Fines, raids and police brutality are some of the trademarks of Turkmenistan’s repeated violations of religious freedom, according to the latest report by regional news agency Forum 18.
Protestant Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims have all been repeatedly repressed, according to the report, despite the UN reiterating its concerns.
“Turkmen officials repeatedly avoided answering questions at hearings on the country’s record in Geneva in March,” Forum 18 reports. “Questions that went unanswered included those on bans on exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief without state registration, punishments for those who do exercise these rights, including arrests and imprisonments, and seizures of property.”
According to the UN, Turkmenistan’s legal framework, including its 2016 Religion Law, “retains undue restrictions on freedom of religious belief, such as the mandatory registration of religious organisations and obstacles to registration, and restrictions on religious education and importation and distribution of religious literature. [The UN] is also concerned about the reported denial of registration of religious minority communities, raids and confiscation of religious literature and intimidation, arrests and imprisonment of members of religious communities, particularly Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses”.
The UN calls on Turkmenistan to “halt all violations, bring laws into line with international human rights commitments and investigate all acts of undue interference with the freedom of religion of religious communities”.
Forum 18 cites the recent example of computers being confiscated during a raid on a Protestant home in Turkmenabad, the second largest city in the country, on the border with Uzbekistan.
“Small fines” were handed out to several Protestants in Turkmenabad in recent months “to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief”, one Protestant told Forum 18.
Previously, in May, Forum 18 says two Protestant leaders were detained – one after a neighbour reported her to police – and one of their meeting houses was seized.
Forum 18 says one Protestant last year was fined 4,000 manats (1,150 US dollars) for distributing discs containing Christian material. Police reportedly confiscated the discs and the machine used for duplicating them.