OSLO, Norway (BP)–Officers of the secret police in Turkmenistan have ordered children of Baptist parents to be taken from their school classes and interrogated about “internal church life and their Christian education in their families” in the Central Asian country, according to a Forum 18 News Service report April 11.
“They banned the children from attending services and threatened several of them [who were older] with prison,” according to an April 3 statement Forum 18 received from the Baptist church in the city of Balkanabad (formerly Nebit-Dag) in western Turkmenistan. The church has been raided several times recently and has been banned from meeting.
Although Forum 18 was unable to verify the report of the questions and raids independently, the news service noted that statements issued by the unregistered Baptists have a long track record of reliability. Forum 18 was unable to reach the secret police, named the National Security Committee, or the police in Balkanabad on April 11 to find out why the Baptists are being threatened for attending unregistered services, which are not technically illegal in Turkmenistan. No one at the government’s Gengeshi (Committee) for Religious Affairs in the capital Ashgabad would comment on the raids and interrogations to Forum 18 on April 11.
The church reported that the interrogation of the children was carried out by police officers, who wanted to know how many copies of the Bible their families had at home and what other religious literature they had. The church complained that the interrogations took place without the parents’ knowledge and in their absence. They added that several church members were summoned to the police. “There they were banned with threats from attending services,” the church reported.
The interrogations followed a raid by eight NSC and police officials on the church’s Sunday morning worship service March 16. The Baptist congregation belongs to the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejects registration on principle in all the former Soviet republics where it operates.
Even had its congregations wished to register in Turkmenistan, that would have been impossible because the highly restrictive religion law requires each individual religious community seeking registration to have 500 adult citizen members who live in one district of a city or one rural district. In addition, there is an unpublished ban on registering congregations of any faiths other than Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox.
Raids on the church have continued. Six officials swooped on an evening service held by the church in a private residence on April 1. “None of them gave their names, but among them was local police inspector Govher Kurbanova,” the church reported. “They again banned them from meeting and threatened to confiscate from the owner the flat where we meet for worship.”
Forum 18 is an Internet news service based in Oslo, Norway, focusing on persecuted Christians and other religious groups in the former Soviet Union and its satellite states. Its website is www.forum18.org.