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Heavy fines

After a 22 January police raid on a group of Protestants, who had gathered in a private flat in the eastern city of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou), a city court has imposed heavy fines on at least five of those present, with threats to fine about a further dozen, Protestants who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 News Service. One of those punished has already faced previous harassment for exercising the internationally-recognised right to freedom of religion or belief, and been threatened with imprisonment.

Some of the Protestants are known to have been fined under Article 205 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which punishes "support for or participation in the activity of a religious group of religious organisation not officially registered in accordance with the legally established procedure". The article prescribes a fine of five to ten times the minimum monthly wage. Article 205's various parts punish "violation of the Law on Religious Organisations".

Local people told Forum 18 that the fines imposed on the Protestants represent between one and two months' average wages for those in an average state job in Turkmenabad. Most people in towns and especially villages away from the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] are very poor. In villages most people live in a subsistence economy with no formal wages. "I don't know how these people are going to pay the fines," one source familiar with the case told Forum 18.

Forum 18 was unable to reach the Turkmenabad police. An official (who did not give his name) at the religious affairs office of Lebap Regional Hyakimlik (administration) told Forum 18 on 28 January that the imam was not in the office and only he could speak about cases. The official said he knew nothing of any raid on Protestants in the city. The telephone of Rustam Jumaniyazov, the official of Turkmenabad Hyakimlik whose duties include overseeing religious affairs, went unanswered each time Forum 18 called the same day.

Reached on 28 January, Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, the Deputy Chair of the government's Gengeshi (Committee) for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad, put the phone down as soon as Forum 18 had introduced itself. Subsequent calls went unanswered.


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