annaniyazova had originally planned to cross with another Hare Krishna devotee, but she changed her mind before they reached the border with Uzbekistan. They say Annaniyazova's lawyer tried to call witnesses who could testify to this, but the court refused to allow this. Had she been tried under Article 214 section 1, which punishes people who cross the border illegally on their own, she would have faced a maximum two year term.
Annaniyazova's friends are now concerned about how she will fare in prison, as she is a vegetarian and no provision is made in prison for vegetarians. They say those punished under Article 214 are also not eligible for amnesty (each year President Saparmurat Niyazov declares a large-scale amnesty during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan). However, her friends say that even were she eligible for amnesty she would not be prepared to swear the oath of loyalty to the president on a copy of the Koran required before prisoners are amnestied.
The oath of loyalty is considered by many religious believers to be blasphemous and reads: "Turkmenistan, you are always with me in my thoughts and in my heart. For the slightest evil against you let my hand be cut off. For the slightest slander about you let my tongue be cut off. At the moment of my betrayal of my motherland, of her sacred banner, of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi [Father of the Turkmens] the Great [i.e. President Saparmurat Niyazov], let my breath stop."
The religious prisoner of conscience with the longest jail sentence in the former Soviet Union is in Turkmenistan. The former chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, was sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment at a closed trial in Ashgabad in March 2004. The Turkmen government has refused repeated international requests to make the verdict public (see F18News 8 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=271).
For more background, see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=672
A printer-friendly map of Turkmenistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=turkme
9 November 2005
Despite the claimed abolition of a requirement for permission to leave Turkmenistan, religious believers are still being denied permission to travel from the country. The latest cases known to Forum 18 News Service are two Protestants and one Hare Krishna devotee, who are being persistenly denied permission to travel. The Protestants were not on the official exit blacklist, one source told Forum 18, but were stopped after border guards asked why they were travelling abroad and they said they were going to study the Bible in a neighbouring country. The Hare Krishna devotee, who was intending to visit a temple in Russia and meet fellow devotees, "doesn't know why he's on the blacklist", another source told Forum 18. Meanwhile, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, Asma Jahangir, has this year again requested the Turkmen government to be allowed to visit the country – so far in vain. In situ visits are a "crucial aspect of the mandate on freedom of religion and belief", she insisted, expressing concern at Turkmenistan's failure to respond.
24 October 2005
Turkmenistan appears to be increasing pressure against Islam religious practise, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. A human rights activist has told Forum 18 of increased moves against practising male Muslims visiting mosques in northern Turkmenistan, including two arrests. The MSS secret police officers have made imams hang a list of mosque-goers above the doors to their mosques, and now only those whose names are on the list are allowed to visit that mosque. Turkmenistan's deputy mufti, Atash Zamedov, refused to answer Forum 18's questions about lists of names hung over mosque entrances. Also, after the reduction of student numbers and dismissal of foreign Turkish lecturers at the Muslim theological faculty in Ashgabad, Forum 18 has learnt that all local Turkmen teachers and technical staff as well have been dismissed and replaced with new appointees.
18 October 2005
In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service reports on the almost complete lack of freedom to practice any faith, including denials of the right of legally registered religious communities to worship. In a typical example of this approach - which other religious minorities have also experienced - police raided a legally registered Baptist church in northern Turkmenistan, claiming that "individuals can only believe alone on their own at home." Unregistered religious activity continues – in defiance of international human rights agreements – to be attacked. There has been an increase in attempts to impose a state religious personality cult of President Niyazov on all Turkmen citizens, with mosques being particularly targeted. Turkmenistan continues to fail to implement its international human rights commitments, and also continues to take direct governmental action to deny religious freedom to peaceful Turkmen citizens.