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12/29/03 - TURKMENISTAN RELIGIOUS REPRESSION - 2003-12-29


As the U.S. State Department’s latest Report on International Religious Freedom makes clear, Turkmenistan is one of the countries where things have gotten worse. Turkmenistan has a law that restricts all forms of independent religious expression. To practice, religious groups must register with the government. And only those with at least five-hundred members in any local area may register. The practical effect is that only followers of Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity have been allowed to register.

The two registered religions are controlled by the Turkmenistan government. The government pays the salaries of most Muslim religious leaders and requires them to report regularly to its Council on Religious Affairs. Russian Orthodox priests must also report to the council.

Members of unregistered religious groups suffer serious discrimination by the Turkmenistan government. They include the Armenian Apostolic Church, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other evangelical Christian denominations. Small communities of Baha’is, Hare Krishnas, and Jews are also targeted.

The harassment includes detention and arrest of religious leaders, confiscation of religious literature and materials, pressure to abandon religious beliefs, and threats of eviction from homes and loss of jobs.

More than a half century ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “Everyone,” it says, “has the right. . .in public or private, to manifest his religion in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.” People in Turkmenistan -- no less than people everywhere else -- should be allowed to practice whatever religion they choose freely.

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