MUSLIM HATE IN TURKMENISTAN
Police dead in Turkmenistan shootout
ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — A large gunfight erupted overnight in the capital of Turkmenistan, in a rare instance of violence in the authoritarian Central Asian nation, witnesses said Saturday.
Radio Free Europe\Radio Liberty, citing unidentified sources, reported that gunshots were exchanged in Ashgabat between members of a radical Islamist group and security forces. The foreign-based opposition website Gundogar quoted witnesses in the city as saying at least 20 security personnel were killed.
Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic blessed with large gas and oil reserves, is a small central Asian country bordering Iran and Afghanistan to the south. Its population is overwhelmingly Muslim but Islamic violence is virtually unheard of, as the government has vigorously stamped out all opposition.
Local people told The Associated Press that armored personnel carriers were circulating in the area of the clash. Streets in the district were closed off for much of the day, but witness said the scene returned to normal later.
State media has not reported on the incident.
On the Human Rights and Security Crisis in Turkmenistan Violence Could Spread
Statement by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF)
Vienna and Moscow, 23 December 2002. Turkmenistan, the most repressive state in Central Asia and the OSCE participating State most neglectful of that organization’s efforts to promote human rights and democracy, may face more attempts violently to overthrow of its government, especially after an alleged presidential assassination attempt on 25 November 2002 and a subsequent wave of arrests. Amnesty International, Memorial, Human Rights Watch and a newly formed Helsinki human rights group composed of persons exiled from Turkmenistan have reported on many violations of human rights in the context of the incident, including arrests of family members of suspects, denial of access to lawyers, and torture.
The death penalty may be reinstated following an orchestrated campaign in the state-controlled mass media promoting execution of those accused of the attempted assassination. Not only the accused but also their families would be endangered by the decision.
Observers consider Turkmenistan’s government to be the most unstable in a region where increasing poverty, corruption, and the abuse of basic human rights have created a climate of political unrest that, more and more frequently, leads to violent and illegal governmental repression of dissent. Civil conflict in Turkmenistan would likely result in instability in neighboring countries where political reform is likewise obstructed.
“Human rights violations in Turkmenistan are threatening regional stability and security. The current governmental policy in Turkmenistan is only leading to a reign of increasing state terror and reprisals,” Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, and Vitalii Ponomarev, who directs Memorial’s program on Central Asia, said in a joint statement.
The IHF and Memorial endorse the OSCE’s invocation of the Moscow Mechanism to dispatch a mission to Turkmenistan that will look into the current situation. Members of the OSCE should discuss with the regime of President Niazov the need for dialogue and peaceful political change; free and independent media; political pluralism; an active civil society; and cooperation with international institutions.
The IHF and Memorial applaud a 12 December 2002 proposal by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media to hold a special OSCE meeting of the organization’s Permanent Council devoted to the situation in Turkmenistan.
For more information:
Aaron Rhodes, IHF, Vienna: +43-1-408 8822/+43-676-635 6612
Vitalii Ponomarev, Memorial, Moscow: +7-095-200-65-06, 432-34-77
TURKMENISTAN: Official "religious hatred" towards non-Muslim faiths
By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses in Turkmenistan have complained to Forum 18 News Service about continuing official "religious hatred" towards followers of non-Islamic faiths. "Christians are disturbed that officials try to pressure people to turn away from the faith they have chosen," one Ashgabad-based Protestant told Forum 18. "Such officials are inciting interreligious hatred and this should end." The most recent such incident known to Forum 18 is official pressure by a 12-strong commission of officials and the local Muslim imam to force a convert to Christianity to renounce their faith. Officers of the Police and the Interior Ministry 6th Department – responsible for anti-terrorism and the fight against organised crime and religious activity – took part in the attacks. Members of minority faiths remain concerned that, while official policy proclaims interethnic and interreligious harmony, the reality is different, with hostility, threats and pressure to convert "back" to Islam.
