Interfaith outreach in Turkmenistan: Imams, police and intelligence services ban Bibles and Christian songs
Why don’t Christian leaders in the West speak out about these persecutions? “Talk about extreme, militant Islamists and the atrocities that they have perpetrated globally might undercut the positive achievements that we Catholics have attained in our inter-religious dialogue with devout Muslims.” — Robert McManus, Roman Catholic Bishop of Worcester, Massachusetts, February 8, 2013
“Ashgabat, imams, police and intelligence services ban Bibles and Christian songs,” from Asia News, December 21 (thanks to Block Ness):
Ashgabat ( AsiaNews/F18 ) – Police and Secret Service agents in Dashoguz, a city in the north of Turkmenistan, have carried out a raid against a group of believers of the “Church of the Light of the East”, a local Protestant community. Special forces raided two houses of prayer, and confiscated religious materials including Bibles. An official of the Department of Religious Affairs, who is also an imam at the local mosque, turned to the pastor of the Pentecostal community stating that his faith “is wrong” and warned him to convert to Islam. “Christianity is a mistake – added the Muslim leader – it’s not a religion, but a myth.”The police also threatened a Turkmen believer to 15 days in prison and deportation. To a group practicing hymns for Sunday service, the officers stated that “the songs of praise to God are banned here”.
The Norwegian Forum 18 news website, committed to documenting violations of religious freedom in Central Asia, reports that the number and scope of fines against individuals and communities who want to exercise their right to religious freedom has increased. The restrictions on the practice of faith is even targeting Muslims – the vast majority in the country – with the state that continues to limit the number of visas granted to the faithful who wish to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The community of Eastern Pentecostal Church of Light has obtained official registration in April 2005 and was one of the first state recognized realities that was not Muslim or Russian Orthodox to be able to worship outside of the capital Ashgabat. However, in recent weeks, the faithful have been the subject of repeated raids by the authorities and the secret police, with threats of arrests and the seizure of religious materials. During one of these operations in a private home, the agents claimed that “it is forbidden to sing hymns to God,” and without identifying themselves, they have seized the book of songs and brought the members of the community in for “investigations”.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of people are being incarcerated for crimes of opinion and defense of religious freedom. News has emerged in recent days of a Jehovah’s Witness being sentenced to to 18 months’ imprisonment. Suhrab Rahmanberdiyyev, who has just turned 18 is the ninth conscientious objector to end up in prison, where he was beaten and abused because he refused to declare himself a Muslim and convert to Islam.