TURKMENISTAN: Major Hare Krishna festival banned
Banned since the spring from meeting in the house it rented for use as a temple in the wake of February and March police and secret police raids, the Hare Krishna community in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] was warned by officials not to hold celebrations on 17 and 18 April for Rama Navami, one of the most important Hare Krishna festivals of the year. "Our community can't meet at all now," Hare Krishna sources complained to Forum 18 News Service, "neither in the house, nor at the legal address. This is critical as religious communities can't meet in private homes and local authorities are afraid of renting property they own to religious communities as they don't want problems. So what can the community do?"
The sources reported that a few days before the festival, officials from Ashgabad city administration summoned several local Hare Krishna leaders and told them that the community cannot meet until planned new government regulations have been produced and published. Officials complained that when the community rented the house last year it had declared that it would use the premises for business purposes but had violated this by using the house for religious meetings. (Ashgabad city administration issued a decree in July 2004 banning the renting of private homes and flats for business and religious purposes.)
"The local administration knew that our community was renting the house for religious purposes and made no objection," the sources insisted to Forum 18. "They could have intervened last year when the forms were being filled in, but they didn't. And the community paid the tax for one year in advance."
The Hare Krishna community had used the house, owned by female devotee Gaurabhakta devi dasi, as its temple until soon after the harsh new law on religion was adopted in 1996 and the community lost its official registration – along with all other non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox religious communities - in the compulsory re-registration in 1997. When the community finally achieved re-registration in summer 2004 it registered its legal address in a private flat.
However, officials banned the group from meeting at the legal address, so the community rented the house, paying the tax for one year of 1,200,000 manats (1,447 Norwegian kroner, 178 Euros or 230 US dollars at the vastly inflated official exchange rate) using contributions from community members. "The government's Gengeshi (Committee) for Religious Affairs had no objection to renting the house – it knew it would be used for religious purposes."
The community met at the house without obstacle for some six months before the police and secret police raids, during which they were ordered not to meet there again. When the Hare Krishna devotees asked the tax office to return half a year's tax they had already paid if the community could no longer rent the premises, the tax office refused.
"Our community can't meet at all now," the Hare Krishna sources complained, "neither in the house, nor at the legal address. This is critical as religious communities can't meet in private homes and local authorities are afraid of renting property they own to religious communities as they don't want problems. So what can the community do?"
After the government allowed minority religious communities to register again last summer for the first time since 1997 it banned some of the newly-registered communities from holding any services. The Seventh-day Adventist and the Baptist communities in Ashgabad were both denied permission to meet for more than half a year after gaining registration. Many more religious minorities, as well as many Muslim communities, have still not been able to register (see F18News 22 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=548).
Up to about 70 Hare Krishna devotees would gather in Ashgabad to mark major festivals, community members told Forum 18, with perhaps two dozen on a weekly basis. A Hare Krishna community also meets in the Mari region east of the capital. In May 2003, the communities in Ashgabad and in the village of Budenovsky just outside the town of Mari were raided by police at a time of widespread raids on religious communities of a variety of faiths (see F18News 8 July 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=100).
The authorities used tractors to destroy the temple in Budenovsky in August 1999 as persecution of religious minorities was beginning to intensify. Three months later the authorities used bulldozers to destroy the Adventist church in Ashgabad. No religious communities that had places of worship destroyed or confiscated between 1999 and 2004 (including Muslim, Adventist, Baptist, Pentecostal or Hare Krishna communities) have had apologies or compensation for the destroyed buildings.
For more background, see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=296
A printer-friendly map of Turkmenistan is available at
22 April 2005
Amid continuing international pressure, five Protestant Churches are being granted registration, though no Armenian Apostolic, Lutheran, Jewish, Yezidi or Jehovah's Witness activity is yet allowed (all unregistered religious activity remains illegal). Pastor Viktor Makrousov of the Full Gospel Church told Forum 18 News Service he still has to go to 20 offices to complete the registration process. He will work to regain his confiscated church. He hopes harassment – such as threats to Pentecostals in early April – will come to an end. Meanwhile all four imprisoned Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors were freed by presidential decree in mid-April, but not former chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, serving a 22-year sentence.
31 March 2005
Despite being members of their nationally-registered Church, five Baptists in the eastern city of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou) were fined two months' average wages in late March to punish them for holding a small service which the secret police claim was "illegal". If they fail to pay by 10 April, the fines will be doubled, Protestants have told Forum 18 News Service. When the service was raided, officers insulted one Baptist, asking her why she was a Christian and insisting that it would be better for the Baptists to follow the Islamic faith of their forebears. "The security police don't even know the new religion law which allows us to meet," one Protestant complained to Forum 18. "They just wanted to make fun of the Baptists."
16 March 2005
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's surprise announcement last month of the abolition of the State Committee for Religious Affairs is a powerful signal to the rest of the region that governments should end their meddling in religious life, argues former Soviet political prisoner Professor Myroslav Marynovych, who is now vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University http://www.ucu.edu.ua in Lviv, in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. He regards the feeling in Ukraine that the communist model of controlling religion is now dead as the greatest gain of the "Orange Revolution" in the sphere of religion. Yet Professor Marynovych warns that other countries will find it hard to learn from the proclaimed end of Ukrainian government interference in religious matters without wider respect for human rights and accountable government. Without democratic change – which should bring in its wake greater freedom for religious communities from state control and meddling - it is unlikely that religious communities will escape from government efforts to control them.