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U.S. Department of State raises concerns about detention and imprisonment of religious minorities in Turkmenistan

Bishkek (AKIpress) - docs U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented to Congress the 2013 International Religious Freedom Report last week.

The constitution and some laws and policies of Turkmenistan provide for religious freedom; however, other laws and policies restrict religious freedom and the government enforced those restrictions, according to the report.

Restrictive government practices in the treatment of some registered and unregistered groups continued, and the government’s overall respect for religious freedom remained poor. Several religious groups remained unable to register and the government prohibited the operation of unregistered religious groups. The government restricted the ability of registered groups to obtain permanent premises for worship and to print or import religious materials. The government continued to arrest, charge, and imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses who were conscientious objectors to military service. There were reports of beating and torture of persons detained for religious reasons.

There were reports of societal abuses or violence based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

In meetings with government officials, U.S. Embassy and Department of State officials raised concerns about the detention and imprisonment of religious minorities, the rights of religious groups to register, the lack of public access to registration procedures, and restrictions on importing religious literature.

Turkmenistan is 89 percent Muslim, 9 percent Eastern Orthodox, and 2 percent other. There are small communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Shia Muslims, and evangelical Christians, including Baptists and Pentecostals.

An estimated 400 Jews live in the country. Local Jews often consider Judaism an ethnic rather than a religious identity. There are no synagogues or rabbis, and Jews do not gather for religious observances.

Societal attitudes generally reflected the belief that an individual is born into an ethno-religious group, and that Islam was an inherent part of the Turkmen national identity. Those who departed from these traditions received little social support or were criticized. There were reports that ethnic Turkmen who converted from Islam received more societal scrutiny than non-ethnic Turkmen converts and were ostracized at community events.

The U.S. urged greater support for religious freedom. The officials raised concerns about the arrests of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities, the right of religious groups to register, the lack of readily-available information about registration procedures, and restrictions on the importation and distribution of religious literature.


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