Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan – Government officials in Turkmenistan continue imposing harsh penalties for worshiping God. In a February 26th report, Forum 18, an Oslo-based religious persecution watchdog, reported gross human rights violation by Turkmenistan officials on Christians. Apparently, officials had seized property from members of a local Baptist church in order to “pay” for fines imposed last year for unregistered worship. This, Forum 18 reports, is in clear violation of the international law and human right agreement that Turkmenistan officials had signed.
The incident occurred on January 22, when Turkmenistan Baptist Yelena Lemshko refused to go to court after being summoned by government officials to pay fines for attending worship. Four days later, the local court executor with one colleague and two witnesses came to Lemshko’s apartment demanding payment by January 31. Nevertheless, the court executor confiscated items including an expensive carpet and wall clock from Lemshko’s household. The total value of what was seized had far exceeded the fine itself. When Lemshko’s husband complained, the court executor curtly replied, "Never mind, we'll value them at the amount we need. This is how it will be with everyone that doesn't pay their fines." The following day, Lemeshko’s husband appealed to the local court asking to see the copy of the court “document” ordering the seizure. But the court promptly denied access. For her troubles, Lemeshko was put on enforced leave from her job. The grave injustice had gone unnoticed for two months, until Forum 18 reported this issue last week. At the time of the writing, this case is still in the process of being resolved.
Though property seizures like that of Lemeshko’s case generally receives little attention from the international community, many Christians in Turkmenistan fear that such persecution will worsen if it remains unchecked. Since May 2003, Turkmenistan officials have continued demanding fines from Christians for performing acts of religious worship, as Christian religious activity remains illegal in the former Soviet-bloc nation.