There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including reports of imprisonment and detention. Restrictive government practices in the treatment of some registered and unregistered groups continued. Government authorities at times disrupted meetings of unregistered religious groups. In practice when the government suspected individuals of unauthorized or unregistered activity, they were subjected to search, detention, confiscation of religious materials, seizure of private property, verbal abuse, fines, pressure to confess to holding an illegal meeting, and beating. There were reports of imprisonment for conscientious objection.
Authorities in Dashoguz detained a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses from March 9-11 on allegedly fabricated charges of disseminating pornographic materials. Prior to his arrest, police raided the man’s home and confiscated his religious materials and computer. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that during his detention, Ministry of National Security officers beat him until he was unconscious. On April 12 the Dashoguz City Court sentenced him to four years in a labor camp for disseminating pornographic materials. He remained in prison at year’s end.
On January 18 Vladimir Nuryllyaev, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, received a four-year prison sentence from an Ashgabat court for similar charges of disseminating pornographic materials. He had been in pre-trial detention since November 16, 2011. Prior to his arrest, police reportedly raided Nuryllyaev’s home, confiscated religious materials and his computer, and beat him. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that Nuryllyaev never met the persons to whom police say he provided pornographic materials. Nuryllyaev was released from a prison in Ovan Depe after receiving amnesty in May.
In February the government granted amnesty to Pastor Ilmyrat Nurlyev, leader of the unregistered Light to the World Turkmen Evangelical Church. In October 2010 the Mary City Court sentenced Nurlyev to four years in prison on charges of extortion and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of 1,600 manat ($563).
Jehovah’s Witnesses often refused military service because the country did not offer alternative civilian service options for conscientious objectors that they found acceptable. Since 2009, the government has imprisoned 15 Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing military service, most recently in June. Courts issued suspended sentences and garnished the wages of five other Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing military service during the year. At year’s end, four members of Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned at Seydi for refusing military service.
On August 30, authorities in Turkmenabat detained members of a registered Protestant church for conducting a religious meeting in a private home. Police and Ministry of National Security officers insisted the group broke the law and reportedly pressured members of the church to sign a confession. Police fined one member of the church who signed a confession 750 manat (approximately $264) for conducting an unauthorized religious gathering.
Some groups reported difficulties in obtaining permission from local authorities to carry out religious activities. As in 2011, some groups reported that by routinely notifying the government of their gatherings and events and inviting government representatives to attend, they generally avoided government harassment. Nonetheless, ten registered minority religious groups established public places of worship, five of which were rented, two were residential buildings used exclusively as church facilities, and three were private residential homes of group members.
The government forbade unregistered religious groups or unregistered branches of registered religious groups from gathering publicly or privately and retained the ability to punish individuals or groups who violated these prohibitions. Some unregistered congregations continued to practice quietly, largely in private homes.
Legal and governmental obstacles hindered or prevented some religious groups from purchasing or obtaining long-term leases for land or buildings for worship or meetings. Registered groups also had difficulty renting special event space for holiday celebrations from private landlords due to concern about official disapproval. Some registered religious groups were denied permission to conduct church meetings such as study groups and seminars, apart from a weekly worship service.
Members of the theology faculty in the history department at Turkmen State University in Ashgabat were the only academic faculty members allowed to conduct Islamic higher education.
Although the government did not officially restrict persons from changing their religious beliefs and affiliation, they treated ethnic Turkmen members of unregistered religious groups accused of proselytizing and disseminating religious material more harshly than non-ethnic Turkmen. While some registered groups could proselytize in public without harassment, leaders of other groups noted that proselytizing in public was considered a culturally inappropriate activity.
Officers in the Sixth Department of the Ministry of National Security, the division charged with fighting organized crime and terrorism, monitored members of religious minorities. Nevertheless, those groups continued to engage in regular activities.
The government denied visas to foreigners suspected of conducting or intending to conduct missionary activity. However, several registered religious minority groups obtained assistance from the CRA to get entry visas for foreign members of their churches.
Religious groups seldom received permission from CRA to import religious literature. Minority religious groups claimed they were disadvantaged in importing religious materials because they had no representation on the CRA. The government reportedly prohibited all religious groups from subscribing to foreign publications. The CRA required that its officials stamp religious literature, including Bibles and Qurans, to authorize them. Some groups noted the availability of printable materials on the Internet enabled them to get around restrictions on publication and importation of religious literature. Some citizens reported the seizure of personal Bibles at the airport upon arrival from foreign travel, even though the Bibles were in their possession when they departed the country.
There were no reports of travel restrictions for religious study abroad or to attend religious conferences.
In November the government financially sponsored 188 pilgrims to travel to Mecca. The government did not provide charter flights for self-paying pilgrims, as it had in some past years. There were no reports that security services detained individuals returning from, or attempting to make, the Hajj without government approval. However, there were also no reports that self-paying pilgrims made the trip to Mecca.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
The government continued to discriminate against members of some religious groups with respect to employment.
Although the law prohibited wearing religious attire in public places, the prohibition did not extend to women’s attire in practice as many women wore the hijab in public.