TURKMENISTAN: Fears grow for imprisoned Baptist
It is feared that detained Baptist Geldy Khudaikuliev may not be released as promised by Turkmen secret police officers, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, and concerns are growing that he may have criminal charges laid against him and be being tortured. The family has been told that he is being held at the main headquarters of the National Security Ministry in the capital Ashgabad, and access to him is not being permitted. Khudaikuliev leads a small Baptist community in the town of Geok-Tepe, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Ashgabad. Like all non-Sunni Muslim and all non-Russian Orthodox communities it does not have state registration and the government treats all its activity as illegal. He had travelled to Ashgabad to collect money that had been transferred to him, and was then detained by the National Security Ministry, which has declined to discuss his case with Forum 18.
"We fear he may not be released as scheduled but they will try to hang criminal charges on him," sources told Forum 18. "We are also worried because torture is routine in the National Security headquarters." It is believed that Geldy Khudaikuliev may have been under torture for the past two or three days.
Khudaikuliev leads a small Baptist community in the town of Geok-Tepe, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Ashgabad. Like all non-Sunni Muslim and all non-Russian Orthodox communities it does not have state registration and the government treats all its activity as illegal. He had travelled to Ashgabad to collect money that had been transferred to him from the office of Western Union. It remains unclear whether he withdrew the money or not, although Western Union apparently told those who had sent the money that it had been withdrawn on 13 December. It remains unclear whether Khudaikuliev withdrew the money or not.
Khudaikuliev is not known to have suffered direct pressure from the authorities before. He is not known to have been interrogated or fined for his work for his church.. When contacted by Forum 18, no National Secuity Ministry official was willing to discuss the case.
The Turkmen authorities allow only Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox communities to have state registration, and have last month outlawed all unregistered religious activity with a new religion law. This defies the international human rights agreements Turkmenisan has signed (see F18News 11 November 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=180 ). Even before the new law came into force, Forum 18 knew of religious believers being fined, detained, beaten, threatened, sacked from their jobs, having their homes confiscated, banished to remote parts of the country or deported for unregistered religious activity.
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9 December 2003
In the first instance known to Forum 18 News Service of the use against believers of Turkmenistan's harsh new religion law, which came into force in November, police raided a Baptist Sunday service and took everyone present, including children, to a police station. Forum 18 has learnt that everyone present was accused of breaking the new religion law by worshipping without state registration, warned they would be fined 10 times the minimum wage for the first two such cases in a year, and then face criminal charges. One women was threatened that her children would be taken from her and then put in a children's home. Turkmenistan only allows Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox communities to have state registration.
4 December 2003
Reliable sources have told Forum 18 News Service that officials don't yet know how harshly to implement Turkenistan's new religion law, which breaches international human rights agreements the country has signed. It is believed that instructions may be given for harsh implementation. International pressure on Turkmenistan is growing the UN human rights committee passing a European Union sponsored resolution calling for an end to "serious and continuing human rights violations", as well as criticism by the US Helsinki Commission. US Secretary of State Colin Powell told this month's OSCE ministerial meeting that "Turkmenistan's persecution of political opponents and religious minorities violates the letter and the spirit of the Helsinki Act." Religious minorities inside Turkmenistan have told Forum 18 of their continuing concerns about how the new law may be used to criminalise religious belief and practice. However a Baptist told Forum 18 that "The rulers of Turkmenistan are not in charge, God is still in his place."
24 November 2003
Under pressure from a draft UN resolution sponsored by the EU and US, the Turkmen president, Saparmurat Niyazov, has defended his record with the claim that Turkmenistan has never had religious prisoners of conscience and cooperates fully with international human rights bodies. However, Forum 18 News Service knows of Jehovah's Witness prisoners and an imam in internal exile. Also imprisoned for his faith was Baptist Shagildy Atakov. Turkmenistan has both consistently failed to cooperate with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and other UN human rights agencies and also has this month introduced a harsh new religion law outlawing all unregistered religious activity, which defies international human rights agreements it has signed.