Coalition Calls Attention to Religious Freedom Violations in Turkmenistan

A group of human rights organizations recently joined forces to urge the U.S. Secretary of State to add Turkmenistan to a list of religious freedom violators.

On Sept. 28, the coalition of ten human rights and advocacy organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), appealed to Washington to designate the predominantly Muslim nation in Central Asia as a “country of particular concern” due to severe violations of religious freedom.

“There is no freedom of religion in Turkmenistan,” stated a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, followed by examples of repression listed Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Moreover, the letter from the alliance described the nation’s President, Saparmurat Niyazov, as “one of the most closed and brutal in the world,” according to HRW.

Among the minority religious groups that are persecuted by the Turkmen government, are Christians – in particular Baptists, whose prayer meetings are raided by police and whose service attendants are arrested and beaten. Also being persecuted in Turkmenistan, are minority Muslim communities and the Russian Orthodox Church, which have experience close supervision or denial of re-registration for the church.

According to the alliance, the addition of Turkmenistan to the list is “long overdue,” and Rice’s failure to add the country to the list would “jeopardize the credibility of the IRFA’s (International Religious Freedom Act) unique, proven leverage with respect to Turkmenistan and other countries,” as quoted by the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).

The letter also said “it would also cast doubt among the citizens of an overwhelmingly Muslim country on the U.S. government’s credibility as a champion of religious freedom.”

Despite long-standing international pressure, Turkmenistan has not improved its religious freedom policies and practices, IRIN reported.

“Turkmenistan’s government still refuses to allow residents of the country to practice their faith freely,” said Felix Corley, the editor of Forum 18 News Service, to IRIN.

“No religious community can freely print, publish or import religious literature,” said Corley, whose agency monitors religious persecution in Communist and former Soviet.

The Forum 18 editor also noted that the worship centers have been destroyed or confiscated in recent years without compensation or plans to rebuild them.

Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State is required to designate countries that commit severe violations of religious freedom as “countries of particular concern.” A country on this list will be subject to economic sanctions.

Signers of the Sept. 28 letter include: Environmental Justice Foundation,
Human Rights Watch,
Institute for War and Peace Reporting,
International Crisis Group,
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights,
International League for Human Rights,
Memorial Human Rights Center,
Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation,
Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights, and
International Religious Freedom Watch President Lawrence Uzzell.

The full text of the letter is available at www.hrw.org.