Christians In Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan Face New Restrictions

By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest

BUDAPEST/MOSCOW (BosNewsLife)– Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliev was to receive for signing the final version of controversial legislation “limiting freedom of religion” while Christians elsewhere in Central Asia faced similar restrictions Saturday, May 16, rights investigators and local believers said.

The amendments to Azerbaijan’s Religion Law – approved by Parliament on May 8 –
would make the legal status of for instance churches and Christian groups dependent
on meeting “highly intrusive requirements” including “unspecified doctrinal tests,” said
advocacy group Forum 18, which obtained the text of the agreement.

Officials are already giving other reasons for refusing to register or ban organisations,
including “violating social order or social rules.”

Christians and human rights defenders, including Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, also fear the
restrictions on selling religious literature and conducting religious education mean
that “officials will interpret this as being a ban on activity which is not specifically approved.”

Ilya Zenchenko of the Baptist Union said in published remarks that he hopes the president
will “look at our Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion and reject the Law as it
violates the Constitution.”


Developments in Azerbaijan were expected to be closely monitored by other former
Soviet Central Asian states, such as Turkmenistan, where authorities have threatened
to confiscate properties of former Baptist prisoner of conscience Shageldy Atakov, Forum 18 said.

Officials want him to “an enormous sum he is alleged to have swindled an individual out of in 1995,” but he and his supporters have denied wrongdoing.

“It is all being done because I am a Christian – I don’t owe anyone anything,” said Atakov
in a published statement. Atakov was freed in 2002 after more than three years in jails
and labor camps because of his Christian activities but is believed to remains under close
surveillance by security services, several investigators have said.

He pledged not to allow the authorities to seize his family’s properties. “They’ll completely empty the house. They don’t have the right to do this,” he said in remarks published by Forum 18. Atakov, his wife Artygul Atakova and their children are reportedly also on a blacklist of people authorities dislike. Officials refused to comment.


It comes at a time when Turkmenistan continues to “impose strict censorship” on religious literature brought into the country, and copies data from personal computers, Forum 18 said, citing local Christian sources. “Which commission decides this?” an unidentified Protestant Christian reportedly complained.

Officials often mention an unspecified “commission” to determine which literature is acceptable. “But who checks the commission which examines the literature?” the Protestant was quoted as saying by Forum 18.

Ethnic Turkmens appear to be more more likely to have material confiscated than
ethnic Russians, observers said. There has also been frustration among Christians and other
groups about about the “impossibility of printing religious literature,” because of apparent

However Shirin Akhmedova, Head of the government’s National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, reportedly said recently that “freedom of expression exists” because of the Constitution. “This claim however, is contradicted by the experience of Turkmenistan’s citizens,” stressed Forum 18.


Muslims have also suffered restrictions in the region, especially in Tajikistan where some
93 members of the Jamaat Tabligh Islamic movement are reportedly being detained, apparently because some officials regard them as dangerous.

Forum 18 quoted an independent human rights defender who is familiar with the group’s followers as saying the group is “peaceful” as “they tell Muslims how to recognise dangerous
Islamic movements (..). This is exactly what Tajikistan needs.”

Western organizations have linked the strict treatment of Christians and other minorities to
concerns among autocratic governments in Central Asia to lose control over their nations.


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