(Washington) - Eight Members of the United States Helsinki Commission and 26 other Members of Congress have urged Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to designate Turkmenistan as a Country of Particular Concern for its record of human rights abuse toward religious freedom.
Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) initiated a letter to Secretary Powell urging him to name Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam to a list of the worst violators of religious freedom.
Additional Helsinki Commission Members signing the letter include Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Commissioners Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL).
Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan are currently designated by the United States as Countries of Particular Concern, a status made pursuant to the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. In their October 20 letter to Powell, the Members also call for Saudi Arabia and Vietnam to be designated as CPCs.
"Mr. Secretary, in the interest of advancing the cause of freedom, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, we strongly urge you to uphold human dignity by exercising your authority and designating Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam as countries of particular concern," the letter reads.
Religious freedom in Turkmenistan is non-existent, the Members said in their letter to Powell. "Minority religious groups are unable to meet the nearly impossible registration requirements and the National Security Committee breaks up peaceful, unregistered religious meetings in private homes," their letter reads. "Groups are denied permission to meet publicly and have no choice but to operate under the threat of harsh reprisals, such as home raids, imprisonment, deportation, internal exile, house eviction and even torture. Even the two registered religious groups, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Sunni Muslim community, are under strict state control with members punished should they dare to speak out."
"Over the past year there was a marked increase in police action, systematically crushing non-state sanctioned religious communities," the Members wrote. "Seventh-day Adventists are reportedly forced to conduct baptisms in caves. In April, police banned Baptists from meeting in Balkanabad. In May, authorities raided and closed a meeting of Hare Krishnas in Ashgabad, and law enforcement officers broke up a Baptist Sunday morning service in Turkmenbashi. In June, authorities temporarily detained and heavily fined leaders of a Baptist church ministering to deaf meeting "illegally" in Turkmenabad, and five members of a non-denominational Protestant church in the town of Abadan were fined after a police raid."
The full text of the letter, including a list of all 34 signatories, is available on the United States Helsinki Commission's web site at www.csce.gov.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.