CSCE :: Statement :: Religious Persecution Occurring in Turkmenistan
United States of America
PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 106th CONGRESS, 2nd SESSION
Washington, Monday, September 18, 2000
House of Representatives
RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION OCCURRING IN TURKMENISTAN
Monday, September 18, 2000
RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION OCCURRING IN TURKMENISTAN Hon. Joseph R. Pitts of Pennyslvania
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. HULSHOF). Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Pennsylvania
(Mr. PITTS) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. PITTS. Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Helsinki Commission, and also as the Cochair of the Religious Prisoners
Congressional Task Force, I rise today to speak on behalf of a young man who has had his human rights violated, a young man
with a wife and five young children, a man who, because of the peaceful practice of his religious beliefs, is in prison in
In December of 1998, security officials arrested and imprisoned Mr. Shageldy Atakov, pursued trumped-up charges against
him, and on March 19, 1999, Mr. Atakov was sentenced to 2 years in prison. Why? Simply because he decided to change his
religion from Muslim to Christian.
Despite the fact that the government of Turkmenistan is a signatory to the Helsinki Accords and other international
agreements, officials have blatantly violated Mr. Atakov's and other individuals' rights to freedom of conscience, freedom of
speech, and the freedom of assembly.
Before KNB officials, that is the new name for the KGB, arrested Mr. Atakov, they, along with local religious community
leaders, told him if he converted back to his previous religion, he would receive a car, a house and a good job, a great offer in a
country like Turkmenistan where people make approximately $40 per month.
However, these community leaders and security officials made it clear that if Mr. Atakov refused this offer, they would ``find''
charges against him and ensure that he was imprisoned. Over a 2-month period, various officials visited Mr. Atakov to repeat
this offer and threats. In one of the visits, secret police officials said he would be imprisoned and ``we will quickly force you into
The KNB secret police have tried to silence Mr. Atakov in prison. Reports show that in July of 1999 and March of 2000
Mr. Atakov was forced into the special punishment cell in which he was severely beaten by guards, denied water, and fed only
every other day. His family saw him at the end of the 10 days in 1999, and they reported that he was barely alive.
In July of 1999, it was reported that President Niyazov gave Mr. Atakov presidential amnesty, as allowed under Section 228
of the criminal code; but for some strange reason, security officials did not release him. Instead, they put him in the punishment
cell described above.
In fact, because of the pressure from the prosecutor, who said the previous sentence was too lenient, a new trial was held in
August of 1999; and Mr. Atakov was sentenced to 4 years in prison and fined $12,000. That is an amount equivalent to about
25 years of salary for the average Turk citizen.
Since February of this year, KNB officials forced his family into internal exile, the principal has kicked his children out of
school, his wife has been told she will remain in exile until she renounces her faith, Mr. Atakov's brother was arrested and
tortured in April of 1999, and other family members have lost their jobs and suffered as well.
In December of 1999, during a raid on a Russian family living in Turkmenistan, KNB officials told them, ``First we will deport
all of you foreign missionaries, then we'll strangle the remaining Christians in the country.''
All of this government attention to one man and his family simply because of religious beliefs.
This injustice is an outrage. The tactics of the KNB show that the KGB forces and methods of operations did not disappear
with the demise of the Soviet Union, but are still alive and well. The arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Mr. Atakov are not
isolated events, but are a result of the KNB secret police policy in Turkmenistan.
In 1997, the legislature adopted severe restrictions on religion, imposing compulsory re-registration of all religious
communities. According to the legislation, a religious community must have at least 500 members before it can obtain
registration. Without this legal status, all religious groups are considered illegal and their activities therefore are punishable under
Since June of 1997, the secret police have detained, interrogated and physically assaulted many religious believers. In
addition, these officials have raided churches, interrupted worship services, searched homes and confiscated over 6,700 pieces
of literature. In each instance, the KNB warned citizens that the Christian faith in particular is forbidden in Turkmenistan.
Religious believers throughout Turkmenistan suffer if they practice their religion but do not belong to either of the two
``registered'' religions. One is the Islamic faith, the other is the Russian Orthodox.
Mr. Speaker, I recently received reports that Mr. Atakov's health has deteriorated rapidly and he may be at the point of
death. I urge the government of Turkmenistan to allow an international organization, such as the Red Cross, to visit Mr.
Atakov, assess his health, and provide any medical assistance he might need. Even, I might say, the old ruthless Soviet regime
allowed prisoners medical health.
I urge the government of Turkmenistan to live up to its commitments under the Helsinki Accords and other international
agreements to uphold and to protect freedom of speech, assembly and belief.
Further, I urge the government of Turkmenistan to release Mr. Atakov under their own president's amnesty granted to him
Finally, I urge the government to stop harassing and persecuting people of faith and recognize their important and rich
contribution to their nation.