TURKMENISTAN: Jailed Krishna devotee sent to labour camp
Shortly after her failed appeal against her seven year jail sentence for illegally crossing the border - charges her supporters reject - Hare Krishna devotee Cheper Annaniyazova was transferred from the women's prison in the capital Ashgabad to the women's labour camp in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Work in the labour camp is reported to be hard, while bribery to escape the worst work is rampant. Even acquiring a decent place to sleep requires bribes. Annaniyazova's state of health and situation in the labour camp remains unknown. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox church in Dashoguz, the only Orthodox place of worship in northern Turkmenistan, still cannot complete construction of a new church begun some years ago. Officials are questioning the parish's right to use the land, while the church's registration application has been denied.
The labour camp in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan close to the border with Uzbekistan is the only one for women in the country. Its address is:
Dashoguz, ulica Ilyalinskaya, Zhenskaya Koloniya DZ-K/8, Turkmenistan.
The exile Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation reported last December that the camp has six barracks housing prisoners (though many have to sleep in the open air), as well as a work area with a brick factory, sewing and wool workshops and a bakery. It noted that bribery is rampant as a way for prisoners to escape the harshest work. "Those that don't pay have to carry out the heaviest work in the industrial zone," the group reported. It said the most hazardous work is cleaning wool. Even acquiring a decent place to sleep requires bribes. The group said the camp also has a closed section with about 400 high-profile prisoners, including former top officials who have fallen from favour. It remains unknown in which part of the camp Annaniyazova is housed.
Annaniyazova, who was born in 1968 and was one of the first people in Turkmenistan to become a Hare Krishna devotee, was accused under three charges, two of which related to illegally crossing the border three years ago when she went to Kazakhstan to live at the Hare Krishna temple in Almaty (see F18News 17 November 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=690).
The third accusation was, sources told Forum 18, not made public at the trial in November 2005 and the extra sentence imposed in the wake of the accusation was likewise not made public, though the sentence she received exceeds the maximum penalty possible under the known accusations. It is thought within Turkmenistan that the heavy sentence was imposed at the behest of the MSS (Ministry of State Security) secret police, in order to intimidate the Hare Krishna community (see F18News 5 December 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=699).
Despite a reluctance by the court to give out its verdict in writing as it is supposed to do (courts in Turkmenistan rarely give out written verdicts, especially in sensitive cases), Annaniyazova was able to challenge the verdict on appeal, but this was unsuccessful (see F18News 10 February 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=725).
After former chief mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah was sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment in March 2004 at a closed trial in Ashgabad, the Turkmen government refused repeated international requests to make the verdict public (see F18News 8 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=271).
Meanwhile, the exile Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights reported in March that the Russian Orthodox Church has been unable to complete its new church under construction in Dashoguz. The group said the foundation and walls are only partly built and work has been stopped for more than a year. The group added that the parish previously had registration with the Adalat (Fairness or Justice) Ministry, but this was revoked in the wake of the 2003 new religion law and the parish has been unable to regain it. The authorities question the parish's right to use the land, but have not obstructed worship in a portakabin, the only Orthodox place of worship in northern Turkmenistan.
The second Russian Orthodox church in the town of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou) finally gained state registration in early January, six years after it reopened for worship and applied for registration (see F18News 10 February 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=725). (END)
For a personal commentary by a Protestant within Turkmenistan, on the fiction - despite government claims - of religious freedom in the country, and how religious communities and the international community should respond to this, see http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=728
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
29 March 2006
Two recent reports based on testimony from North Korean refugees – one by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom - have confirmed earlier findings that religious freedom does not exist in North Korea, that local people are aware of state-sponsored acts of religious persecution and that the only state-approved religion is Juche, or self-reliance, which is closely allied to the cult of the deceased leader Kim Il-Sung. Some interviewees claimed they had witnessed or heard of extreme punishments, even death, meted out to religious believers, others recounted how some religious believers were spared such punishments. Christian organisation Open Doors has noted that North Koreans arriving in China are usually very opposed to religion in general and Christianity in particular as a result of the long-term and regular state indoctrination to which they had been subjected. Visitors to Pyongyang have told Forum 18 News Service that no regular worship takes place at the three official Christian churches in the city and that Buddhist monasteries elsewhere are neglected cultural relics.
22 March 2006
Tajikistan's parliament is to debate a proposed Law on Religion which, if passed, would be the most repressive of all the Central Asian religion laws. The draft was prepared by the state Committee for Religious Affairs. Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Jehovah's Witness leaders have all told Forum 18 News Service of their deep concerns over many aspects of the draft Law. Amongst the violations of international human rights standards that the Law proposes are: a ban on unregistered religious activity; the highest threshold in the CIS for numbers of citizens to register a religious community; restricting the numbers of mosques; banning evangelism or proselytism; banning the teaching of religion to all children under 7; state control over who can teach religion within religious communities and their education; state control of organising Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca; and a ban on foreigners – such as Catholic priests – leading religious communities.
13 March 2006
Pulat Nurov, the Islamic affairs specialist of the state Religious Affairs Committee, has told Forum 18 News Service that, in a planned new religion law, "it will clearly be stated that registration of religious organisations is compulsory." If this proves to be the case, Tajikistan will join Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in breaking international human rights obligations by making state registration compulsory. Nurov was speaking to Forum 18 about "inconsistencies" in the current 1994 Religion Law in relation to the continued closure of an Islamic religious school in northern Tajikistan. This madrasa is being barred from operation by the authorities, even though there is no legal basis for the government to do this. Nurov admitted to Forum 18 that registration of the madrasa is not compulsory and that no existing state agency can control the teaching of Islam. "These are the annoying defects of the Religion Law adopted back in 1994," he complained.