Ashgabat (AsiaNews/F18) – A court in Turkmenistan on Monday sentenced a Baptist Christian, Vyacheslav Kalataevsky, to three years in a labour camp for illegally returning to the country after being expelled. Five months since the election of the new president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan continues to persecute religious groups.
Mr Kalataevsky was expelled in June 2001, the Forum 18 news agency reports, “for violating the law of Turkmenistan on religious organisations by establishing a prayer house and by organising meetings of Christian Baptists.” His family remained however in the country.
He was arrested on 12 March of this year for illegally crossing the border. According to his family, at the trial “the court merely fulfilled the instructions of the State Security Ministry” and secret police.
During the proceedings no one tried to determine whether the original expulsion order was legal or not, nor listen to defence witnesses. All the prosecution did was ask questions about Baptist Christians.
Unregistered religious groups continue to be punished even for gathering to pray. The Council of Baptist Churches has refused on principle to register their communities with state authorities. From their point of view, registration is a way for the government to exert better control over the Churches’ activities.
During the trial, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, was visiting the country. President Berdymukhamedov told her that all conventions and human rights principles were fully respected.