Protestants and Jehovah's
Witnesses in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] and elsewhere in the
country have complained to Forum 18 News Service about what they regard as
officials' continuing "religious hatred" towards followers of non-Islamic
faiths. "Christians are disturbed that officials try to pressure people to turn
away from the faith they have chosen," one Ashgabad-based Protestant told Forum
18. "Such officials are inciting interreligious hatred and this should end."
Jehovah's Witnesses voiced similar concerns to Forum 18.
The most recent such incident known to Forum 18 is official pressure in December 2005 on a recent convert to Christianity, by a 12-strong commission of officials and the local Muslim imam, The ethnic Turkmen convert to Christianity, who is not identified for fear of retribution, joined a Protestant congregation in Ashgabad in late 2005. The convert soon faced beatings from relatives and expulsion from the family home. The family then brought in officers of the Police and the Interior Ministry 6th Department to hunt the convert down. The 6th Department is responsible for anti-terrorism and the fight against organised crime and religious activity.
Once the convert was located, the police took the convert to two police stations for interrogation and then to the local Hyakimlik (administration). "For an hour, 12 officials of the commission that handles violations of the law shouted at the convert that they were a traitor to their faith," one Christian told Forum 18. "In the presence of some relatives, they told the convert that if they renounced Christianity and returned to Islam nothing more would happen. But the convert refused to renounce the Christian faith." The convert was then allowed to go, although officials told the convert on leaving: "You're ill" and "Your head isn't working". Christians told Forum 18 that after the intimidation at the hyakimlik, the convert has been left alone.
Forum 18 tried to find out why members of religious minorities face insults to their faith and pressure to convert to another faith, especially in the light of the country's proclaimed official separation of religion from the state. However, telephones went unanswered on 19 January at the government's Gengeshi (Committee) for Religious Affairs and at the presidential Institute of Democracy and Human Rights (which always defends the government's actions). Likewise unavailable was Ashgabad's official imam Mekan Akiev, who holds a post at the city hyakimlik (administration) alongside his duties as a Muslim cleric.
Members of religious minorities remain concerned that while official policy proclaims interethnic and interreligious harmony, the reality is different, with hostility, threats and pressure to convert "back" to Islam. "This double attitude comes from the very top," Protestants complained. "On the one hand the President proclaims that registration of religious communities is possible and that constitutional guarantees of religious freedom will be honoured, while on the other he talks on television of people 'betraying' their faith."
In the wake of a 17 December 2005 raid on a prayer meeting of the Turkmen-speaking registered Baptist church in the town of Deynau, in the north-eastern Lebap region, officials insulted the faith of those detained and even told the Baptists that local authorities should hold public meetings in villages, where Christians should be personally named and denounced as traitors (see F18News 19 December 2005).
"You're Turkmens – you should be Muslims," those detained were told. Officials threatened to summon the entire local population and put the group of Protestants in the middle of them. "The idea was to shame and humiliate them so as to frighten others off who might be tempted to become Christians," Protestant sources told Forum 18. "Although a date was named, officials eventually let them go, but only after they had forced the believers to sign a statement that they would read the president's book, the Ruhnama, instead of the New Testament." President Niyazov's "spiritual writings" are a compulsory part of life in Turkmenistan (see F18News 1 March 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=522).
In recent years, officials have frequently insulted and expressed hostility to the faith of members of religious minorities, especially Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees. These expressions of religious hatred are often accompanied by threats, beatings and fines. "About five years ago such harassment and pressure was often sparked after church members signed religious registration applications," one Protestant told Forum 18. "Such registration was never given then, but officials used the lists of names to harass ethnic Turkmens or ethnic Uzbeks who signed the applications."
Such pressure was especially common in villages, the Protestant added. Officials together with the local mullah often descended on the homes of church members and publicly berated them as "traitors", warning neighbours not to associate with them. "Cases still come up today where police berate local Protestants, but prefer to do so in private," the Protestant reported. "They do not want any witnesses to what they are doing."
Religious minorities complain that the official positions given to Muslim clerics in the government's religious affairs administration and the closeness of many local mullahs to the authorities – especially in villages – helps promote intolerance of religious minorities.
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