For the third year in a row, the U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has raised concerns about human rights violations in Turkmenistan. Lorne Craner, head of the U.S. delegation, cited restrictions on religious expression, among other abuses.
According to the latest U.S. State Department report, Turkmenistan's human rights record continues to be "extremely poor." The government of president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov claims to respect freedom of religion, but in practice closely controls and monitors all religious activity.
Minority religions face outright percution. Jehovah's Witnesses are subjected to sexual harassment, detention, interrogation, eviction, and pressure to abandon their beliefs. Foreign missionary activity is prohibited and ethnic Turkmen who convert to Christianity are subjected to official harassment and mistreatment.
Many groups, including those officially registered, are unable to establish places of worship. Turkmenistan authorities have demolished privately operated mosques and refused to allow two Hare Krishna temples, a Seventh-Day Adventist church, and several Christian denomination churches to be either rebuilt or returned to their congregations.
The Turkmenistan government even attempts to restrict the freedom of parents to raise their children in accordance with their religious beliefs. Students are required to study the Rukhnama at all public schools and institutes of higher learning. The Rukhnama, or Book of the Soul, is a two volume ideological work written by President Niyazov. Russian Orthodox priests and Sunni Muslim imams are forced to quote from it in sermons. The government closed down a mosque that failed to place the Rukhnama on the same stand with the Koran for Friday prayers.
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, which President Niyazov personally signed in 1992. It is time for the government of Turkmenistan to live up to its promises to protect human rights, including freedom of religion.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.