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Turkmenistan: U.S. Congressional Groups Criticizes Religious Suppression

Washington, 23 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe -- an organization led by members of Congress -- has released a statement criticizing authorities in Turkmenistan for their treatment of religious leaders.

The statement, released on December 20, said Turkmen authorities destroyed Baptist churches in the cities of Chardjou (Turkmenabad), Mary, Turkmenbashi and Ashgabat on December 16-17, arresting church pastors. The statement also said a Seventh-Day Adventist church in Ashgabat was bulldozed in November and a Hare Krishna Ashram was destroyed.

The statement quotes Congressman Christopher Smith, who is the commission's chairman, as calling Turkmenistan "the most repressive police state of the former Soviet Union." Smith said assurances from Turkmen authorities that they would ease controls over religious groups "are totally unreliable." Congressman Steny Hoyer is quoted as saying "Turkmenistan is the only country in the former Soviet Union where houses of worship have been demolished."

Smith said the U.S. Congress will hold hearings on what he called "the deplorable state of affairs in Turkmenistan" and look for ways to pressure authorities in Ashgabat.

Turkmenistan frequently comes under criticism from Western governments and human rights groups for its human rights practices. Authorities in Turkmenistan say that the country is pursuing its own path toward democratization and deny that there are frequent violations of human rights.