The ball is in Turkmenistan’s court following religion law review

By January 10, 2011

Turkmenistan (MNN) — Three years
ago, Turkmenistan declared its Religion Law to be a priority in a series of
reforms.

Today, according to Slavic Gospel
Association,
it has crafted one of the harshest laws on religion of all 15
former Soviet Republics.  

The changes it was making alarmed
the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which did a legal review on the law. Its report, corroborated by SGA and Forum 18, included several criticisms of the
Turkmenistan law. Simply put, says SGA's
Joel Griffith, "They basically charged it with violating international human
rights standards."

Among the OSCE recommendations, Griffith says, "They
want an end to the ban on unregistered religious activity, and they also want
the government to stop banning the private teaching of religion."

Griffith explains that the law came about because Turkmenistan saw the issues faced in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and took some pre-emptive
measures. "They are afraid of radicalism
of any kind. Because there is such an increase in radical Islam right now (the
whole Jihadist network), it's almost like there's a feeling like ‘if we crack
down on one, we've got to crack down on all of them.'"

While Turkmenistan's officials refused to discuss whether or not they plan to conform to the review, the citizens are not at all ambivalent. "They're
pretty skeptical about any legal changes. Even if something on paper seems to
grant some sort of religious freedom, as a lot of the constitutions in these
countries do, in practice, the state still basically plays a heavy hand when it
comes to dealing with evangelical churches."

This year's U.S. Commission on International
Religious Freedom report lists Turkmenistan among its "countries of particular
concern." Sharing the hope of
Christ won't stop, but "increasingly, we have to be very discrete. You couldn't go to Turkmenistan, for example,
and maybe openly help a church like you would in Ukraine or Russia. Anything
that is ever done there would have to be discrete or not publicized so much," says Griffith.

Discretion will play a big role
in their work there this year. Griffith says, "We're hoping and praying that we would just continue to see a change
in heart in the government where they would realize that there are worse
threats out there than evangelical Christian churches which typically proclaim
the Gospel and peace and reconciliation in the name of Jesus."

Griffith says don't discount
prayer. "They've had government officials actually
come to saving faith, quietly and discretely. Behind the scenes, they're able to have some impact. You can never
underestimate the power of the Gospel and what it can do, even in a place where
it seems very dark."

There's
more about SGA here.

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