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Unregistered religious activity is dangerous

The authorities routinely refuse state registration to religious communities they do not like, including independent mosques (especially Shia mosques), many Protestant churches and Jehovah's Witness communities. The Armenian Apostolic Church has been denied the possibility to resume its activity in the country.

Only 124 religious communities are known to have achieved registration, including 100 mosques, 13 Russian Orthodox churches and one each of Catholic, Hare Krishna and Baha'i communities. Ashgabad's Catholic community – the most recent to gain registration - finally gained legal status in March 2010 after 13 years of negotiation (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1512).

Unregistered religious activity is – against the country's human rights obligations - banned under the Religion Law. Such religious activity is dangerous, because it is liable to raids and threats from the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police and the ordinary police. The ordinary police's 6th Department, which is notionally responsible for counter-terrorism and organised crime work, is often very active against people exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Raids such as the one on the 22 January are frequent, but victims of other raids are often afraid to have their cases publicised for fear of attracting further state harassment.

In October 2010, Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev, who leads Light to the World Protestant Church in Mary east of Ashgabad, was given a four-year labour camp term with "forcible medical treatment" on charges his community insist have been falsified. He had tried in vain to register his church. In December 2010 he was transferred to the labour camp at Seydi in Lebap Region of eastern Turkmenistan, where eight Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are also imprisoned, and where there is evidence suggesting the use of psychotropic [mind-altering] drugs for torture (see F18News 22 December 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1525).


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