It's not an islamic regime imposing Shari'ah law. It's not a communist dictatorship outlawing all religion. It's not a Hindu nationalist movement hostile to minority faiths.

Turkmenistan is a former Soviet state now run by a "president for life" who governs the Muslim-majority nation with command-style rule. And there's a twist: President Saparmurat Niyazov has styled himself a prophet. He's written a holy book—Rukhanama (Spirituality)—and has given it authority equal to that of the Qur'an. It was on Niyazov's Rukhanama that seven Protestant Christians, under threats from authorities last May, swore an oath renouncing the Bible and their faith in Christ.

When three other believers in the same village (Deinau) refused to deny their faith, they were expelled from their homes by police and agents of the KNB (National Security Committee, the former KGB), according to Keston News Service. Murad Djumanazarov, Jamilya Boltaeva, and Nurmurad (his last name is unknown) went into hiding after the knb issued an order to hunt them down.

On paper, Turkmenistan guarantees religious and other freedoms. The one-party government, however, invokes a constitutional article overruling such rights in the interests of "national security."

"In practice, Turkmenistan is perhaps the most repressive of the former Soviet republics in terms of religious freedom or any other human right," states Freedom House's Religious Freedom in the World. Niyazov is trying to strangle Christianity through intimidation, closing churches, confiscating property, and torture, rights organizations say.

The Russian Orthodox Church and Sunni Islam are effectively the only legal religions. Members of other faiths are subject to criminal fines, beatings, and imprisonment.

Including the dominant Russian Orthodox, Christians make up 2.66 percent of the population, compared with the 91.8 percent (largely nominal) Muslim majority, according to Operation World.

In the past few years, the government has expelled all known foreign Christians. The former foreign minister, Boris Shikhmuradov, told Keston News Service that Niyazov restricts Islam and has practically crushed Christianity.

Last November police arrested four Protestants for possession of Christian videos dubbed into the Turkmen language. Under interrogation they suffered beatings, electric shocks, partial suffocation, and other forms of torture for three days, according to World Evangelical Fellowship's Religious Liberty Commission.

On November 24 they went free in exchange for the confiscation of all their possessions—which they were forced to declare as a voluntary gift to the president of Turkmenistan.

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Related Elsewhere

Learn more from the U.S. Department of State's 2001 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom: Turkmenistan.

Previous Christianity Today stories about religious persecution in Turkmenistan include:

Turkmen Authorities Seal Country's Last Open Baptist ChurchTurkmenistan's secret police continue to raid and harass Christians in Ashgabad. (Feb. 26, 2001)
Turkmen Police Beat and Interrogate Two ChristiansBeaten Baptist threatened with deportation from Turkmenistan. (Feb. 20, 2001)
Tortured Baptist Prisoner Near Death in TurkmenistanMeanwhile, More Protestant churches are raided in an attempt to crush Christian activity around Ashgabad. (Feb. 5, 2000)
Turkmenistan Police Evict ChristiansFamilies punished after four men are arrested for owning Christian videos. (Dec. 21, 2000)
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Turkmenistan Police Torture Four ChristiansCrackdown on Protestants includes beatings, interrogations, and electric shocks. (Dec. 7, 2000)
Turkmenistan Refuses To Register Bible SocietyGovernment confiscating Turkmen, Russian Scriptures. (March 16, 2000)
Turkmen Secret Police Deports Baptist CoupleMore expulsions expected as efforts continue to stop 'illegal' religious activity. (March 15, 2000)
Turkmen Baptist Pastor Threatened with PrisonTwo church members in Turkmenabad fired from jobs.
Turkmenistan Deports Two Baptist PastorsChristians arrested last week sent to Ukraine (Dec. 29, 1999)
Two Baptist Pastors Arrested by Secret Police in Turkmenistan | Crackdown on Unregistered Minority Communities Continues (Dec. 28, 1999)
Pastor Faces Thursday Trial In TurkmenistanBaptist minister accused of teaching children religion without parental consent. (Dec. 10, 1999)

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