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The 77-year-old poet was questioned

An elderly Protestant Christian was held and questioned by police and a local state religious affairs official after trying to arrange through a local printing shop to print copies of a small book of his Christian poetry, fellow Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. The 77-year-old Begjan Shirmedov was held by Police in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan for six hours on 3 February before being freed.

Shirmedov, a member of a Protestant church in Dashoguz which has long been seeking state registration in vain, has been writing Christian poetry in Turkmen for some years, Protestants told Forum 18. Wanting to have some of them printed so that he could give copies away, he went to a local printing shop. Knowing the authorities' sensitivity over religious literature, he told the printing shop staff that the poetry was religious and asked if this would be a problem. They insisted it would not.

When Shirmedov returned to the printing shop on 3 February hoping to collect copies, an official of the Regional Gengesh, Hudainazar (last name unknown), was waiting for him. The official took Shirmedov to the Police's 6th Department, which is notionally responsible for counter-terrorism and organised crime work. There officers questioned Shirmedov for six hours and forced him to write a statement. He stressed in the statement that he had been careful to check with the printing house whether printing religious literature was permitted before placing his order.

Police told Shirmedov that he is not allowed to leave Dashoguz Region while the investigation continues. It remains unclear if any charges will be brought against him and what he is being investigated for.

Shirmedov's church, Path of Faith Baptist Church, again tried to find out in January why its registration application has languished unanswered for many years. About forty church members who travelled to the resort of Avaza on the Caspian Sea for an August 2011 holiday were detained, questioned and insulted by the police and the local imam because of their faith. They were forced to abandon their holiday (see F18News 5 September 2011 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1609).

One of Shirmedov's sons, Merdan, who had married a US citizen, was barred from leaving Turkmenistan in January 2007 to be reunited with his wife and to be present for the birth of their first baby, who was born in May 2007. The exit ban was lifted in July 2007 (see F18News 31 August 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1013).


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