A Baptist leader who had been held in prison by Turkmenistan's secret police (KNB) since February 2 was deported from the Central Asian state yesterday.On Saturday morning, Anatoli Belyayev was brought from the KNB prison in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad to the city's airport, where he was reunited with his wife Natalya and daughter just before they were forcibly placed on a flight to Russia. Baptist sources in Moscow report that the family arrived there Saturday evening."Anatoli and his family were only given their passports back when they were on the plane," a Baptist source told Compass. "The Russians already knew they would be arriving and that they had been deported. The Russian border guards apparently thought this was all wrong and knew they were not criminals."Belyayev, a leader in the Ashgabad Baptist congregation, which belongs to the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, was threatened with deportation upon his arrest in February and his passport was confiscated. Natalya's passport was confiscated when she was placed under house arrest at the same time. No charges were ever filed.The Belyayev family, all believed to be Russian citizens, had legal residency in Turkmenistan."It looks like the entire non-native church community will be deported from Turkmenistan," a Baptist source in Moscow noted grimly. The source confirmed reports that two more families are slated for deportation on Monday, March 13. "The Senkin family and the Shulgin family are next in line," the source said.Both families have been active in the local Baptist congregation in the town of Mary, southeast of Ashgabad. KNB officers came to the two families' homes on March 10 to inform them of their imminent deportation.The Shulgin family had been caring for Artygul Atakova, wife of Baptist prisoner Shagildy Atakov, who is in a labor camp near the town of Seydy. The KNB forcibly removed Artygul and their five children from the Shulgins' apartment in early February and deported them "internally" to the town of Kaakhka, where they remain under virtual house arrest.Turkmen authorities deported two other leading members of the Baptist church last December. Aleksandr Yefremov and his wife Vera Semina were deported by train from the town of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou) on December 22 to the Russian town of Saratov. Vladimir Chernov and his wife Olga were deported by plane from Ashgabad to the Ukrainian capital Kiev two days later.All of those deported are Russian or Ukrainian citizens and all had legal residency in Turkmenistan. It appears the Russian and Ukrainian governments have done nothing to protest the deportation of their citizens to the Turkmen government."The Turkmen authorities are removing all the foreigners," another Baptist source told Compass, "and then they'll get to work on the local believers. Maybe they will kill them."Turkmenistan has the most repressive religious policy of all the former Soviet republics. The Muslim Board is the major registered religious group in this predominately-Muslim country. All Christian communities are banned except the Russian Orthodox Church (the only other religious community allowed to register). The government treats all unregistered religious activity as illegal. The KNB raids and closes down Christian meetings and routinely fines and imprisons believers.In addition to these Baptists, dozens of other foreigners who had participated in the work of local Christian churches have been deported in the past year as the Turkmen government completes its plan to close down all non-approved religious activity.Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere

See our earlier coverage a related story, " Turkmen Baptist Pastor Threatened with Prison | Two church members in Turkmenabad fired from jobs"