In its latest move to stamp out all activity by religious minorities, the government of the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan has deported two leading Baptist couples.

The U.S.-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries told Compass December 24 that Pastor Vladimir Chernov and his wife Olga were put on a plane December 23 and deported from Turkmenistan to the Ukrainian capital Kiev. Chernov holds Ukrainian citizenship.

The Chernovs—whose Ashgabad home housed a Baptist church—had legal residency in Turkmenistan since 1993.

Another Baptist couple, Aleksandr Yefremov and his wife, who live in the eastern town of Turkmenabad (formerly Chardjou), were deported the same day to the Russian city of Saratov. Baptists in Turkmenistan had reported on December 18 that Aleksandr's passport had been stamped to indicate that it was being revoked in preparation for his deportation. They had also warned that Chernov was likely to face deportation.

Vladimir and Olga Chernov were arrested on December 17 while traveling by train from Ashgabad to Turkmenbashi. Vladimir had spent the week before his deportation in a prison isolation cell and had refused to eat.

He and his wife were taken to the airport in the clothes they were wearing. They were refused permission to get any of their warm clothes or any of their other possessions before being put aboard the Kiev flight. (Turkmenistan remains warm at this time of year, unlike Russia and Ukraine)

Their passports were returned to them as they left, but all other documentation was withheld.

Meanwhile, the National Security Committee (KNB) has released Anatoly Belyaev, a leader of Chernov's Ashgabad congregation who was arrested during a December 16 nighttime raid on the church. However, the KNB is threatening to "get to him" after January 1, 2000.

Turkmenistan—the most religiously repressive of the former Soviet republics—is attempting to stamp out all religious practice by unregistered religious groups. Believers have been fined, interrogated, threatened, had their phones cut off, suffered deportation and, in the cases of the Adventists and Hare Krishnas, had places of worship bulldozed.

Only the officially sanctioned Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church have registration.

Related Elsewhere

Read about the pastors' arrest in yesterday's article.