Turkmenistan: Unregistered Religious Activity Became Criminal

The new restrictive law of Turkmenistan on religion declares all unregistered religious activity illegal.
( [email protected] ) Nov 17, 2003 11:31 AM EST

The new restrictive law of Turkmenistan on religion declares all unregistered religious activity illegal. The new amendment to the criminal code assumes the punishment for violation of the law for one year of “corrective works”. The news service « Forum 18 » has noted that in spite of the fact that authorities recently concerned an unregistered activity as illegal, such decision for the first time has been officially included in the law. The new law marks one more significant step during suppression of religious minority.

The new law signed by the president Saparmuratom Niyazov on October 21st, has come into force since time of its publication in official press on November 10th. It completely replaces the law on religion from 1991 to which amendments already were some times made.

The decision that has significant influence on believers represents criminalization of unregistered religious activity. The clause 11 says “an activity of the unregistered organizations is forbidden. A person who carries out activity on behalf of the unregistered religious organization bears the responsibility according to laws of Turkmenistan”. Thus, Turkmenistan has joined Uzbekistan and Belarus in which from among former Soviet republics the government has imposed special interdictions on unregistered activity, ignoring the international agreement under human rights, which these countries have signed.

According to clause 8, registration in the Ministry of Justice demands presence of 500 adult citizens, which live in territory of the country. But this condition is practically impracticable for many religious communities. Among arguments for liquidation of the religious organizations through courts, “interventions in family attitudes which conducts to destruction of family” and “violations of social safety and a public order” are quite often mentioned facts.

Religious formation also is strictly limited. Clause 6 says, that teaching spiritual truths on a private basis is forbidden and bears behind itself the responsibility according to the law of Turkmenistan.

As a result of it, appeared that an opportunity to educate have only Muslims and Russian orthodox. However even their teachers should meet with approval on the part of the governmental Advice on affairs of religion. Clause 19 forbids to everyone who is not « the attendant of the religious organizations », to carry « cult attributes » in public places. 20 clause demands, that all religious literature which is imported by the registered religious organizations, has been approved by Advice. According to clause 15, all religious organizations, which get financial or other support from foreign sponsors, should notify on it the Ministry of Justice.

New clause of the Criminal code which also has been signed by president Niyazov on October, 21, as punishment for “violation of the law on the religious organizations” assumes payment of the penalty within a year of the sum from 10 up to 30 average monthly salaries, corrective works within one year or imprisonment about six months, with confiscation of illegally received means. Such punishment threatens heads and teachers of religion of unregistered religious communities.

The assistant to the chapter of Advice on affairs of religion Murad Kariev has declared during the half-hour television program on November 7th that “for the registered groups and faiths there is full freedom”. “We do not interfere with affairs of religious groups and faiths which are lawfully registered in the Ministry of Justice”, - he said. He also has added that 395 mosques and 13 Russian orthodox churches are registered. “Unfortunately, there are people who break the law”, - has declared Kariev. “Some persons after they made underground formation in foreign countries try to distribute the ideas in our society. We, members of Advice, should not allow any religious activity to function”.