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In the Name of God

Written by on Wednesday, 9 November 2005
Politics and Society, Turkmenistan
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As reported by Radio Free Europe, the U.S. State Department has published its annual report on religious freedom, and there is a mixed verdict on Turkmenistan.

A panel which makes recommendations to the State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in May had sought to designate Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern.”

The State Department demurred. And though Uzbekistan and Pakistan were cited for violations, Turkmenistan was listed among the countries making significant improvements in religious freedoms. Hanford said Turkmenistan has taken a number of important steps in the past year.

“In Turkmenistan, where serious violations of religious freedom persist, we saw hopeful signs with the streamlining of legislative procedures and the registration of a number of new religious groups. Last year, the government substantially revamped laws regulating religious activities. They decriminalized violations of religious policies. They released all religious prisoners,” Hanford said.

A group of human rights organizations in September presented a detailed description of religious repression in Turkmenistan and urged the State Department to designate it a “country of particular concern.”

A prominent human rights watchdog in the U.S. Congress, Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, said he was troubled by the positive assessment of Turkmenistan’s record. Smith said his human rights subcommittee would hold a hearing on the report on 15 November.

The report also cites a drop in reports of harassment of religious minorities as a positive development. However, reporting from Forum 18 over the last couple of years would appear to appear to cast doubt on how improved the registration process has become.
Another issue raised in the report is that of the endemic imposition of the Rukhnama text. Arguably, this has had the most damaging impact of all as it has distorted a general understanding of religious values and subordinated them government policy. In the longer term, this raises the spectre of a rise of extremism fuelled by ignorance and illiteracy. Not unsurprisingly, the Turkmen authorities are harsh on any suspect Islamic groups, which they label dismissively as Wahhabis, a fact that can only serve to harden resistance.

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