By Dan Wooding
SANTA ANA, CA (ANS) - Turkmenistan has moved to fifth place on the Open Doors World Watch List of worst persecutors of Christians, behind Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Laos and China, causing "great concern" to persecution watchers around the world.
Terry Madison, US President and CEO of Open Doors with Brother Andrew said "The situation for Christians has deteriorated sharply in Turkmenistan. The country has developed into a state where its president, Sapurmurat Niyazov, is venerated like a god. And because Christians do not look at the president this way (like a god), they are under close surveillance, facing arrest, imprisonment and deportation. In addition, almost all churches in Turkmenistan have been closed, confiscated or demolished."
In January, Pastor Ognev Shageldy Atakov, an unregistered Baptist pastor, was tracked down and imprisoned. His health deteriorated so much that he feared he would die in prison in Seydi. Later that month, Atakov suffered from a heart attack and was transported to a hospital prison in Mary, where he was reportedly treated with psychotropic drugs. In March, he spent this 39th birthday in jail, and was later transferred back to Seydi. On March 23, Atakov was sent to isolation in a maximum-security prison in Turkmenbashi and sentenced to two months' quarantine. Atakov and his family face considerable pressure to recant Christianity and return to Islam.
In April, Yevgeni Samsonov, a Russian Pentecostal, was arrested and released four days later. On May 8, the Keston News Service reported Samsonov was deported from Turkmenistan.
In May the KNB, Turkmenistan's secret police, raided a Baptist service in Ashgabat and banned pastor Vasili Korobov from leading worship. Also that month, Baptist Dmitri Melnichenko was tortured after refusing to swear the oath in military conscription.
Madison also shared about Saudi Arabia. "This country, which constantly tops our list as the worst persecutor of Christians, was rebuked this year by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Three Christians were arrested at the end of January and as usual, deported from the country shortly thereafter."
NON-MUSLIMS ARE MARKED IN AFGHANISTAN
He then spoke about the critical situation for non-Muslims in Afghanistan. "In January, the Taliban regime of Afghanistan increased pressure on apostates by imposing the death penalty on anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion," said Madison. "In an attempt to impose Islamic law on the country, the Taliban regime introduced an obligation in May to all non-Muslims to wear special markings on their clothes, making it easy to distinguish them from Muslims."
TROUBLE FOR CHRISTIANS IN LAOS
Forcing the people of Laos to decide between religion and the nation, Laotian authorities tightened their hold on Christians by requiring individual families to sign an affidavit renouncing their Christian faith. Madison stated, "Three years ago there were 20 churches open in Savannakhet alone. Today there are only five. The Laotian authorities have closed 58 churches throughout the country during the last 18 months."
Madison turned his attention to China, a country that he has visited on more than 40 occasions. "The Chinese government believes it can control and/or crush all forms of 'independent' behavior, affecting human rights activists, Tibetans, the Falun Gong spiritual movement, the underground Catholics and the house church movement. In this quarter there have been many police raids against Christians, leaving dozens of people arrested and sentenced to labor camp or jail."
The house church movement has experienced renewed pressure as leaders have been attacked and arrested. At the end of May, 35 Christians were arrested in Mongolia. In June, 12 of them were sentenced to 2-3 years in labor camp.
TROUBLES IN INDONESIA
Even though the country was only 49th on the World Watch List, Open Doors is also "greatly concerned" with what is occurring in Indonesia. Long recognized as an example of inter-religious tolerance, in the last few years Indonesia experienced a radicalization among Muslims. A collapsing economy, social and ethnic tensions and internal polarization have resulted in religious violence in which Christians become targets.
"The Moluccan islands have become the focal battlefield for this conflict. Hundreds of people have died because of atrocities committed by both parties, and thousands have fled for their lives. A radical Muslim movement, Laskar Jihad, aims to eradicate Christianity in the area. Though the conflict is no longer on the front pages, it is still alive."
MURDER OF TWO YOUTH WORKERS IN COLOMBIA
Open Doors has launched a "Wage Peace Upon Colombia" prayer campaign for the troubled republic. Madison recently visited Colombia and said, "The violence persists, despite the fact that peace talks between government and rebels of the armed movements are taking place. Christians are daily forced to flee their homes, and some are kidnapped. Compass Direct News Service reported that two Christian youth workers were murdered in June."
Madison concluded by saying that "On May 1, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its second annual report. Ten countries were singled out for detailed persecution studies: China, India, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan and Vietnam. IRF found that these countries had the worst record on religious freedom since the previous report. With the exception of Russia, all countries mentioned are (important) target countries for Open Doors."