Parliamentary question by Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission
WRITTEN QUESTION E-2184/03
by Maurizio Turco (NI) to the Commission
(19 June 2003)
Subject: Further violations of religious freedom in Turkmenistan
The Turkmen authorities have refused to allow any religious groups to register other than Russian Orthodox and Muslim communities. All unregistered religious activities are regarded as illegal and, in any event, subject to supervision by the sixth branch of the National Safety Committee (KNB, formerly KGB).
At the end of May, two Hare Krishna meetings were disrupted by the Turkmen authorities. In the course of a raid in a village near Mari, officials joined in the ceremony to film those taking part. In the capital, Ashgabad, a Ministry of Internal Affairs intervention group headed by Colonel Byashim Taganov burst into a house occupied by a Hare Krishna devotee, Gaurabhakta Devi Dasi, and, without producing a search warrant, removed icons and religious material. Gaurabhakta Devi Dasi was arrested, together with two other Hare Krishna devotees. Of the three, two were fined and threatened with removal from the capital, while the third was savagely beaten and threatened with criminal charges. Colonel Taganov denies any involvement in this incident.
On 31 May, after local authorities had forced their way into a private house, Guzelya Syraeva was fined for having held a meeting with other members of an unregistered Protestant group. Subsequently, Ms Syraeva was pressurised by the authorities to leave her job as a teacher at the Abadan day nursery. They also threatened to dismiss the director of the day nursery, Tazegyul Nurieva, unless she sacked Ms Syraeva. The two women have also been subject to pressure from the Department of Education.
On 13 June, the police forced their way into a private apartment where members of the Baptist denomination were praying. All those present were interrogated for several hours. The police chief, Alaverdy Khudoberdiev, defended the police action on the grounds that activities by unregistered organisations were illegal, whereas in fact the Turkmen law on religion does not prohibit activity by unregistered religious organisations. Dieter Matthei, a political official with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has confirmed the difficulties encountered when attempting to obtain reports on such incidents from the local authorities.
In view of the foregoing:
- Is the Commission aware of the serious and persistent violations of freedom of religion in Turkmenistan and of the incidents reported?
- What initiatives does the Commission intend to take, or to call for, with a view to bringing pressure to bear on the Turkmen authorities to ensure religious freedom is upheld in Turkmenistan?
Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(29 July 2003)
The Commission is fully aware of the very difficult conditions facing religious minorities in Turkmenistan.
The Commission is very concerned about the lack of commitment of the Turkmen Authorities to improve the situation of minority religious groups. Turkmenistan does not respect its commitments on religious freedom that are enshrined in the Turkmen Constitution and accepted by the government in its international agreements in the Organisation on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The Commission will continue to raise this question with the Turkmen Authorities at each bilateral meeting.
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