The authorities of the Niyazov district of the Turkmen capital Ashgabad have sealed the city's Baptist church without warning. The church's pastor Vasily Korobov told Keston News Service from Ashgabad that two seals were placed on the church doors on Saturday, February 17, although no official gave the church any notice of the impending action or even informed them of it. The sealing of the doors may be a prelude to moves to confiscate the church, the latest phase of Turkmenistan's attempts to crush its Protestant minority.

"We avoided the trouble earlier—they were not so harsh on us as they were on the others," Pastor Korobov declared, referring to raids on other Protestant churches and attempts to confiscate the city's Pentecostal church. "But now they've turned on us."

Keston has been unable to reach officials at the Niyazov district administration to enquire why the church has been sealed and what further action is intended.

"The night-watchman left on the Saturday morning as usual," Pastor Korobov reported, "and no one was in the church during the day. The seals were discovered when the night watchman arrived again in the evening. We were not told this had been done—I was here at home and no-one called me."

The church decided not to break the seals to gain entrance the following day to hold the Sunday service, as it feared being accused of breaking the law. The church was forced to meet in a private home.

Pastor Korobov reported that he intends to go to the local administration of the Niyazov district to find out why the church has been sealed and why the authorities have given no explanation of the action. "But I'm not hurrying to go to meet them as they will only find new excuses to cause problems. I'm inclined to wait ...

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