Amid the continuing crackdown on unregistered Christian churches in the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan, the secret police have raided four Baptist congregations and arrested two senior Baptist leaders. The two—Vladimir Chernov and Anatoly Belyayev—are pastors of the Ashgabad congregation of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christian/Baptists in the Turkmen capital.

According to information from Baptist sources in the country reaching the U.S.-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries, the two pastors, together with Chernov's wife Olga, were seized in what appears to be a concerted campaign to stamp out their church. The location of the three is unknown.

Fifteen agents of the National Security Committee, the KNB (formerly the KGB) raided the Baptist church in Ashgabad on December 16 at 11 p.m. The facilities were guarded by a 17-year-old local believer, Dmitry Milnichenko. After breaking down the door of the sanctuary, the KNB agents reportedly assaulted Milnichenko while others searched the premises, turning everything upside down.

When they had completed their search and realized that Milnichenko was the only person there, the KNB agents took him to their headquarters for interrogation, during which he was reportedly beaten and threatened. The KNB warned him that when he reaches the age of 18 and has to perform compulsory military service, he would be "repaid for his faith in Jesus."

The KNB reportedly tried to induce Milnichenko to collaborate, but he declined. He was released at 6:30 p.m. today, exhausted and suffering from the beatings.

Belyayev was also arrested before dawn this morning. The four men that came to his house refused to show any identification papers. Forcing their way in, they said, "You are under arrest!" ...

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