Persecution of Ex-Muslims (Turkmenistan)

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Convert to Christianity from Islam jailed on trumped-up charges. Fears he will not survive the brutal treatment in labor camp

Shageldy Atakov, 38, a jailed Christian in Turkmenistan, told his wife in early February that he did not expect to survive the brutal treatment he was suffering in a labor camp. He could barely walk and frequently lost consciousness. A Muslim convert to Christ, Atakov had become too effective in his ministry to the ethnic Turkmen population, which is almost exclusively Muslim. He was jailed on trumped-up charges.
Suffering for Their Faith
Brother Andrew, Charisma magazine, June 1, 2001

Wife and children of imprisoned convert told by the local mullah, administration officials and officers of the political police (the KNB), that they must convert to Islam. They issue a separate threat to confiscate her home

The wife and children of Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov have been told by the local mullah, administration officials and officers of Turkmenistan's political police the KNB (former KGB) that they may not believe in Jesus Christ and must convert to Islam. According to a statement from local Baptists - passed on to Keston News Service by the German-based Friedensstimme mission - officials in the town of Kaakhka close to Turkmenistan's southern border with Iran also warned Artygyul Atakova the family home would be confiscated if Christians continued to meet there.

Keston has been unable to obtain the telephone numbers of the KNB, the mullah and the local administration in Kaakhka to ask why they are pressuring Artygyul Atakova and her children to convert from one faith to another.

According to the 25 March statement from local Baptists, the local policeman and a KNB officer visited the family on 12 March, where the passport details of Artygyul and her five children were taken. Then on 14 March a car with five officials arrived and took her to the local administration, where the mullah, a lawyer, a district official and a KNB officer named Narly (surname unknown) were already present, together with the director of studies of Kaakhka's school No. 12. `They banned her from believing in Jesus Christ, forcing her to convert to the Muslim faith and insisting that she write a statement dictated by KNB officer Narly,' the Baptists wrote. `They insisted she give her children over to the school, where attention is mainly focused on reading the oath [of loyalty to the president and country] and kissing the flag.' They then issued the threat to confiscate her home if Baptists continued to meet there and revoke the family's registration in the village. Local Baptists ask for prayer and appeals on the family's behalf.

Artygyul Atakova and her five children have been left without a breadwinner since the arrest of her husband Shageldy in December 1998 for his activities with the Baptist church in the port city of Turkmenbashi. He is serving a four year sentence and - since 1 March - is back in the labour camp in Seydy in north eastern Turkmenistan after a spell in prison hospital in the town of Mary. He is currently in punishment cell for one month (see KNS 21 March 2001).

The Atakovs' church - whose activities the Turkmen authorities claim are illegal - is a member of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejects registration in all the former Soviet republics where it operates.

Members of Turkmenistan's minority faiths are frequently pressured to convert to Islam. Although no religions have any kind of official status, the government regards Islam as the country's primary faith and Russian Orthodoxy as the one permitted minority faith. Government officials - from local administrations, the police and the KNB – work closely with mullahs (who are appointed and paid by the government) to pressure believers of other faiths to convert, with such pressure often accompanying punitive action against minority faith whose activities the government is trying to suppress. Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees have complained of similar pressure to convert to Islam.

On 15 March the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the `discrimination and often persecution' faced by non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox communities in Turkmenistan. The resolution in particular condemned the `unjust treatment of Shageldy Atakov' and called on the Turkmen authorities to release him immediately.
Turkmenistan: Atakov's Family Pressured to Convert to Islam
Felix Corley, Keston News, March 26, 2001