07/23/2021, 10.15
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Ashgabat: Religious and political persecution continues apace

by Vladimir Rozanskij

During the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, the homes of citizens suspected of keeping forbidden religious literature were searched. The authorities fear Islamic extremism, rekindled by the successes of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Attacks have been carried out against the relatives of Turkmen activists living abroad.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Muslim festival of Kurban-Bayram (Eid al-Adha), whihc is being celebrated, has given the Turkmen Ministry of National Security the pretext to carry out searches and checks in the homes of citizens suspected of keeping forbidden religious literature. According to Radio Azatlyk, numerous confiscations have taken place in the velayat (province) of Lebap, in the cities of Djanev, Darganat, Sejdi and Gazodžak.

Ministry officials demand that citizens who go to mosques get rid of any religious publications other than the Koran. Other books with religious content "must not be on the shelves of the homes of believers", the confiscation order reads. In Turkmenistan, "standards on religious literature" are being controlled, as the authorities fear that the more extremist tendencies of Islam will spread among the population.

Commentators point out that the clampdown on literature could be an effect of the growing influence of the Taliban, which is pressing in from neighbouring Afghanistan. They fear these victories would reinforce a radical Islamic tendency that has been present in Turkmenistan for some time, also in light of the presence of former ISIS members, who settled in the country after the defeats in Syria and Iraq.

Some elderly people confessed to Azatlyk correspondents that the persecutions of these days closely resemble those of Soviet times, when house searches were also carried out. 'It is actually bad that people know little about religion, because that is exactly how people are attracted to radical groups from outside,' said one of those interviewed.

Another witness claimed that "when the envoys of the ministry find a religious book in the house, even according to the standards, they carry out strict interrogations on the inhabitants". Sometimes, he added, the authorities also resort to forms of pressure that violate people's rights, for example forcing them to drink vodka to prove that they are not radicals.

In addition to control over religion, the Turkmen government is also keeping a tight control on human rights activists. Radio Azatlyk has reported the case of a mother of five who has been forbidden to continue communicating with her brother in Turkey. This is not an isolated case; the authorities in Ashgabat are trying to cut off all contact with Turkmen abroad who are working on these issues. The activists operate from Turkey to Bulgaria and Russia, and even as far away as the USA (see photo), and the regime fights them by putting pressure on their relatives back home.

Only in the last few days it has been reported that on 7 July an activist, Murat Dušemov, who had filed a complaint with the court about the violation of his rights, regarding freedom of communication with his relatives and friends, was arrested. Together with him, the authorities arrested his friend, Džuma Džumakaev, and his wife, Leyla Nermetova. The couple were travelling from Ashgabat to Dashoguz: the policemen demanded a green pass for Covid-19 from them, which was not required by law.

The Turkmen authorities declined to comment on these and many other cases reported by citizens regarding violations of civil and religious rights in the country.

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