Tuesday, August 2, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center
TURKMENABAD/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- Baptists in Turkmenistan faced another difficult Sunday, July 31, after a private home where they gathered regularly was stormed by police who beat the handicapped host with her own Bible and threatened to hang her, human rights activists reported.
The news agency of religious rights watchdog Forum 18 said Asiya Zasedatelevaya was still suffering because of the July 19 violence in her home in the town of Turkmenabad, Turkmenistan, and that she appealed to the authorities to return Christian literature confiscated from her.
"They started to interrogate me, despite the fact that I'm a third-category invalid unable to hear and speak," Zasedatelevaya was quoted as telling Forum 18 News (F18News). When she did not reveal where she had got her Christian books, one of the policemen apparently hit her over the head with her Bible, while the second hit her in the face.
"The local policeman threatened to hang me," she added. "During all this my four-year-old child was present in the flat." Police officials could not be reached for comment.
Zasedatelevaya said several men, including two in civilian clothing, were involved in the raid in the morning of July 19, and accompanied by local police captain in uniform. She said police also took away all her religious literature, as well as a Russian dictionary, without giving her a record of the confiscation.
She was then taken to a police station where she was told that neighbors had written a statement reporting that religious meetings lasting up three hours were held in her flat.
"WORD OF GOD"
Zasedatelevaya reportedly admitted that she regularly hosts meetings of between ten and fifteen local Baptists in her flat each week "to study the Word of God". She also demanded the return of her confiscated literature "and an end to official harassment simply for meeting privately to study the Bible", F18News said.
Her Baptist congregation is part of the Baptist Council of Churches, whose congregations refuse on principle to register with the state authorities in post-Soviet countries. The activity of registered communities remains restricted, with officials reportedly insisting that no religious meetings can be held in private homes.
Even "registered congregations are pressured to subscribe to the blasphemous cult of personality around the country's president, Saparmurat Niyazov," Forum 18 said.
Members of another Baptist congregation in Turkmenabad, who belong to the nationally-registered Baptist Union, were allegedly fined in March. In addition two Baptist families were evicted from their hostels in punishment for meeting for worship, despite being part of a registered church, F18News said.
Police officials reportedly described the worship as "illegal" and said it would be better for the Baptists to follow the religion of Islam. Human rights groups say that the pressure on Christians have intensified since the president reportedly said this month that the country has only "one religion and unique traditions and customs" and that "there is no need for people to look beyond these."
House owners have reportedly been warned not to host religious meetings and other non-Christian sects, including the Hare Krishna, have also complained about what they see as the harsh measures from the authorities in the former Soviet republic. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Turkmenistan)
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