Turkmenistan deports Baptist Pastor

BUDAPEST/MOSCOW :– A Russian Baptist Pastor spent another Sunday, August 5, without his family after he was deported from Turkmenistan for his church activities, fellow Christians and human rights watchers said.

Baptist pastor Yevgeni Potolov was put on a train Russia, July 7, after seven weeks in detention, said Forum 18, a major human rights group. “Pastor Potolov’s deportation separates him from his wife and seven children. While he was in prison, the secret police gave the Migration Service a document declaring” him a “dangerous person,” said Forum 18.

This was not the first incident. Potolov and another Baptist pastor, Vyacheslav Kalataevsky, had reportedly their residence permits in Turkmenbashi stripped from them on orders of the local administration chief in June 2001, because of their Christian work. They were then seized by the secret police and dumped across the border with Kazakhstan in Novy Uzen, without documents or money, human rights investigators said. Both managed return to their families in Turkmenistan.

Kalataevsky was arrested in March 2007, as he tried to regularize his status, and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in May for illegally crossing the border. He was transferred in late June to an ordinary regime labor camp near Eydi. Kalataevsky’s wife Valentina said she was able to visit her husband in the labor camp in early July. “Vyacheslav looked very thin,” Forum 18 quoted one family member as saying.

HOLDING UNIT

Potolov was arrested on May 19 and allegedly held in a special holding unit in Turkmenbashi. Unlike Kalataevsky, Potolov was not tried and imprisoned. “Indications soon emerged that the authorities were preparing to deport him,” Forum 18 said, adding that secret police officers asked his wife Nadezhda in June if she would leave Turkmenistan were he deported.

After Baptist leader Aleksandr Frolov was deported in June 2006, his wife Marina, a Turkmen citizen, appealed for him to be allowed back to live with her and their two young children. “But in the face of Turkmenistan’s refusal of family re-unification, she has now joined him in Russia,” Forum 18 said. “I hadn’t seen my husband for a year and didn’t want our family to be split,” she reportedly added.

The latest developments have raised concerns that human rights violations will continue in Turkmenistan despite the death of former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who built up a personality cult during his 21-year rule. Following his death in December, the new president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, had promised to soften some of Niyazov’s harshest policies.

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