26 November 2001
Christian leader Asylbek Nurdanov has been threatened, beaten, tortured and imprisoned by police in an effort to make him giveup his faith.
Asylbek Nurdanov, a convert from a Muslim background, was ordered to appear at a local police station in Kazalinsk on 27 October after police raided the church he leads seizing Christian
literature. During his interrogation Asylbek was hit on the head, causing him to pass out, beaten, stripped naked, strangled with a belt, and threatened with a knife. It is even reported that the officers who beat Asylbek threatened to cut out his tongue with a pair of scissors unless he renounced his faith in Christ. When Asylbek refused to give up his faith the local police are reported to have resorted to pressurising his parents into writing letters complaining about his Christian activities. Finally Asylbek was imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital on 10 November, where he was held for six days. Police deny that Asylbek has received any violent treatment at their hands.
Asylbek seems to have been targeted because he belongs to a denomination which refuses to officially register its churches in Central Asia, to prevent them from coming under state control. Valery Pak, another church leader from the same group, was similarly targeted and imprisoned for five days in October. Despite the reported activities of police and other security officials there is no law in Kazakhstan that legally requires a religious group to be officially registered before it can hold meetings.
The council of elders of Chon-Tash village decided to ban Christianity at a meeting on 26 September which was meant to bring about a reconciliation between villagers and local Christians.
They added that if Christians did not stop sharing their faith with the villagers they "would not escape the people's wrath". Kyrgyzstan's deputy mufti Ilyas Haji, one of the most senior Muslim figures in the country, also attended the meeting. He called Christians "dogs" and said a law should be passed preventing ethnic Kyrgyz from adopting Christianity. Stones and apples were thrown at Christians as they left the meeting.
Several Christian converts from Islam living in the village have been intimidated into giving up their faith by locals. Christians have been refused burial in the local cemetery, and cut off from community activities. Muslims have encouraged the bullying of Christian children, and even beaten and intimidated them. Keston News Service reports that local authorities have said they cannot help, as they fear their intervention on behalf of local Christians could lead to riots.
A Christian fellowship meeting in a house in Ashgabad was raided by police and security service officials on 15 November. The forty-one Christians present were detained and fined, and have since faced further harassment from the authorities.
After being held for several hours most of the church members were released, but ordered to present themselves at police headquarters the following morning. Five of those arrested were held overnight. The next day the Christians were interrogated and fined. Most were fined a sum equivalent to twice the average monthly wage, an amount they simply cannot afford to pay. Each member of the group has had their passport confiscated; they will not be returned until the fines have been paid. Some of the female members of the church are reported to have fled the building where the interrogation took place, and run home, after being harassed by officials.
Leonid Malko, a pastor from Russia who was visiting the church when it was raided, was deported on 17 November. The following day the leader of the meeting Pastor Vladimir Shamrai, also from Russia, and Olga, his Kazakh wife, were also forced to leave the country. Ishan and Svetlana Annamukhammedova, the Turkmen couple who invited the Russian pastors to the church, were summoned for further questioning on 21 November, together with Olga Ryzhkova, in whose flat the church gathering was held. All three were warned that their homes will be seized and they will be banished from the capital if there are any further church meetings.
Olga Nuryeva, another member of the church, was also summoned for further questioning two days later. The director of the music school where she teaches has also been summoned, leading to fears that he may be pressurised into firing her. Other members of the church fear that they too could be in danger of losing their jobs. There is also concern that Tamara Nikolayevna, another church member, might lose her place as an in-patient at Ashgabad cancer hospital.
In other news from Turkmenistan a former foreign minister has revealed how Christianity has been 'crushed' under Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov. The activities of the Russian Orthodox Church, the only Christian denomination legally recognised in Turkmenistan, are reported to have been almost entirely neutralised. Dozens of churches confiscated during the Soviet period have not been returned, and permission to construct new church buildings has consistently been refused. The secret service are monitoring every believer, and they regularly photograph religious gatherings. Other denominations face even greater intimidation and opposition. The interview with former minister Boris Shikhmuradov was conducted by Keston News Service.